Wednesday, April 2, 2014

In the Trenches

I have been associated with the laboratory where I work for nearly 20 years. In these two decades I have worked very closely with the skilled technicians in my group. When you labor with someone very closely for an extended period of time, you develop a rapport, a respect, and a trust that runs deep. I liken it to trench warfare. Those who you fight with side by side become your brothers. You look out for them and they look out for you.

Recently, I was working with the technicians to install a very large but very delicate detector system. A 20-ton crane was used to pick up the detector by its support frame and a 2-ton box of lead bricks was used as a counterweight to balance the 2-ton detector in its installation position. Everything was craned up some 30 feet in the air and slowly but surely the detector was moved into position. Every control movement that the crane operator made was directed by two guys up in the manlifts who served as his eyes. The installation required great skill and patience as the clearances involved on either side of the detector were less than 1 inch. One wrong movement or momentary loss of control could do untold damage to the million-dollar detector system.

After several hours we managed to get the detector bolted into position. The next step in the operation was to unbolt the support frame and move it away from the detector. However, some slight twist or rotation in the system wedged the support frame into position after it was unbolted and it wouldn't come free. After several hours of trying to figure things out, tempers were short and voices were raised. The guys up in the lifts and the crane operator on the ground were going at it pretty hard. After we finally managed to make sense of the problem and got the support frame to the ground, the guys went up to each other and embraced. The air that moments earlier had been clouded over with negativity, worry, and frustration was immediately clear. All tension in that place instantly dissipated and laughter echoed from one end of the space to the other. After being in the trenches with each other for so long, no temporary situation could affect those bonds.