Wednesday, October 31, 2012

More Stuff I Didn't Have To Make Up...

Last week while going through the meat grinder that is "In-processing", I ran into a minor roadblock. There is a new Army personnel database program which is required when inputting or changing routine human resources forms. The folks at the in-processing center were unable to find me in this database, so I couldn't complete this final step. (Fortunately, the really important stuff, like getting my pay and allowances started, was taken care of before I reached the final station.)
Various administrative types held a number of agitated discussions about how this situation should be addressed. One of the managers (We'll call him, "Mr. X".) told me that he would get the problem straightened out with his counterpart responsible for the database, and he would give me a call when it was resolved.

Yesterday I got a call from a very worried woman, who informed me that since I had failed to complete in-processing, I could very likely be released from active duty. While this possibility definitely had its upside, I could also see the possibility that it could take all of my final years in the Army to unscramble the pay, benefits, and service credit problems such an unscheduled change could very well cause. Besides, I foresaw that if the Army tried to out-process me, they'd encounter the same problem, but in reverse, and I'd be stuck in non-paid "Soldier Ping-Pong" limbo for months. So, I took the mature, professional route, and explained to the woman that "Mr. X" had said that he was going to handle the issue. She put "Mr. X" on the phone, and it was apparent that he had little to no recollection of my case. I refreshed his memory, and received a fresh set of assurances that this would be solved "toot sweet".

This morning, "Mr. X" called me and asked if I'd had any success in resolving the database problem. I reminded him that HE told me yesterday that HE was going to fix it. "Oh, yeah...let me make a call to "Mr. Y", he replied. Barely ten minutes later, the worried woman called me, and said the First Sergeant needed to speak to me. She handed the phone to him, and he explained in a very First Sergeant-like manner that I needed to get this database issue resolved, pronto. I started to explain that "Mr. X" was handling it, but when the First Sergeant heard "Mr. X" he said brightly, "Oh, "Mr. X" is right here, let me put him on the line!" (Yeah, you all can see where this tale is headed.) "Mr. X" picked up the receiver, and asked me if my unit has got this database problem solved. This time, I said crisply, "They said you need to call "Mr. Y" in the next five minutes, and he will resolve the issue ASAP." "Mr. X" said, "Great! I'll give him a call right now...Thank you!"

My appointment to complete in-processing, having been added to the database by "Mr. Y" while he was on the phone with "Mr. X", is set for tomorrow morning.

UPDATE:  I completed the final station of in-processing today...took about 15 minutes, with no drama, and to top off my "Victory Over Bureaucracy" celebration, I discovered that my first Army paycheck was 100% correct in all respects. My thanks to all of the folks at the SRC who got it right!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Fighting Leprechaun Finally Has His Shillelagh!

I've wanted my own Shillelagh, in the form of an Irish blackthorn walking stick, for many years. I had the opportunity to order one from the premier stick maker in Ireland, located in the town of Shillelagh, County Wicklow, during my recent vacation there. It arrived today, and I really like it!

These sticks are the real deal. Each one is handmade, requiring 3-5 years of work before it is ready to be offered for sale. Mine is personalized, and will be just perfect for accompanying me on weekend dog walks, or when strolling through the dodgier parts of the "Big City". (Fills the gap nicely between personal protection options!)

I dealt with Mr. Liam Kealy (or in Irish, O'Caidhla), owner of Olde Shillelagh Stick Makers, and I highly recommend his fine establishment. He offers a full line of sticks, from the tourist-favorite "Lucky Charm" gavel-looking stick, to Battle Clubs and Fighting Sticks. My Walking Stick is definitely less warlike, but then again, so am I... Anyway, if you are seeking an heirloom-quality piece of fine Irish craftsmanship, and a reliable companion for rambles about the countryside, do contact Liam. You'll be happy with the result!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Mobilizing is NOT Deploying!"

I discovered when processing through the beehive which is also called, "SRC", that very few soldiers (like, just one lucky dude, also known as yours truly) go through the place who are not outbound for the war zone. The last time I came through here, on my way to Iraq, the process made absolute sense to me because it was geared toward going off to war.

This go-round should have been much different, because I'm staying stateside for my entire tour of duty. So, I'm not facing exposure to hostile conditions, exotic diseases, poisonous reptiles, or bad guys trying to do me in. Do you think that fact registered with the cheerful folks responsible for my administrative return to active duty? Nope, not for one nanosecond. (By the way, calling these folks "cheerful" was not sarcasm...they pretty much all exude a genuinely pleasant and helpful demeanor, which is definitely appreciated!)
At one station after another, the staff tried their darnedest to give me malaria innoculations, cognitive baseline exams (in case I experienced TBI...Traumatic Brain Injury), an Eagle Cash Card, which only works in Afghanistan and Kuwait, spiritual guidance, legal advice for preparing my last will and testament, etc., etc.  It took copious amounts of explanation, plus the negotiating skills of a presidential campaign spin doctor to get me through each superfluous station listed on my "walkabout sheet". ("G'day, Mate, Oi'm 'ere to in-process me an' me wallaby!") Each station had a checklist, and don't even try to suggest that a couple of items could be marked "Not Applicable".

In the end I managed to pretty much complete just the essential missions, like getting paid and having my medical records stamped "Not Dead Yet" and couriered over to the Army Hospital. I couldn't complete the Personnel station, allegedly because I wasn't successfully added to some ginormous Army database because the three elves empowered to do this for aging geezer soldiers were on a six-month sabbatical to France. No biggie, since I suspect that one or more of these elves would have converted my orders into a ticket to Kandahar, which is so not on my bucket list. The SRC will no doubt discover this omission about ten days before I'm due to out-process...through the very same SRC. I'll let you know in a couple of years just how that works out!

Tag, You're IT!

And by "IT", I am referring to "Information Technology. So here's a brief anecdote from my efforts to get up and running with my office stuff.

I apparently have to use a separate email system for everyday communication, because the regular system isn't sufficiently awesome or something. So, following a set of vague directions, I called some office in West Nosepick, Virginia, and received the following step by step instructions from a recording:
"To set up your new Outoluck email account, you'll need to send an email to the Outoluck system administrator. In order to do this, you first will need to log in to your Outoluck account, as the automated system administrator is programmed to only accept email generated within the Outoluck domain...."

Needless to say, I don't anticipate sending or receiving many emails anytime soon.

Monday, October 22, 2012

It's Time to Play..."Soldier Ping-Pong"!!!

For those of you who haven't played this ancient and venerable sport, the rules are pretty simple:

1. Take a soldier (in this case, ME) reporting for in-processing;
2. Send him back and forth between different organizations located in opposite ends of the Army post;
3. Repeat until time expires.

Since I am a veteran at this sport, I pretty much knew what to expect when stepping onto the playing field first thing this morning. I have the further advantage of being close to home, with my own transportation and resources. When the game commenced, I played with good humor and ironic enthusiasm, which caused the other players to wield their "virtual ping-pong paddles"rather gently. This resulted in only a brief rally between offices, and I was scheduled for "Game Two" tomorrow morning, leaving me most of the day to get some practice sessions in...Just in case the rules change overnight, which has been known to happen.
(And now you know why they call it, "Military Service"!)

"It's your serve, Army!"

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Here We Go Again!

I reported for active duty this morning. This time it feels a lot different than when my unit was preparing to deploy to CENTCOM-Land. No training on how to identify IEDs, throw frag grenades, drive armored HUMVEEs, escape rolled-over MRAPs this go-round. I'm not missing the infantry squad tactics, nor crawling through field and forest while sporting body armor, kevlar helmet, and rifle. I shall also NOT miss the repeat prospect of experiencing direct and indirect fire. Of course, while this makes my pen name ("The Fighting Leprechaun") somewhat of a misnomer, I'm keeping it.

This stint, which should be my very last extended active service (barring some incredibly stupid decision to invade some hostile nation), promises to be much more relaxed. The mission is strictly investigative in nature, and the unit to which I am attached seems well-run, with squared-away agents. I also have a very competent, experienced partner, which always improves the long hours spent doing these kinds of investigations.

I expect to post whatever interesting and/or amusing anecdotes arise from my "Last Hurrah" as a soldier...Naturally I will stay within Department of Defense guidelines for military bloggers, so don't expect any juicy bits resembling a script from NCIS!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Man held as bomb-making facility found in Dublin

Man held as bomb-making facility found in Dublin This is an Irish Times story about the ongoing, violent feud between the gang calling itself "The Real IRA" and various criminal gangs in Dublin. While I was in Dublin last month, drug gangsters murdered one of the "Real IRA" leaders. Our tour guide, who is very dialed-in to this kind of criminal-political conflict, predicted that there would be massive retaliation in short order. He was right. (Yet another benefit to our tour, having access to someone able to add perspective and background to the daily headlines!)
While the "Real IRA" is a small bunch of thugs who wrap themselves in the IRA name in order to legitimize their misdeeds (in my opinion, anyway), it's very good to see the Garda (Irish National Police) track down the source of the pipe bombs so quickly. Well done, Gardai!