Tuesday, December 25, 2012

It's a Wonderful CID Life

It's Christmas morning, pouring rain outside the Casa de Leprechaun, and as soon as the clock strikes 0700 hours, I'll begin assembling a small laptop desk. I acquired this mini-workstation in order to set up my "presents" from headquarters: an Army laptop with docking station, flat-panel monitor, and printer. Once the workstation is set up, I'll be spending most of Christmas Day finishing the bits of case documentation from my Temporary Duty (TDY) last week in another state. Although this year I avoided watching that Jimmy Stewart/Donna Reed holiday classic film, "It's a Wonderful Life", I've seen it enough times (approximately 231 viewings, if my calculations are correct) to have the plot indelibly ingrained in my remaining brain cells.
So as I'm working on my case file today, it'll be easy to create my own parallel world to Bedford Falls, for example having ZuZu (my Team Chief) say something like, "Every time you put a suspect in the title block, an angel gets his wings!" That old, irascible meany Mr. Potter is collectively portrayed by the folks who administer TriCare, nickel and diming us little folks to death. My own Spousal Unit is cuter and even more talented than Donna Reed (but much less likely to ever hand over our vacation fund to strangers!), and fortunately, neither of our pups are able to practice the piano when I'm trying to concentrate.

The one thing I have in common with George Bailey? It's the year-round Christmas present of having truly excellent family, friends and colleagues around the world. Some are in harm's way right now, others are just apart from their own families during the holidays while serving our country. So even while I doubt I've been assigned my own version of Clarence, the Guardian Angel-Without-Wings, and spending Christmas Day doing investigation paperwork is "5% Awesome", there's no doubt at all that I do lead a "Wonderful (CID) Life."

Police Navidad, y'all!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

"PeopleFinders" Rip-Off Expose'

Yep, I'm resorting to a bit of tabloid phrasing to voice my displeasure at the internet database known as "PeopleFinders". I was trying to find the location of a suspect in one of my cases. None of the government databases I have access to provided anything resembling a current address or telephone number. Running the dude's name and last known location through a search engine gave me some hope, when a "hit" turned up in the right general location.

The hit was linked to the "PeopleFinders" website, which promised me the full address and telephone number for a mere $1.95. Being a dedicated investigator, I figured it was worth that much to track down this miscreant, so I clicked on the "Yes" button. After navigating seven (yes, SEVEN!) different screens which attempted to fool me into signing up for a year-long subscription, I finally got to paydirt...or so I thought.

I paid the $1.95, and got the report for some completely unrelated woman in another part of the state, who had a distant relative with a middle name same as my suspect's last name. Then the bastards rubbed salt into my wound, as they had also managed to charge me $2.00 to send this utterly friggin useless report to my email address. So now I have evidence that I was a gullible dumbass.

I did call the customer service phone number to express my displeasure. Got a response to the effect of, "So? What's your point, Clown?"


Thanks...I feel better now.

Oh, and I later discovered that my bad guy had been booked into the county jail, as three different websites had posted his booking photo for all to see. Now that I know where he is, I'll be dropping in on him soon...no thanks to the sleazy rip-off jerks at "PeopleFinders".

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I'm Suffering From the "DT's"

No, don't worry, I'm not an alcoholic with "Delirium Tremens" but rather experiencing the bureaucratic silliness of the DTS, also known as the Defense Travel System. Whenever a military person needs to perform official travel, all arrangements need to be made through this centralized website. Every aspect of the trip is managed here, from assigning cost accounting codes, to reserving airline tickets, rental cars, and lodging.

In theory this is a brilliant idea. (Yeah, aren't they always brilliant in theory?) Of course, all of us old folks who used to arrange our own travel with a few phone calls miss those days when navigating through the DTS maze, especially after running into dead ends time after time. Every service member likely has a horror story or two. My most recent encounter produced more than a horror story, though. I discovered what seems more likely a small-scale rip-off of the Department of Defense. Here's my case:

I needed to travel to Idaho for an investigation I'm working. When I went there for my civilian job last year, it took me about 20 minutes to book air, rental car, and hotel. This time was definitely less efficient.  As I mentioned earlier, everything is booked by the monolithically-named "Central Travel Office" or CTO. (Da, Tovarich!)  When I logged into the DTS website, and began selecting my flights, rental car and hotel from the choices provided, I was a good soldier and selected the least expensive options from the somewhat limited list. While I would have preferred to stay at the Holiday Inn Express, that hotel wasn't on the list, so I picked a Hilton subsidiary. Now I was fully aware that the per diem rate for a hotel room in this part of Idaho is $77/night, but the cheapest hotel room on the list (the Hilton brand) was eight bucks a night more, so I assumed there was a grand government scheme at work here, and called it good.

Several hours later, I got an email from the "DTS Automated Mail Notification System", letting me know that the rental car I had booked was too expensive. "Hmm", I thought, I must have missed the cheapest option on the list. I dutifully logged back in to DTS, canceled the first rental car, went back to the list of available choices, and saw that my earlier choice was the least expensive, by over $50/week. So, I re-booked the same car.

The next day, I got an email telling me that my travel request had been REJECTED...no, not because of the rental car...this time it was the hotel which was too costly. When I logged in to DTS, I noticed that the CTO had billed the government an extra fee for canceling and re-booking the rental car the day prior. I briefly considered the fact that the CTO was making money off of their screw-up, but it was too soon to see the pattern. Anyway, I canceled my apparently exorbitant hotel room, then went to the list of approved hotels again to find a room at the per diem rate. Surprise! The room I had just canceled was STILL the least expensive option on the list. Since I had just played this game with the rental car, I re-booked the same damn hotel room, noting in the justification that it was the least expensive on the list. A "popup" advised me that I needed to select "actual lodging cost" as an option, and that all would be right with the world. I did that, and submitted the request once more. Several hours later, I got another notification that my hotel cost too damn much money, and I had better stop trying to cheat the U.S. Government! (Okay, it was phrased in bureaucratese, but conveyed the same message.) I wandered over to battalion headquarters, and asked the S-4 guy who deals with DTS what the deal was. He explained that if there weren't any hotel rooms listed at the per diem rate, I needed to request CTO assistance to find a room that met the requirement...and that the Holiday Inn Express was usually a good bet to offer the per diem rate. I complied with those instructions, and a day later, I had a room at the Holiday Inn Express.
WTF! (What Terrible Finance!)
But hey, sportsfans, it should come as no great surprise that despite our precarious financial situation, we government folks can still find creative ways to spend more money than we need to.

To paraphrase the great cartoonist/satirist Walt Kelley, "We have met the Fiscal Cliff, and it is us!"

Monday, December 3, 2012

The power of a uniquely American song

One of the best aspects of being back on active duty is hearing bugle calls at various times during the duty day. I don't believe that they still make recruits learn the different bugle calls, and I haven't noticed traffic coming to a halt on post for "Retreat" and "To the Colors", when the garrison flag is lowered at sunset...but that link to the "Old Army" still reminds me of those who served in generations long past.

This CBS clip nicely illustrates the power of a plaintive bugle call on our emotions, as it was meant to do. And best of all, it happens in my corner of the world. Well done, sir! Keep it up!