Friday, November 22, 2013

Is This The End?

There has been a lot of back-and-forth email traffic with the Senator's staffer who is working on my case to stay in the Army, but it's not looking real optimistic at this point. I begin my week of demobilization and out-processing this morning, and conclude my military career next Wednesday when I sign my DD-214 Discharge Certificate. I've inventoried all of my issued clothing and equipment in preparation for turning it all in to the Central Issue Facility on post next week. I'll turn in my 39 rounds of ammo to the arms room this afternoon, and my pistol to my reserve unit next week. (Yes, you read that right...Army CID stateside issues agents 39 rounds of 9mm hollowpoint ammunition, which has to be carefully accounted for, and those same 39 rounds have to be turned in whenever going on leave, TDY, Permanent Change of Station, deployment, or in my case, getting out of the Army. This practice perfectly illustrates the low-level of trust accorded Army CID Special Agents by "The Big Green Machine".) While there's still a slim possibility of either a last-minute reprieve or being restored to the Army Reserve somewhere down the road with time enough to complete my 20 "good years" and qualify for a retirement, I'm already looking ahead. I return to my civilian employment with an emergency management agency on the same day as my Army discharge takes effect, so there's no gap in income, and no temptation to take a week off and play golf every day...though now that I've just written this, maybe I could just delay starting...naw, not a good idea. (Note to Spousal Unit: I was only kidding...really!) It looks like I will get to work again for my former boss, who is an outstanding manager and leader, so life is good. So, I'm donning my ACUs for probably the last time, and heading out to face reality. It has been a good run, and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to serve a second time. I've learned a lot of new skills, survived a combat deployment relatively unscathed, and had the pleasure of getting to know some of America's finest young warriors. And hey, anytime you can hand off all of your case files, that's a good thing!

Remembering November 22, 1963

Like most of us who were old enough to be aware of world events, I have vivid and painful memories of the day when President John F. Kennedy was killed. I was in class at Tustin Memorial Elementary School in Southern California that morning when the principal came into our classroom. She was crying a bit, and held herself very rigidly as she said softly, "Children, President Kennedy has been shot." One of my classmates, Patty McShane, yelled "Good! I hope he dies!" My teacher, Mrs. V, strode over to Patty's desk and slapped Patty's face, hard enough to knock her off her chair on to the floor. The principal looked over at Mrs. V and quietly said, "Thank you." She told Mrs. V to turn on the television (this being Southern California, every classroom had one), and left for the next class to deliver the news. We all sat there, stunned by the news, by Patty McShane's outburst, and by Mrs. V's dramatic reaction to that outburst. Patty McShane had gotten back in her seat, and didn't utter another word. Once the TV warmed up, we kids were riveted by the chaos in the newsroom, which was normally a staid, boring deal. Of course, the channel was tuned to Walter Cronkite who was as much a part of our daily lives as our teachers. I kept hoping that Mr. Cronkite was going to announce that the President was going to be okay, since he was at Parkland Memorial Hospital. My hope was crushed when after what seemed like hours later, Walter Cronkite took off his glasses and with glistening eyes told us that President Kennedy was dead. I remember we were let out from school early that day. I walked home and joined my mom in front of the TV as it alternated shots of Air Force One and scenes in Dallas. Then the news came about a Dallas police officer being shot, and then that the police had arrested Lee Harvey Oswald as the suspected gunman. I still remember everything from that weekend, but in black and white since we didn't have a color television. I was watching live when Jack Ruby shot Oswald. It's amazing how much that stuff makes an indelible impression on a ten year old kid. Even with all of the violence portrayed on TV, movies and video games these days, not many young people have actually witnessed a murder on live television. That's a good thing. Regardless of the historical impacts and subsequent discussion about President Kennedy's flaws, I know that my personal view of the world was changed dramatically, beginning that day in November, 1963. It doesn't seem like 50 years have elapsed since then, mostly because I still feel strong emotion whenever I see a film clip or photo from those events. For me (and I suspect a lot of my peers), the terrible end to "Camelot" took its toll on us. Things were about to get a whole lot darker and real for an entire generation of American kids.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Ying and Yang, Army Style

My ongoing efforts to get several years of service credit restored, so that I might remain in the Army long enough to earn a retirement, and continue serving on the investigation task force I'm currently assigned to has hit a few speed bumps. While I remain optimistic that I will win this battle, I have learned something about the stark difference between my active duty hierarchy and the reserve side's chain of command.

When this latest issue surfaced early last month, I got good help and support from the admin folks at the local reserve personnel center, but they were limited in what influence they have. On the other hand, when I informed my active duty bosses of the potential for my impending discharge I was stunned by their immediate offers of support, including a plan to get several commanding generals involved to add their considerable weight to my side. These offers were genuine, though it remains to be seen whether some "heavy hitters" are going to bat on my behalf. But at least they are providing tangible help. (They aren't doing this just to be nice, they recognize the contribution I'm making as part of the task force, and want to keep me in the fight. That makes a lot of sense to me, and motivates me to not give up.)

I contrast this tangible and heartfelt readiness to do whatever it takes to keep me on the team with the response from the reserve side of the house, outside of my home unit. Our higher headquarters (battalion-level) is located in California, and their reputation for losing personnel paperwork is epic. Once my situation came to their attention, their apparent worry has focused upon how quickly they can get me out the door, and thereby rapidly resolve the inconvenient mark on the battalion's unit manning report. No phone calls from the S-1 asking if there's anything they can do to support me, or the Battalion Command Sergeant Major trying to retain one of his NCOs by exerting his influence. Of course, these are the same bunch of folks who showed zero concern when our senior NCO in my detachment has had to resubmit his retirement papers FIVE TIMES, and they still haven't processed them correctly.
That kind of slovenly treatment by staff and commanders would get active duty folks relieved on the spot.
No matter how this episode turns out, I will never forget how my current active duty superiors have behaved in the finest traditions of military leadership...and how some of their reserve counterparts have remained on their collective asses. By the way, I'm hedging my bets by filing a request for assistance from the Inspector General, and seeking even bigger firepower from Senator Patty Murray's office. Watch this space for updates... UPDATE # 1: I headed down to the post IG's office on Wednesday, and a very professional and courteous Master Sergeant informed me this case would have to be referred to the Army Reserve IG folks.(The MSG said she'd handle the referral, and send the documents I had provided.) My initial trepidation at this development, given the lukewarm performance so far by the reserve side of the house, was quickly overcome by the outstanding response I received by the next morning. First, I received an email from the USAR IG HQ, letting me know that they had opened a case on my behalf. Later that morning while in the office, I received a phone call from the Assistant IG who will be handling my case. She was very squared away, quickly grasped the elements of my situation, listened to my detailed expalnation, and then laid out her plan of action. While she predicted this would be a challenging fight, I am confident the USAR IG will indeed strongly advocate on my behalf. So, score one for the Army Reserve! In the meantime, I am preparing my cases to be handed off to some "lucky" agent for final action, and set up my out-processing appointments. The fight continues...