Monday, February 23, 2009

My 10 favorite Red Sox players

In honor of the start of spring training, here are my top 10 favorite Red Sox players:

1. Yaz
2. Dewey
3. Jim Rice
4. Tek
5. Gator
6. Pudge
7. Papi
8. Tim Wakefield
9. Youk
10. Curt Schilling

Friday, February 13, 2009

Random thoughts upon my return from Germany.

Got back last night from Germany. A lot going on so I thought I'd give a quick update...

First of all, our laptop got some nasty viruses the day before I left and sure enough, it is now inoperable. I tried the usual fixes - full system scans, etc. I even bought a copy of Spy Doctor" to help. It helped somewhat but alas, there was one or two recurring viruses that both the antivirus and Spy Doctor software caught but were not able to delete or quarantine so they apparently went unchecked and have now rendered my laptop inoperable. I would like to think that there is a special place in hell for all the lowlife scumbag sonsobitches who are responsible for computer viruses. Anyway, I've had so many people tell me that I should buy a Mac because it's not as susceptible to viruses that I am considering now doing just that. If anyone has any advice along these lines, please feel free to advise.

Our dream house here has quickly turned into a nightmare. Northern Italy has suffered from record rainfall this winter and back in late December, a few days before we moved in to our house, there was water leaking into the taverna. The taverna is the finished basement rooms. there are two rooms, one large room complete with indoor fireplace/barbeque that was supposed to be our main living room area and another smaller room off to the side that was supposed to a combination of my gym and the wife's hobby room. The landlord cleaned the water up but the bigger problems is that the walls suffered tremendous water damage. The paint started peeling off and not long after, disgusting mold developed on the walls. The landlord feels extremely bad as this has never happened before to the house (all the neighbors in town say the same thing, they've never had this much rain here before) and has spent hours upon hours downstairs scraping the mold and paint off the walls in preparation of someone coming in to fix them. However, the rain has not let up until a day or two ago and several times we've gone downstairs to discover that water was starting to leak in again. The landlord has all the walls scraped clean and I've got a dehumidifier running 24/7 which I'm hoping helps. We are having our second straight day of sunny weather as well so hopefully the ground will start to dry out.

As you may know, this winter has been the worst in my entire life for sickness. I originally caught some kind of uberbug in Germany before arriving back to Italy and I have not been completely healthy since probably September or October. And pretty much everyone else in the house has been sick as well. The X Man came down with something similar to what I had shortly after starting school so I figured he either got it from me or one of his classmates. Turned out that he had an ear infection and a terrible dry cough that lasted for weeks. The doctor put him on 10 days of antibiotics and he seems back to normal now, thank God. Luca has also had a bit of a cold complete with runny nose and the occasional cough as well. The doctor said it was nothing serious, just a normal cold. And most surprisingly, the wife has been more sick this winter than I can ever remember her being. As for myself, I have also been more sick this winter than any other in my life. Just one thing after another, sinus infections, dry hacking coughs, flu with a fever, you name it. The cough that I developed in Germany before we arrived continued to get worse and worse until I finally went to the doctor after about two months. He wasn't sure what it was so he put me on antibiotics. They did not work but the cough finally went away by itself a few weeks later. A few weeks after that, the wife got sick, then I got the flu and was bedridden with a 102 temperature. Then the wife developed a really bad sore throat which I came down with this past week in Germany. And now I am starting to develop my cough that I thought I had finally gotten over again.

So a few weeks ago I started wondering if the mold from the basement could possibly be causing at least some of our recent health problems. I asked Giampi about it and he said no, the problems we have been having wouldn't be caused by the mold and that it's not just us, many people in Italy and Europe in general are suffering similar health problems this winter. But it has still been sticking in my mind as I just have never seen the amount of illness we have suffered before. I received an email from my step mother this morning describing how someone in her family once had to move out of their house because of a recurring mold problem that was making their little boy so sick that they almost lost him. So now I am almost convinced that the mold has something to do with everything and am looking into trying to get it tested or whatever. I'm hoping that it is not the case as we do still love our place and it would be impossible to find another place in Caldogno as perfect as this one (minus the water damage and mold of course). Once we figure things out I'll post an update here.

In the meantime, postings may be sporadic as we are currently without a computer at home...

Sunday, February 08, 2009

On the Road Again...

Leaving for Germany in a bit, be back this weekend. You all be good while I'm gone...

Saturday, February 07, 2009

"What Comes Around...": A True Story (Part 5)

[NOTE: This is a retelling of what is probably the worst thing anyone has ever done to me and how I ended up getting a small measure of revenge in the end. Everything in this story is true to the best of my recollection.]

The next day I called my project manager in Afghanistan and explained the situation to him and asked his advice on what I should do. He said not to worry, that I didn’t work for Barrett, I worked for LTC Fanning. I tried to explain that it didn’t matter because Barrett totally had Fanning like a puppet on a string and that he had managed to set it up so that if you worked for Fanning…you pretty much worked for Barrett. I did exactly what he told me to do, which was email Barrett and cc LTC Fanning. I was very cordial and did not let on that I knew about his master plan. I simply said something like “Tom, I noticed that you’ve sent some stuff to SFC Peterson and forgot to cc me on it. In the future, please be sure to cc me on all traffic as soon we’ll be planning redeployment and I need to be in the loop on everything”. Well, Barrett must have sensed what I was doing because he did not like it one bit. He blasted a reply on which he cc’d Fanning and several other people in the chain in which he angrily demanded to know everything that I had done so far during the deployment and that he wanted to see copies of all the products I had produced and what I was working on, etc. It was a genius move. He knew that isolating me in the rear would give me little chance to be involved and so demanding to know everything that I was working on would be like exposing to the world that I was just an overpaid contractor who wasn’t doing all the things I was hired to do. The irony was that he had schemed successfully from day one to put me in that position. I knew that if I pushed it, I would probably lose and probably have my position cut so I dropped the matter and never replied. In fact, Barrett and I had no further communication the rest of the deployment. I tried to get stuff through Fanning but Fanning sent everything through Barrett so I was screwed. Given what I had already learned, I was sure that Barrett had already convinced Fanning that I was worthless and not needed.

The months that followed were probably the most stressful of my life. I woke up every morning worried that that was the day my contract would be cut. I had a wife and small child at home and had no idea what I would do if that happened. It was a terrifying thought and it gripped me day and night. I started eating and drinking more and more out of stress and my weight rapidly ballooned to unforeseen proportions. I was constantly stressed and on edge and often took it out on the wife which made things worse. I had to sit each day and watch as someone who had pretended to be my friend systematically ruined my life and there was nothing I could do about it.

I did get a slight reprieve. A few months before the deployment ended, the contracting officer approached me and said he’d heard that an NCO was giving me trouble and trying to get me fired. He told me I had nothing to worry about, that they were happy with me and had no problems with my performance. I was a bit relieved but then in the same breath he also leveled with me and told me that the contract would almost certainly be cut when the unit redeployed. I said I understood and he asked me if I would be interested in staying as a Department of the Army civilian. I told him I definitely would be and he said he was trying to get my position converted to a DAC billet. Though I was happy about the new development, I was certain that as soon as Barrett found out about the DAC billet, he would do everything in his power to ensure that I would not get it.

In the end, I did not get selected for the DAC billet. In fact I ended up a distant third on the list for the very job that I had done for the past 6 years. Although I will probably never know exactly how much Barrett had to do with it, I did find out later on that he had filed and sent out several after action reviews in which he totally destroyed “the civilian” and went into great detail about how worthless “the civilian” was during the deployment and about how “the civilian” was a waste of money, etc. Losing out on my own job was an unbelievably humbling experience for me. For a long time afterward I questioned whether I was even in the right line of work. I was set to take another contract position in Hawaii for minuscule pay because it was the only offer I had when at the last minute a DAC position was offered to me working in Army Europe HQ in Heidelberg, Germany, the same place I had turned down the GS9 position a year and a half earlier. This position was a GS11 so I eagerly took it as it was in Europe and I could still come to Italy once or twice a year on vacation at least. As it turned out, the opportunity was a Godsend for me. While I had been passed over for my job in Italy, now I was working at a much higher level. It was like going from the minor leagues to the major leagues. And you know what? I excelled at it. I was learning new stuff, I was doing ten times the work I had done in Italy and I was making even more contacts in high places. That job went a long way towards restoring my confidence in my abilities. I kept in touch with Peterson and the individual who had ended up taking my position (we sort of knew each other already) and not surprisingly, they too ended up falling victim to Barrett’s schemes. The stories they told me about him sounded very similar to what I had lived through the previous year and a half. Eventually Barrett came down on orders for Ft Bragg but was able to finagle his way into an active guard slot somewhere in Iowa. He has since retired and is working as a GS9 the last I heard.

After 6 years in Italy, I had apparently made a name for myself. Everybody was quite surprised that I had not gotten the DAC position in Italy. One day, the LTC that I was working for at in Heidelberg was working late and it was just he and I so he asked me, what the hell happened in Italy that cost me the job? I told him I really didn’t know but I had my suspicions. I then told him the story about Barrett and what he had done to me and he said he has met NCO’s like that in his many years in the Army and they never surprise him. With the job in Italy, we were constantly doing business with Army Europe HQ in Heidelberg as they were our higher headquarters. A few of the guys who had worked with Barrett were quite shocked when I told them of Barrett’s actions as they all thought he was a smart, squared away NCO. That’s what always made things so hard to take – Barrett WAS extremely smart and he WAS a squared away NCO. Just made it harder to fathom how he could do something so underhanded and dirty.

I settled in and adjusted to my new position rather nicely. Although I missed Italy tremendously, I did enjoy working in Heidelberg. The guy who had taken my job in Italy ended up having so much trouble at it that after a year he requested to be released so he could go back to his old job in the US. I was hoping to get back down there but alas, the Colonel that I was working for at Army Europe HQ did not want me to leave and secretly convinced the new leadership in Italy not to fill the position (something I will never forgive him for). Looking back, I guess they were really happy with me and my performance which felt really good after the Barrett debacle. I even turned myself into somewhat of a go-to guy. After about a year and a half, my immediate supervisor left for a job in the US. I was asked by the leadership if I would be interested in the job and it was a GS12 position so I said yes. Unfortunately, the position ended up being posted as a temporary position so I didn’t even bother applying as my current position was permanent. A month or two later my big boss asked me to look over the list of people who had the referral list for the open position and see if I knew anyone. I scanned the list and there it was at the top of the second page: THOMAS BARRETT. It was like reliving the nightmare all over again. I went back to my boss, showed him the name and told him that if they ended up hiring this guy, I would quit on the spot. He asked why and I gave him a brief description of the history between us, after which he wholehearted agreed that this guy was not someone they wanted working there. The other hiring official was the LTC that I worked for so I asked to speak to him privately. I showed him the list and told him that “Thomas Barrett” was the NCO who I had told him about that night we were working late. He shook his head and said don’t worry, I was not the only person who he had heard negative things about Barrett from and there was no way they would hire him in light of this fact.

The funny thing is, out of a list of about 20 people, Barrett was far and away the most qualified candidate. Nobody else on there had anywhere near his experience and under normal circumstances, I would have recommended him in a heartbeat. In the end, someone else got the GS12 position and is, to this day, firmly ensconced in the position which is apparently about to become permanent. It could have been Barrett’s but for all of his scheming, manipulating and dirty tricks. In the end it probably won’t matter as I’m sure he’ll probably end up with a better job if he hasn’t already. But for that one brief moment, I got my little slice of revenge, even if it pales in comparison to what he did to me.

Sometimes you do indeed reap what you sow.

Friday, February 06, 2009

"What Comes Armound...": A True Story (Part 4)

[NOTE: This is a retelling of what is probably the worst thing anyone has ever done to me and how I ended up getting a small measure of revenge in the end. Everything in this story is true to the best of my recollection.]

The contract ended up taking a long time to get finalized and as a result I didn’t actually start the job until around December 1st. Sometime in late November as it was being finalized, I was introduced to the man who would be my new boss, LTC Ned Fanning (Not his real name). As it turned out, LTC Fanning was from Brockton, Mass. And was a huge Red Sox fan like me. The Red Sox had won the World Series for the first time in 86 years just a few weeks earlier so Red Sox fever was at an all time high and so we had an immediate bond. LTC Fanning had been brought in a month or so earlier to manage the deployment cell and my old section had been placed under him for the deployment. The problem was, he had no clue what my job entailed and he joked about it often – ‘Well, I know how to spell it now!”. He was always going 100 miles an hour and was so focused on other things that he didn’t want to have to take the time to worry about what we were doing, which was another reason why I was hired. However, as I quickly discovered, Barrett had become quite good at the job. He had taken advantage of my 2+ month absence by completely taking over everything and making it his own. I was not worried though, we were good friends, we worked together well before I had gotten out and I knew we would have no problem working together again under the new arrangement. He did seem different from the get-go though. He suddenly was a lot more serious and didn’t joke around as much. Whereas before it had always been a tradition to grab a mid morning or mid afternoon espresso, he suddenly claimed he was too busy to do so. It almost seemed as if he resented my presence there. I figured this was probably normal and didn’t worry about it too much but it was a bit difficult at times because I had been out of the loop for over 2 months and every time I asked him to bring me up to speed on where we were or let me take some of the workload I was rebuffed or thrown a bone that was supposed to pacify me. We did still maintain a good rapport though and it was obvious that he was just a little overworked and stressed about having to leave his family for another year deployment.

It also became obvious to me rather quickly that Barrett had turned himself into LTC Fanning’s right hand man. LTC Fanning loved him and gave him a lot of leeway to run “his” shop because he kept the heat off Fanning. The way the shop was to function was that Barrett and a Captain would spend the deployment at Ft. McPherson in Atlanta as the liaisons to the Central Command’s Army headquarters. Meanwhile I was to deploy to Afghanistan and run our shop from there. However, something very strange happened. A few weeks before we were supposed to leave, LTC Fanning informed me that had decided not to bring me to Afghanistan. This was strange because the reason why my position was created and why I was hired at all was to deploy with them. So if I was not deploying, there was a good chance my position would be cut and I would not have a job. I never got an explanation of why he suddenly changed his mind but it just seemed strange to me because only a few weeks earlier, his first words to me upon learning I had been hired were “Awesome, you’re deploying with us, right?”. By the grace of God, the contract officer decided not to cut my position. Instead I was to remain in the rear, in Vicenza, and support the unit however I could from there. This was not an ideal situation for me and I would spend the next year fearing that I could lose my job at any moment because there wouldn’t be enough to keep me busy.

Barrett (who had since been promoted to Master Sergeant) departed sometime in January for Atlanta and I was left running the show temporarily until everyone else left. He had lightened up considerably in the couple weeks before leaving and things seemed almost like the old times, joking on the phone and such after he got to Atlanta. I had told him straight out that I was worried about my job and constantly reminded him to keep me in the loop with everything. Since I was not deploying, he would be doing most of the work from Atlanta, so I told him I was counting on him to help me out by sending as much stuff my way as possible. He reassured me that he would do just that.

Shortly after Barrett and the rest of the unit had left, we received a new NCO, Sergeant First Class Jerome Peterson (Not his real name). Like most NCO’s who came into my shop, he was a signal NCO and had absolutely no experience with the job. So I set about my usual task of training him as I did with everyone else over the past 5 years or so. I liked him right away, he was a sports nut like me and loved a good discussion so we had plenty to talk about and we got along really well. He was also a very religious man and was one of the most honest people I’ve ever met. He was very easy to work with. Unfortunately there was not a lot for us to do in the rear.

Weeks and then months had gone by and I was not receiving anything from Barrett for some reason except for jokes and/or updates about mutual acquaintances. Every so often I would remind him that, for my job’s sake, I needed to be included in things as much as possible. He would say yeah, don’t worry, there just isn’t anything to send. Something didn’t seem quite right but he and I were such good friends that the thought that he might be purposely withholding stuff from me never entered my mind. Then one day, Peterson asked me to explain something to him. I looked at it and it was an email from Barrett discussing some aspect of the deployment. I thought it was kind of strange that Barrett had sent it to him and not me. Then he showed me his inbox and there were dozens and dozens of emails that Barrett had sent him or cc’d him on. It made no sense to me. Why would Barrett send that stuff to Peterson, who he had never met and who still didn’t know anything about the job and totally ignore me? I put it in the back of my mind because there really wasn’t much I could do about it. Besides, the deployment was about half over by that time and I still had a job so I was happy. Still nervous…but happy nonetheless.

A couple weeks later, at the end of the day, Peterson says good night and walks out the door, then reappeared a few minutes later. It was just he and I in there and he says he needs to talk to me. I said what’s up and he says “Look man, I really didn’t want to get involved in this and I wasn’t planning on saying anything but I can’t keep quiet anymore. This just isn’t right and I feel bad about this and I feel like I should at least warn you”. My reaction was something like “Huh?”. He then proceeded to inform me that Barrett had devised a grand scheme to get rid of me and was trying to enlist his help. He talked about how he never wanted me there as a civilian because he didn’t think they needed me and described in great detail his vision of the section after they redeployed – him and Peterson running things and no civilian. Apparently he had been working to try and get rid of me since the day they hired me. It became painfully obvious to me that Barrett was the one who had convinced Fanning not to deploy me, figuring they would cut my position on the spot (which they very nearly did). It was very hard for me to accept that someone who I thought was a good friend was actually scheming behind my back to get me fired. If we weren’t such good friends I probably might have seen it coming but I was just floored. It was literally like a punch in the stomach. I’d never felt so betrayed. I felt kind of like William Wallace when he ripped the helmet off the King’s guard and discovered it was Sir Robert the Bruce. I still had a hard time believing anyone was capable of such a thing but Peterson showed me emails from Barrett that backed up everything he said. It was true, every word of it.

It was instantly the worst thing anyone had ever done to me in my life and I had a hard time dealing with it. I started ruminating over everything Barrett had done since I’d known him. It all made sense now. He worked so feverishly to help me get out because he wanted control of the shop. He was pushing me to the job in Germany because he knew he could never be “the guy” as long as I was around. It was why he would not allow me into the building when I was on terminal leave, he had to keep me out of the loop as much as possible. It was why he had managed to get so much control over LTC Fanning before I came on board.

Barrett and I had had several conversations over the months about his future. He would go into great detail about how he was dropping his retirement paperwork after the deployment and how he was going back to Tennessee. He even told me several times that he had passed the state trooper test back home and was planning on becoming a state trooper. He described how he was sick of Europe and wanted to go back to the US. And yet, his plan all along was to get rid of me and take my job, plain and simple. And he never let on. If it weren’t for Peterson, I never would have known. I told Peterson he was a good man for at least warning me. He reiterated that he really didn’t want to get involved but, as he put it, “you’re a good man with a beautiful family and what he’s trying to do to you just ain't right”. I had no idea how I was going to handle the situation but I reassured Peterson that I would keep him out of it and that I would not tell Barrett that he has said anything to me.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

'What Comes Around...": A True Story (Part 3)

[NOTE: This is a retelling of what is probably the worst thing anyone has ever done to me and how I ended up getting a small measure of revenge in the end. Everything in this story is true to the best of my recollection.]

On the job front, things were also progressing. I’d known a few other people around the European theater who did same job as me and who had also gotten out of the Army. Each of them walked into either a GS11 or GS12 position right away, so that was my benchmark. I felt that with my qualifications and skill level, I should at least be able to jump into a GS11 position right away. I spoke with a MAJ that I knew up in Heidelberg and he informed me that they had a GS9 position opening up very soon and that I should definitely apply. This did not please me. I told him that I thought I should be starting at least at the 11 level and he agreed but said the 9 was all he had. It was the most promising lead I had so even though I was hoping something better would come along I reluctantly applied for the GS9 position when it got posted. If nothing better came along, I would have taken it, as it was in Germany (still Europe!) and featured full living quarters allowance (housing and utilities) so it really wasn’t a bad starting point. Barrett assured me that it was a good move and continued to do everything he could to ensure I’d be getting out of the Army on time. Eventually I got selected for the GS9 position. I tried psyching myself up for the big career move but I just couldn’t get excited about it. I was so in love with Italy that I was extremely saddened at the thought of leaving. Oh how I wished I could find a job in Italy somewhere!

Suddenly one day, I started hearing whispers that Northrup Grumman was making progress on a possible contract with my unit to support them in various capacities during their impending deployment. And one of the “capacities” happened to be my job. I was elated to hear this and was hoping something would happen soon. I’d already accepted the GS9 position in Heidelberg but if I had a chance to stay in Italy, however small, I was taking it. It would be a lot more money than a GS9 position and best of all, it would allow me to remain in Italy, the country I loved so well.

You have to understand how much I loved it here. It was my home for over 4 years, I was learning the language and the X Man had been adopted by our neighbors, Giampietro and Agnese. He was already speaking Italian better than English! Italy was in my blood, it was my home. I didn’t want to live anywhere else. And so, even though I didn’t like doing it, I secretly did everything I could to draw out the in-processing with Heidelberg in hopes that the contract would be finished soon. I couldn’t take a chance at turning down the GS9 and then finding out that the contract was dead, then I’m out of the Army and jobless. I still needed the GS9 position as a fallback. While all this was going on, one day Barrett decided to give me some unsolicited advice. Out of the blue he tells me that I can do whatever I want but that the best thing for me would be to take the GS9 position in Heidelberg. The reasoning he gave was that I had gone as far as I was going to go in Vicenza and going to work at Army Europe HQ was the best thing for my career. I told him I didn’t care, I loved Italy too much to leave so it’s not even something I need to think about. And besides, the amount of money I would make as a contractor would be hard to turn down. He tried hard to dissuade me but I would not budge. The fact that he was pushing me hard to take the Germany job didn’t seem that odd to me at the time, after all, he seemed to be looking out for my best interest.

So here was my timeline: my official last day in the Army was 12 December. I had saved up two months of what is called “terminal leave” so my actual last day at work was on or about 14 October. You usually start clearing a few weeks out so pretty much by mid September I was gone. I was doing what was called a “European out” which means that I was getting out of the Army in Europe instead of the US. Barrett was masterful in making sure that all the necessary paperwork was in order and submitted in time. The contract was very nearly complete and I was excited. I pretty much knew that I would be hired as a contractor so I tried to ensure that I kept myself in the loop with the planning effort regarding the upcoming deployment. I didn’t want to miss a couple months and then come back and try to get caught up. I asked Barrett to please keep me apprised of any major developments so I could hit the ground running when the contract was finally done and he agreed. However, one day after I had finished clearing and had started my terminal leave, I stopped up to the office to say hello and see how the planning effort was going. Barrett met me at the door and informed me that I wasn’t allowed in the building. I was sure he was joking. He then explained that since I had cleared the unit and technically was not part of it at that moment, I was not cleared to enter the building. I still thought he was joking. Turns out, he was serious. I kind of laughed and said “C’mon Tom, everybody here knows me, you know I’m going to be working here as a contractor very soon so I need to stay involved” but he stood firm, saying it was “Army policy”. I thought he was being unnecessarily strict all of a sudden but I didn’t push it. I left and figured I’d just wait until the contract was finished.

Eventually the contract did get finished. I applied for my position and not surprisingly was selected since I’d done the job the past 4 years and was pretty much a shoe-in for it. It was one of the most exciting things that had ever happened to me and it was the dream of almost every low to mid level soldier in the Army; get out and get a high paying contract position doing the same thing you did as a soldier. My salary literally doubled over night. The position would require that I deploy to Afghanistan with the unit and that would mean anywhere from $25-50,000 on top of the normal pay. I was just floored. When I ran into Barrett, I excitedly told him of the offer I had received. In my mind, Barrett had played a huge part in my dream coming true and I really thought he would be excited for me but he didn’t seem to be. I figured he was probably just being his usual even-keeled self, that he was secretly happy for me deep down. I told him that I owed him a huge debt for all of his help over the past few months and invited him and his wife over for dinner to say thanks. After dinner, I presented him and his wife with a set of expensive wine glasses as a thank you gift. I remember making a little speech telling him that he was the best NCO I had in my entire time in the Army and that I could never repay him for everything he had done for me. I meant every word.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

"What Comes Around..."; A True Story (Part 2)

[NOTE: This is a retelling of what is probably the worst thing anyone has ever done to me and how I ended up getting a small measure of revenge in the end. Everything in this story is true to the best of my recollection.]

It was early 2004 when I made the decision that I was getting out of the Army and there were two main factors that drove the decision. The first was the whole Air Force officer packet screw job that I just described. The second was my re-enlistment situation. I was fast approaching my ten year mark and apparently the rule in the Army is that when you re-enlist with 10 or more years in, it is an indefinite re-enlistment. What that means is that the Army basically owns you until you retire. You can request to get out before retirement but they do not have to let you. You can submit your retirement paperwork at 20 years but they don’t have to approve it. Needless to say, there was NO F’ING WAY I was going to allow the Army – or anybody else for that matter - to have that much control over my life. My current enlistment was slated to end on December 12th, 2004 which seemed like perfect timing to me. I basically had about 10 months to start getting my ducks in a row and start looking for civilian jobs. The X Man was only a few months old at this time so it did make me a little nervous but for the most part I enjoyed my lame duck status for most of 2004.

Not long after I decided that I was getting out we found out that my company would be deploying to Afghanistan sometime in early 2005. I debated long and hard about whether to stay in for another year and go with them but in the end I was just too burned out and couldn’t get past the thought of missing an entire year of the X Man’s life. Besides, I had already made decent progress in my job hunting and was worried that some of the opportunities I had would not still be available in another year and a half. Several people tried to scare me by telling me that I would be getting stop-lossed and would not be able to get out of the Army but some quick figuring put my ETS (end of time in service) date slightly outside of the stop loss window so I wasn’t too worried.

In the spring of 2004, I had to accompany my boss on a three week trip to the US to work on some details of the rotation to Afghanistan the following year. He apparently found my contributions of decent value and upon returning often inquired about my timeline in getting out and occasionally wondered out loud how he was going to get by without me (for the record, I always thought he’d have no problem). Several times he remarked that he would love to keep me there as a civilian if he could. Unfortunately there was still no civilian position here so he was out of luck. Around this time I had a friend up in Army Europe Headquarters in Heidelberg, Germany who was a contracting representative for Northrup Grumman, the second largest defense contractor in the US. They had several contracts at bases in Germany and were really interested in expanding to Italy if they could. I mentioned this to my boss and said if he really was interested, I knew guy who might be able to work with him in getting a civilian position created. Eventually he agreed and I put the guy in touch with him, then recused myself from the situation, hoping for the best but not really expecting anything.

Also in the spring of 2004, while all of this was going on, we received a new NCOIC in our shop. His name was Sergeant First Class Thomas Barrett (not his real name). Barrett was different than every other NCO that ever came to our shop in that he had a transportation MOS. Everyone else, including myself, had a signal MOS. This usually made it hard for people to learn the job because it’s a lot more closely related to transportation than signal. He had quite a background, having deployed to Iraq with the airborne brigade on base and working pretty much every aspect of the transportation and deployment world in both the US and Europe. I liked him right away as he was not like most of the NCO’s I’d worked with during my time there. He was friendly, jovial, liked to laugh and joke around and wasn’t a “hard ass”. I went through the normal routine of training him as I did with every new person that came into the shop and to my surprise he seemed to pick up the job a lot quicker than anyone else ever had since I’d been there. With his background, this was not surprising and I was pleased that there might finally be another person in the shop who could do the job, especially with me getting out of the Army at the end of the year.

Barrett and I hit it off on a personal level as well. We had a lot in common and he treated me like an equal, not someone who was two ranks below him and thus subservient to his every command. He had a rather sizable family – a wife and five kids – whom I met and they were all very nice. He was originally from Tennessee and he had that sort of good old boy charm about him. I noticed right away that he was a master at working the system. He seemed to know every Army regulation in the book and, when it suited his purpose, how to get around them. One time in the middle of a work day, he told us that we had a mission to attend to so we were closing up shop for the day. The mission? Meeting his family at the movie theater to watch the movie “Dodgeball”. Yes indeed, Thomas Barrett was my kind of NCO.

As the year progressed, I started doing all my paperwork to get out of the Army. As with anything else the Army does, there is a ton of paperwork and bureaucracy involved when you decide to separate from the service. I needed to ensure that everything was in order so they could not end up stop-loss’ing me on a technicality. Around the time I was beginning the process, Barrett took me aside for a chat. He asked me if getting out of the Army was what I really wanted to do and of course I said yes. He then told me that he was going to make it his mission to ensure that all my paperwork was in order and that I don’t get screwed. I was very impressed as I’d never had an NCO take such an interest in my well being; in most cases it was usually the exact opposite. And true to his word, he went above and beyond in assuring that I had no problems getting out of the Army. Whenever I hit a roadblock, he would navigate me through it. Whenever I had trouble dealing with one of our personnel clerks, he would have a “chat” with that person (or his supervisor) and things would get straightened out. I was quite surprised by the whole thing to be honest. I thought to myself “If I’d always had NCO’s like him, I might have made a career out of the Army!”.

To be continued...

Monday, February 02, 2009

"What Comes Around..."; A true story. (Part I)

[NOTE: This is a retelling of what is probably the worst thing anyone has ever done to me and how I ended up getting a small measure of revenge in the end. Everything in this story is true to the best of my recollection.]

I came to Italy from Germany in May 0f 2000. I ended up working on the division staff doing a job that was highly sophisticated and detail oriented. I loved it right away because jobs like that are few and far between in the Army. In Germany I worked on radios and spent a lot of time in a field environment which I’ve never really enjoyed so when I fell into a job where I would be working at a desk in an office behind a computer, I welcomed the change. But what I loved most was that the job was difficult, challenging, always changing and so you had to stay sharp to keep up. There was a lot to learn and I devoured it all. I took to it right away and became rather good at it. Most of the officers that I worked for didn’t really know exactly what my job was but they knew it was important enough that if they had someone who was good at it, they were extremely fortunate. And so I developed a good relationship with pretty much every officer I worked with and enjoyed a certain amount of autonomy. I never thought the job was so hard that the average person couldn’t learn it but for some reason, every single other soldier, officer and NCO alike, had trouble learning the job. Most never even got the slightest grasp on it at all and because of that, spent most of their time doing everything BUT what they were supposed to be doing. I didn’t mind as much because it made me, by default, the go-to guy. For all of my time doing the job as a soldier, I was quite literally the only person there who knew how to do it. Over the course of my time there I’d met and worked with civilians who did the same job as me and I always had it in the back of my mind that I would love to one day get out of the Army and do my job as a civilian. After all, it would mean better pay, still serving my country and yet not having to put up with most of the Army crap that I didn’t like. Unfortunately there were no civilian positions here in Italy doing my job so I continued to re-enlist to stay in Italy because I did not want to leave this beautiful country. There were several civilian positions in Heidelberg, Germany but…Germany is not Italy. And so I stayed.

In the summer of 2003, I was approached by an Air Force friend and told that they (the AF) were now accepting candidates from the Army for their officer training school. I had always wanted to join the Air Force and had often toyed with the idea of getting a commission and finishing my military career as an officer so I took the test and scored high enough to submit a packet. Several officers I worked with at the time were thrilled and wanted me to succeed so through them I was able to acquire not only a letter of recommendation from my Commanding General, but also an emphatic recommendation for admittance from an Air Force General Officer who was the 86th Wing commander at Ramstein AB. I was told by the Air Force recruiter who was supervising my packet that these two recommendations together meant that my acceptance was guaranteed as soon as my packet was submitted. Unfortunately, the Army was late supplying me with the last remaining document I needed and literally nine days before the packet was due, the Air Force filled their slots and closed the process for that year. The recruiter told me it was no problem, I just had to wait a year and submit the finished packet, that it was guaranteed, but for me the die was cast. My future as an Air Force officer was not to be. I was already 32 years old so waiting another year and then getting a commission at age 34 just was not an option for me. But by that time, I had really grown tired of much of the day to day Army bullshit that I had to put up with. I enjoyed my job tremendously but didn’t enjoy being subjected to the whims of idiot NCOs (and occasionally officers) who had way too much control over my life for my liking. I hated the fact that I couldn’t just come in, do PT, do my job and then go home. I’d always told myself that I’d stay in the Army as long as I enjoyed it or could at least tolerate it and after nearly seven years active duty, the time had come. And so my options became limited to one: get out of the Army and get a civilian job.

To be continued...