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...

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