[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.