Monday, January 18, 2010

"There's a Good Reason Why You are In This Line for 4 Hours"

Today I went through another stage of out-processing. The particular task involved calculating the leave due me. This can be tricky for the soldiers who are full-time in the Guard or Reserve, but not so much for people me. I and almost everyone else used exactly 15 days of leave for the trip home and we get a total of 32.5 days for the time we served. So I continue on active duty for 17 days with benefits and they pay me for the half day. The process would have taken ten minutes, but my leave form was blurry, so it took 30.

But I waited 4 hours to get to the station where this ten-minute calculation was performed. I was sitting in the finance office waiting for several sergeants and civilians to discuss my faded leave form. I said to one of the finance clerks that I had not waited for anything in line for four hours during the 23 years I was a civilian. She started to explain why we were waiting--only four finance clerks, 170people in line, etc. I said it was not the reason that mattered, but as a civilian if someone wanted me to wait four hours, the reward would have to be phenomenal. She spent 20 years in the Army then went to work for the federal government. For her, waiting in line makes sense. She lives by the government system.

And for her, the reasons did make sense. But if a civilian company would not be in business very long if it made customers wait in line four hours to do a predictable 10-minute bit of paperwork. And onloy a government organization would even try to do something so simple on paper. A money-making business would automate the calculation.

After that four-hour wait was over, I was in two more lines. One for 90 minutes, one for 2.5 hours. The last one I was only in line 90 minutes of the 2.5 hours. I left and ate dinner and came back. Soldiers hold each other's place in line.

We are All Back in America

We are all here in New Jersey now. No more flights we can't talk about, we are in America. So whatever is left do we will do it here in America and then go home to Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland, Montana and wherever else people call home. The last plane arrived tonight at McGuire Air Force Base at 9pm. I was at the bottom of the ramp and got pictures of about 100 of the 170+ soldiers on the flight. It was much easier to shoot tonight for a variety of reasons.

1. Just about everyone on the plane was in our unit and from Pennsylvania so the VIPs shaking hands at the bottom of the ramp were all from PA. Last time there were VIPs from both PA and NJ. They formed parallel lines and the soldiers walked down the middle, so I could not shoot without someone's back to me.

2. I had only the flash on the camera which was not enough to shoot on the ramp--I know this now. I did not know it the first night.

3. A professional photographer from PA Headquarters shot video and reset my camera for higher light sensitivity. He also told me how he would be moving so I could use some of his light.

4. On the day of the arrival of the first flight, there was a colonel traveling with the VIPs who is also an amateur photographer. He was telling me how to shoot. He was also telling me that my job was to shoot the VIPs even though my assignment was to shoot the returning soldiers. At one point he pulled me by the shoulders to where he thought I should be. He proves the Army proverb I just made up that a high-ranking jerk is much worse than an ordinary jerk. In a couple of weeks when I am fully a civilian again, I will have more to say about what happens when a bully has rank. Thankfully, this guy did not show up with today's group.