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Postcards from Tradocia

How ALC (almost) stole Christmas

Coming here, I didn’t know what to expect for the Christmas holiday period. Since Christmas falls on a Friday this year, I figured it’d be a nice four day weekend and that’d be it. As it turns out, there’s a two week “exodus” period, from the 18th of December to the 2nd of January, and you have to take leave. This presented a problem for me, since as a member of the National Guard, I have no leave to take. The alternative was to request a four day pass for the Christmas weekend and another one for New Year’s weekend. I took that option, planning to only go home for Christmas, with the New Year’s pass just being a covering option to keep me out of sight for the weekend.

(This is a long one – for the punchline, just scroll to the bottom if you don’t want my long-winded explanation.)

The paperwork for the leave and pass requests were due at 1500 on the 2nd of December. My class spent the morning scrambling to assemble the virtual ream of paper necessary to complete the request, which included:

  • A cover sheet and checklist
  • A memo with the first sergeant’s signature block
  • A DA Form 31 (request for leave) – one copy for pass request, four copies for leave
  • A vehicle safety inspection checklist (even if you didn’t have a vehicle here)
  • A “safety pledge” (saying “I won’t deprive the Army of my valuable services unnecessarily”)
  • A trip itinerary
  • A printout from the cleverly-named TRiPS website, which is basically a big warning about how dangerous cars are

I had to complete two of these packets, since I was making two separate pass requests.

We turned the pile of paper in, and within an hour, word came back: the dates have changed. Originally, we were told that the end date of the exodus was 3 January; this was either wrong or was changed to 2 January. Thus, anything with that end date on it had to be re-done. I didn’t bother to re-do the second pass request, since I only really cared about the first one. A couple of others were also requesting passes, and they made the same decision – only the Christmas one really mattered.

At about 1730, our class was called in to meet with our SGL. He talked about something of no consequence, then said he needed to see me, the two others who were requesting passes, and the one soldier who failed the initial PT test here (which, they said, would disqualify him from taking leave). The SGL said that the dates on our pass requests were wrong, and we explained that we didn’t really care – he could throw the damn thing in the trash, for all we cared. He seemed a little confused, then told us to come to his office.

The four of us stepped into his office and he handed us each counseling statements. I gave it a quick read and it said that I was assigned to post flag detail from the 16th to the 31st of December. The SGL began to talk, telling us about flag detail, and we all looked at each other, confused. I told him that we had pass requests in for Christmas, so how could we do flag detail? He said, no you don’t. Yes we do, we said. He looked through the pile of pass requests, shrugged. Oh, I guess you do, he said. Oh well.

He then began to berate us, asking us why we didn’t take leave like everyone else – as if not taking leave was some kind of offense. I was indignant – I said hey, I’m National Guard, I have no leave, so I took the only option available to me. He just shrugged, as if I had just told him that I like hamburgers better than cheeseburgers. He didn’t care.

We then filed in to see the first sergeant, who basically had no idea what our situations were. He asked us each in turn, nodding sagely at each story, then proceeded to launch into his own routine. He regaled us with talk about how, just like any other unit, he has to maintain 10% manning during exodus, and that flag detail is ALC’s mission every month from the 16th to the 31st, so the mission has to be completed. He said that 16 people were required, and that he would pull people from leave if necessary – so important was the mission. In essence, he said that there was a shit sandwich sitting on the table, someone had to eat it, and we were the lucky winners.

I left his office speechless. I was so angry I could hardly speak. What had just occurred was so orthogonal to my perception of reality, I didn’t know what to say. I would’ve been less surprised if he said that ALC was going to mount an infantry attack on the moon.

Days went by, and as far as we were concerned, we were condemned men. We did a lot of bitching (even more than usual), and the idea of taking the situation to the academy sergeant major came up, but we ultimately decided that given how assed-up things are here, it would be a futile gesture. We did put a bug in the ears of a few people, but with little hope of action.

In the afternoon on the 16th, I reported to our SGL’s office to drop off some additional paperwork for the class for leave. (Yes, more paperwork was required, above and beyond the items listed above.) The SGL then said, casually, not looking at me, “Oh, let your classmates know, ya’ll’s passes are approved.” I blinked. “Sergeant,” I said, speaking very carefully, “who exactly is included in ‘ya’ll’?” He indicated me and the two others from my class (Vic Viper and Sleepy), but not our PT failure. I questioned him at length about the details, including whether we needed to resubmit the paperwork. He said that wasn’t necessary, since he still had our original pass forms. This becomes important in a minute.

On the evening of the 16th, after completing flag detail, we were told to report to the academy classroom to meet with the deputy commandant. By this time, we had ten unlucky bastards who had been denied leave and pass, for various (questionable) reasons, and we all were to see the deputy.

Once at the classroom, the first sergeant addressed us. He said that he looked at the duty roster that day, and “realized” that he had fourteen (14) SGLs staying back, so why couldn’t they do flag detail instead of us? He began to admit that he had made a mistake in denying our passes, but the admission turned sour when he said that his real mistake was not getting the disapproval in writing, from the deputy, before telling us. The deputy then came in and the first sergeant left, and the deputy proceeded to give us an angry lesson about who holds leave and pass approval authority. Leave is at the discretion of the commander, which I had thought in this case was the first sergeant (acting as the ALC branch chief), but it was actually the commandant, who had delegated it to his deputy. As he told the story, I still hadn’t put two and two together about what had actually happened, but the realization was to come soon enough.

He then questioned each of us in turn about the circumstances of our leave or pass requests. Everybody did so, and he basically said that all the passes and leave requests would be approved. Despite the good news, however, his confrontational manner kept most of us (myself included) on the defensive, wondering why he seemed to be so angry at us, who had done nothing wrong. He then proceeded to threaten us with grave action (including dismissal) if we returned late from our passes, paying special attention to me, reminding me that “Minneapolis is a long way from here” (no shit, dad) and “you better not pull any stunts” and basically preemptively branding me a shitbag for having the temerity to have a residence 1200 miles from Fort Gordon. I almost stood back up (one must always stand when talking to the sergeant major) to express my offense at his presumption, but decided to hold my tongue.

The deputy also gave the long and obligatory speech about how busy he is, and how he works late every day, and how 10% of the soldiers take up 90% of his time, and how everybody wants special treatment, etc. etc. If there’s one thing I hate in a superior, it’s the “I’m so busy” speech. It always seems like such a pity play – do you expect me to feel sorry for you or something? Guy with superior rank and responsibilities has more work to do, news at 10.

He hadn’t yet made a decision (or so he said) about the two PT failures – he didn’t want to allow them leave, but he went out of the room to confer with the first sergeant. A few minutes later, he returned, saying that the first sergeant had had a fit of conscience and was allowing them to take ten days leave. It was a transparent (but necessary) ploy – it’s fairly obvious that it was the other way around, but he had to pitch it as if the first sergeant had the idea.

We hashed out a few more details, then left, as bewildered as ever. After discussing and thinking about the situation, it’s still not clear what exactly happened, but a few things stand out:

  1. Our pass requests were submitted at about 1500 on the 2nd, and by 1730, they had been rejected and we were presented with counseling statements – with our typed names already filled in. This would be possible if the 1SG had approval authority, but he didn’t.
  2. The deputy obviously didn’t know what any of our situations were. He started his speech assuming that we had never even submitted any leave forms, and told us at the end to “go ahead and put in your leave requests.”
  3. We talked about the situation with a master sergeant from the schoolhouse (which has a whole set of unrelated cadre), and he hinted around the idea that the SGLs were responsible for flag detail if there were no students available (which would be the case if everyone left for exodus).
  4. One soldier had been told his pass had been approved, and flew his family in from Germany, only to be told on the 14th that it had been denied and he was on flag detail. He threatened to take the matter to the commandant, and lo and behold, the next day, they’re all approved. His SGL said, “so do I have to do flag detail for you now?”

The inescapable conclusion is that the SGLs knew that they would have to do flag detail during exodus, and they colluded with the first sergeant to sweep our passes under the rug and make the students do it instead. The first sergeant lied to our faces when he said there’d be 16 people on the detail, and that he had to maintain 10% manning, and that he could deny leave – all of it was a bald-faced lie. Our paperwork never crossed the deputy commandant’s desk – because he denied having disapproved any of our requests, and his confusion regarding our situation indicated that he was truthful.

As if we needed any more reasons to dislike this place – the menial labor, the disorganization, the outright disrespect for their peers and fellow NCOs – we can now add straight-up dishonest and unethical behavior. It makes me wonder – if they were willing to do this in this instance, what other shady shit are they up to?

6 Comments

  1. You mean what other shady shit than making you pay for your own awards and use the friend of someone there as your supplier?

  2. What makes this story even worse is the fact that I picture Flag Detail to pretty much involve putting up the flag and taking it down again every day. I’m sure there’s more to it than that.

    Either way, this whole situation makes it seem like they took Sisyphus, and put him in a Kafka novel, and are now filming the movie with you as the lead. Maybe I should be sending _you_ care packages?

  3. Reminds me of the situation on the last go-round when Our Glorious Leader told me that only the general had the authority to change my pass to one day earlier than it had randomly landed on. One day earlier was the difference between being the best man at my brother’s wedding and missing the whole thing.

    The good general was rather confused (and angry) as to why she would say that as it was well within her authority to change pass dates.

    It was a beautiful wedding.

    I’m glad you got Christmas back.

  4. Er…actually, that pretty much is all that flag detail is. Granted, we also have to fold the flag in the evening, but…that’s it.

  5. That reminds me of a bad joke: How many Soldiers does it take to put up a flag? Sixteen! One to raise it and fifteen to tell him how to do it better next time.

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