For the past few weeks there's been a story here in West Virginia making the papers and I just have to shake my head and wonder where these people have been. Apparently, and officer in the US Army from Charleston, WV was severely wounded in Iraq and was discharged recently. His family complained that he was charged $750 for the body armor he was wearing that was lost in combat. This complaint has several state and federal lawmakers up in arms, wondering why the government is being so callous.
Where the fuck have you been people? The Army has been doing this for years. I remember vividly being charged $250 and had it deducted out of my pay for the loss of a kevlar helmet back in 1986. (But that Soviet border gaurd's hat I got in trade over the inner German border looked pretty cool...) Every piece of gear you are issued in the military you are responsible for. You sign for it, and when you leave the post where you're stationed you have to turn it all back in. And it better be in the same condition you received it, or you pay for it. This doesn't include uniforms, where although you are responsible for the care and upkeep, they're yours after issue. (Exception, officers have to pay for their uniforms, enlisted are issued)
Those of my readers who have been in the military know of this little joyful experience when either changing duty stations or being discharged. It's called "Out Processing". What fun that is. I'm not going to go into a full blown description of that little chore, but suffice to say you will get to places you never knew existed on the base to have your outprocessing form stamped and signed. Even if you've never used that facility.
But the one place every soldier, especially those in Combat Arms dreads is the field gear turn in. One small tear in a magazine pouch and a trip to clothing sales to buy a new one to turn in. And don't even dream of losing an expensive piece of equipment like a kevlar vest or helmet, night vision goggles or something like that. It comes out of your paycheck. But to be fair to the army, there's no markup, you pay exactly what the army paid for it to begin with.
And I won't even go into what happens if you lose a weapon... Suffice to say after Grenada, I was petrified that I had lost the M-60 machinegun I had signed for. Luckily my platoon sergeant secured that for me. I'd still be paying that one off. We had to account for every round of ammunition issued...
The military is a strange animal. They do shit like that and once your in for a while you get used to it. They do things exactly opposite that the private sector would do. I know I have a few readers who work for the Federal Government, and they should identify with this:
Have you ever noticed around military bases an increase of activity right near the end of the fiscal year? I'll tell you why. Because if a particular unit doesn't use their whole budget for that fiscal year, the next fiscal year they get less money. Towards the end of the FY, the unit audits itself, looking at the budget.
Airforce squadron #1 is allotted $2 million for fuel for FY 2004. It's close to the end of FY 2004 and the flight officer looks at the amount spent to date for JP5. (jet fuel) He notices that the squadron has only spent $1.2 million on fuel. In the private sector, this guy would have been rewarded for saving $800,000. But not the military! If they don't spend that extra money on fuel in the next month, they'll only get $1.2 million for fuel in FY 2005.
So that squadron burns up $800K in JP5 in four weeks, just so they'll get the same amount in their budget next year.
Crazy, I know. But the way things work in the government. Your tax money is being well spent. Kinda' give you a warm fuzzy feeling, don't it?
Copyright 2006 Thomas J Wolfenden