No Ticker Tape—Burn in H*** Little Old Lady in Tennis Shoes
The email hit my inbox with the subtlety of a GBU-56. “CIF appointment Monday at 12:30.” Boom!
Panic set in. Monday, gulp. It was Friday.
Over the last 18 years I accumulated a veritable mountain of kit. My cage was crammed with bags of gear. Woodland BDU’s, a barrack’s bag issued in 2000 that I’ve never opened, heaps of pouches and boots and sunglasses, UCP stuff, OCP stuff, FREE system, ICWCS, maybe ten jackets—the summation of Uncle Sugar’s two decades of lavishing.
His pockets run deep.
How could I ever sort, organize, account for and even clean (yeah right) this abomination of desolation? The task seemed insurmountable.
CIF beckoned, the detested Central Issue Facility, the source of so much angst and corporate ire.
The dreaded little old lady in tennis shoes awaited.
The Army, like all government institutions, is awash in red tape. The priestess of the red tape is the little old lady in tennis shoes.
While negotiating any Army system, in-processing or whatever, she is the arbiter, the gatekeeper of said system, a figurative character, a nasty civilian who’s been doing this singular job longer than you’ve been alive. She’s seen soldiers come and go, heard all manner of excuses, seen all manner of absurdity, and maintains little sympathy for your lot in life.
Don’t cross the “I”s or dot the “T”s and she’ll not render you the desperately needed stamp or signature or entry into the appropriate database. In out-processing the Army, I’ll negotiate a battalion of little old ladies in tennis shoes.
Now I had to face the nastiest of them all, the CIF little old lady, a stickler for those three dreaded words: accountability, serviceability, and cleanliness.
I did what I had to do, I called for back-up.
I issued a FRAGO to the spousal unit, jumped in my truck, and headed for the compound. Heavy D in the unit issue facility hooked me up with a list of what I owed—I didn’t recognize half of it—and I headed for my cage to see how to avert the impending train wreck.
I had to go systematic. I started by sorting according to decade. Old woodland stuff over here, Smurf-colored junk over here, actual modern and useful OCP stuff over here. Stuff that I had no idea what it was, over here. Unopened and unused stuff in this pile.
At some point, I surveyed the growing piles and compared them against the typically-odd language of the Army inventory list and began to panic a bit.
I called Ami to inform her of the potential blood-letting. She exhorted me to get back to work. I briefly contemplated who I might pay to get me out of this mess and then girded up my loins and got back to sorting.
“Sort and pack your gear in reverse order of the inventory sheet,” was the CIF guide’s bland instructions. I opted for packing by pile. After determining that I had a large portion of the gear and then some, I contemplated cleaning…cleaning?! How do you clean a pouch? A rucksack? Do I really need to paint my E-tool (folding shovel for you laymen)?
I quickly formulated a three-fold strategy:
-I would first present my copious amounts of unopened, unused OCP kit. Surely that would ingratiate me to the demons at CIF.
-Second, I would present the most outdated equipment to include the unopened barracks bag. Perhaps the humor of the situation would further soften their hearts.
-Finally, I would overwhelm them with volume, praying that the sheer amount of kit I showed up with would mitigate their attention to detail. Along with that, I’d ensure they knew I was retiring, not some flunky merely PCSing to another assignment. Maybe I’d get another retiree as an inspector, possibly receive some thanks-for-my-service-type charity.
At this point I was not beyond leveraging any angle.
One Last Drag
Whoever invented the Army kit bag is a devil straight from the pits of hell. For those of you unfamiliar, the Army kit bag is roughly a large cube, capable of holding approximately 200 pounds of equipment (hyperbole, somewhat), with two comparatively tiny handles. Human ergonomics were definitely not factored into it’s design.
It’s almost as if someone intentionally designed a bag to be difficult to handle.
Unless you are of professional basketball player dimensions, there is no good way to carry them. You could do one in each hand though you hit either grip or trapezius muscle failure. Some would sling one onto their shoulders Atlas style. Still others would even drag them…hence the coining of the apt though not entirely accurate label, “The Duffel Bag Drag”.
I had done the Duffel Bag drag across the globe. From one garden spot to the next, always dragging more kit bags than I could ever carry. In the desert heat, the middle of the night across some dusty tarmac, sweaty and worn from hours of travel, still wearing the same underwear after 36 straight hours—you know the drill.
This day I did one last Duffel Bag Drag, 10 bags from my cage to my truck.
“Smith, Inspector X,” came the call.
I presented as friendly of a smile as I could muster and turned to greet my inspector with just a hint of a carefully-crafted, self-deprecating countenance. Here was the noble warrior riding into the sunset after years of warfare. So what if his kit was a little disarrayed, maybe not as clean as it should’ve been? At least that’s what I hope I portrayed.
The inspector rounded the corner and stopped short, surveying my pile of 10 stuffed bags. I looked around and scoffed at the neatly-packed two to three bags of my fellow inspectees and looked back to the inspector hopefully.
“This all yours?”
This was it, the watershed of my military career, nearly two decades of persistent conflict and all that stood between me and freedom was this man and his good graces.
He called for back-up. Uh oh.
Thirty minutes later and my plan was working like a champ. My still-packaged kit had clearly greased the skids. We joked about retirement—praise Jesus but my inspector was himself a retiree. I made a show of inquiring about his service, his family…make it personal, keep it friendly.
The pile surrounding me grew and so I moved into phase 2 and presented, with much aplomb, my unopened barracks bag. A Kevlar! An old-school LBE! A web belt. The inspector(s) gleefully examined each pristine relic from a bygone epoch, even reminiscing about when they had donned such fine gear.
It was happening perfectly!
I audaciously moved into phase 3 and began presenting my highly-used, but not exactly clean gear, obscuring it intentionally in a mountain of excess gear. The inspector(s) at some point exchanged a knowing look. Were they onto me? Was bottom about to fall out?
Thirty minutes later and the inspector(s) handed me the completed inventory. After 22 years and 9 months, I owed precisely a 1-quart canteen, a brown fleece jacket, and a belt.
Victory was mine.
I practically danced a jig as I swaggered out of the facility. I had vanquished the little old lady in tennis shoes forever.
The rest of out-processing was a relative breeze and try as I might, I couldn’t summon one shred of sentimentality.
Driving around the compound, I recalled the first time 18 years ago that I walked into the hangar, a brash young officer full of zeal and naiveté.
My mind drifted to my earliest days, to the first 10 days of Cadet Basic Training that I didn’t take a single crap. No kidding. I recalled the day I assessed favorably for the unit and drove from this very gate, whooping in delight and pounding the ceiling of my rental car. I recalled the day I waited seven hours to get onto the compound, the day our collective lives changed irrevocably, September 11th.
Driving from the compound was as anti-climactic as it had to be. No ticker tape parade, no fireworks, no flyover. Maybe I should’ve requested the Division band. All entirely appropriate.
The quiet professional, the noble warrior, requires neither the affectations of men nor the worldly praises coveted by others. When his work is complete, the final role call taken, the warrior is content to drift into irrelevancy, to fade into obscurity.
It was never about him anyway.
Author - Founder
Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).
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