“Military Intelligence is a contradiction in terms.” ~Groucho Marx


Military Buffoonery

090311-F-5435R-007

He’s probably apologizing for buffoonery….

So, you wanna PCS (move) overseas with the military?!  Well, get ready for the ride of your life.  Not the fast-car NASCAR adrenaline rush that most of us secretly wish we would’ve pursued out of high school, but the slow, painful coast of death, the kind that makes you say, in a very annoyed and bored 8-year olds voice, “ARE WE THERE YET???”

I can only imagine what my cat thinks.  On second thought, she’s the lucky one – she’s not even worried, having the attention span of a whole consecutive eight seconds!  Oh, and she can’t log into Outlook to check out our PCS calendar, let alone reason anything for tomorrow besides trying to kill yet another bird….

So, we got our flight reservations about two weeks ago.  We are located in Pensacola, Florida, and must travel all the way to Okinawa, Japan.  Now, flying commercial this is *relatively* easy – I’ve done it many times before (having been stationed there twice previously).  The routing would be something like this:  Pensacola – Chicago – Osaka – Okinawa.  Or, Pensacola – Houston – Osaka – Okinawa.  Either way, the trip would take something on the order of 24 hours.  More importantly, such routings avoid the Atlanta airport, which I’m sorry to report is proof that the 2nd coming is well under way (read:  HELL ON EARTH).

Well, we are flying what is called “AMC”:  Air Mobility Command, which is in NO WAY any measure of a substitute for a *real* airlines, and I already rank airlines almost dead-last in terms of service industries that I have any interaction with.  Somehow, it’s cheaper for the military to send people AMC.  At least it is on the military’s creative financial spreadsheets (see the quote from Mr. Marx above).  So, the flight to Okinawa leaves Seattle – far enough.

Now comes some of the buffoonery.  The flight leaves Seattle at 8:15 am – 0815 for those fluent in military ease.  If the flight was commercial – which, in an odd way it is since it is a chartered Hawaiian aircraft and flight crew – our show time would be something like 90 minutes prior for an international flight.

Care to take a guess what the military requires??

Six hours.  Yep, you heard that right, and the military ease translation is easy on this one:  SIX HOURS prior…which puts our show-time at the AMC terminal in the SEATAC airport at 2:15am (0215).  Why, I can hear you saying, much chagrined.  Well, as far as I can tell, for no good reason other than 1) they can, and 2) they are the deciders.

Surely there must be a reason.  I assure you there is not.  You see, I’ve done this very flight before, with my ex-wife and relatively small children.  Luckily, we were located in Oak Harbor, Washington state, and were able to take an airport van down a day or two prior and have a last weekend fling in Seattle prior to making the midnight trip to the terminal the day prior…or day of…depending on how quickly your wife can get her schtick together.

Why six hours prior?  Well, may there’s additional paperwork.  Or maybe there are special customs dealios since the AMC flight flies directly into an overseas base.  Nope.  Sorry.  Nada.  Here’s the kicker about this whole “if you’re on-time you’re late mentality:”  the AMC counter is not even manned until about 4 am, and not opened for seat assignments until something like 5!!

So, what you have are a whole lotta unhappy families with overly tired and cranky kids, along with their scared and often barking dogs and cowering cats.  Of course the single guys are crowding the USO, the kids are sleeping on the nasty terminal floor, and guess what is open in the terminal for concessions at 3 am.  You guess right.  Not a dang thing.

But wait, it gets even better!  The last time I did this, after showing up at their required show-time, I finally approached the counter to get seats for my family somewhere around 5:45 or so.  There’s an orderly line of rather pissed-off people at this point, but the line moves okay.  I get to the counter, and after having our papers checked, the seats we are offered are on two different rows, on opposite sides of the airplane.

W.T.F, over?

I inquire as to the seating arrangement, thinking surely there is a mistake.  The young airman assures me it is no mistake and that they are required to fill the aircraft row-by-row, from front to back, left to right, without skipping seats.  “But I have a family; I’m traveling with my two young children,” thinking that surely the AMC staff will see the logic in allowing us to sit together.

“I’m sorry sir, I can open the next row until the current is filled.”

Frackin’ buffoon.

733rd AMS gives Space an A

Potential buffoon most likely hard at buffoonery.

I think to myself, momentarily, to look behind me and ask for two single riders to come up and take the last two seats in the almighty “current row.”  But that’s too easy, and lets the buffoons off the hook for their buffoonery.  “Is there a supervisor that I can speak to?

Oddly enough, the supervisor was standing right behind the guy at the counter, acting as a de facto silent yet complicit partner in execution of said buffoonery.  He steps forward, and asks what the problem is, like he didn’t hear the whole thing from the beginning.  At this point, after being at the airport for 4 hours, in the middle of the night, I’m more cranky than my kids are, and ready to bark louder than any dog in the surrounding kennels.  Either the supervisor sensed the approaching tongue-lashing and demands for action, or, what I would like to think happened is that he was spiritually moved to make good on the sinful buffoonery of the situation.  The supervisor leaned forward to buffoon #1 and attempted to whisper, “open up the next row,” like he was selling secrets to the North Koreans….

Problem solved.

Not so fast.  The next row started with either 2 or 3 seats together, not the four we required.  God works in mysterious ways, and I believe it was divine influence at this point that *allowed* an AMC counter staff person to make the tough call of allowing a family of four to sit together for a 14 hour transpacific flight.  Amen.

But back to this particular trip.  Now we have to get to Seattle, and originally the Navy had us leaving Pensacola at around dinnertime, which put us in at Seattle around midnight.  Not bad, since the ridiculous show time negates any chance of sleep or other benefit of getting a room.  However, on closer inspection, we find that our connection en route is only 49 minutes.  For the love of god, what automated travel software would allow such a moronic business rule as to allow a connection of less than, say, 80 minutes?  We are traveling with a cat, and would have to change terminals.  There is no other international AMC flight the day of our flight, nor for days following.  There is too much on the line; these flight arrangements are simply a no-go.

In the old days, the service member could call SATO – the military’s “travel agency” if you will, and adjust flights, well, “on the fly” (pun intended).  Not today.  Jody has to first contact her “manpower” person at the hospital (whom I designate middleman #1), who then has to contact the base/PSD transfer clerk (middleman #2), who then calls SATO to adjust travel arrangements.  Jody follows this bureaucratic chain made of wet pasta, and “good news” as middleman #1 reports:  “they were able to change your flights!”

Yes, to a layover now en route to Seattle of 1 hour and 3 minutes….  Buffoons.  And buffoonery.

This time Jody does what Rocket Man (movie reference) and I like to call “the right way:”  she contacts SATO directly, and even though the person on the other end of the phone says she shouldn’t help the service member directly, after Jody explains the above buffoonery, the SATO rep is left with no other choice but the moral imperative to right the wrongs such sinful tomfoolery creates.  We have our flights adjusted, and although we are now leaving much earlier in the day, we have a *reasonable* layover to make our connecting flight, and our timeline now allows for a sensible few-hour stay in a hotel room before our late-night/early-morning foray to the airport in Seattle….

But the buffoonishly-thick icing on this buffoonish-flavored multi-layer cake is this:  our cat still does not have a “reservation” on the AMC flight, and if there are problems with *that* seat assignment, the military reserves the right to delay us en route or change or plans to COMAIR at their discretion!

It’s a good thing that Cleo our cat is only concerned with killing birds….

2 thoughts on ““Military Intelligence is a contradiction in terms.” ~Groucho Marx

  1. Pingback: Okinawa Newcomer Survival Guide | Far East Fling

  2. Pingback: Even Monkeys Fall From Trees: Moving to Japan | Far East Fling

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