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

Military Buffoonery


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….

“Always Listen to your Momma”

Kevin's Childhood Shot Record_edited-1

Or, “So you wanna follow your Prettiest-Nurse-in-the-Navy wife to Okinawa, do ya?”

Well you’d better have your shots up-to-date, Mister!

So, there’s the Holy Grail required to go overseas with a military spouse:  the DEA.  No, nothing to do the Drug Enforcement Agency, nor anything remotely close to a Data Encryption Algorithm (although give it time and the Navy will connect a dependent’s entry to BOTH), but the DEA is a document called “Dependent Entry Approval,” the couple of pages of paper that officially allow me to travel to and enter Okinawa as a “command-sponsored” dependent of an Active Duty member in the Navy….  Oh, and it prohibits two things (and only two things):  1) firearms (there is such thing as reasonable gun control & ownership in the world, contrary to popular belief & mystery in America), and 2) pornography.  Where is the fun these days in the military??

Blah-blah-blah.  What one doesn’t understand is the near (in)action of Congress that is required to get this dang document.  Case-in-point:  shots & immunizations.

So, as some of you may know, I’m a retired Navy officer myself.  Who’s been stationed in Okinawa TWICE before, for a total of four years.  AND, I deployed, numerous times, to numerous war zones.  Oh, and I maintained “Flight Status” for 20 years.  Big deal, you might say.  Well, this is all to mean that one just may think that just maybe I maintained my shots for all that time in the military, while have annual flight physicals, while deploying over and over again….

One might thing.  But then again, military intelligence is, as they say, an oxymoron.

So, during my medical screening at the Navy Hospital here in town, the Doc asked about shots.  I informed her – a Physician’s Assistant – that I was pretty sure I was good, and that my medical record should have everything there since I had recently retired, and retired here in Pensacola.  Cool.  Smiles all around.  “I’ll review your record and let you know,” she responded as we parted ways.

Weeks go by.  Nothing heard.

Then, in the prototypical “your-crisis-shouldn’t-be-my-emergency,” an Overseas Screening staff member calls me one day “looking for my shot record.”  Well, I inform the junior Petty Officer, “It’s in my medical record.”  “Oh, okay, of course.  We’ll look for that; I need your full SSN.”  Odd, I think:  seriously, you don’t or can’t find my full social security number?  Fine, passed, done deal.

More time goes by.

Turns out that my record cannot be located at the hospital.  The hospital where I have been treated since 2005.  The military treatment facility (MTF) that retired me, that assumed control of my medical record at retirement!  Turns out that it “appears” that my record has been archived, but amazingly enough, there is no firm trail, paper or otherwise.  Let’s ignore all the HIPAA implications at present.

Well, I have a copy of my shot record, and, in fact, a copy of my ENTIRE medical record, since copies are required at retirement for the VA.  However, that copy was only current as of 2008, and I couldn’t quite remember if I had gotten more shots.  More importantly, I am the type of person that likes to FORCE processes to show when those processes are either archaic or just plain broken.  Oh, and I like people to do their jobs at the same time as well.

As you might guess, this process was just plain broken:  no sign, no record, not even a hint of a medical record, let alone shot record to deploy to Okinawa!

So, numerous discussion ensue.  “You all realize that I’m a retired aviator, and certainly not only met entry requirements into the military, but maintained all those shot requirements for 20 years?”  “You guys realize that I actually deployed where smallpox and anthrax shots were required, and given those, don’t you think I had the MMR as a child??”  “Oh, and you realize that I actually was successfully screened to live in Japan, TWICE before, while on active duty?!?”  Or, thinking to myself, do you really think that all those checks in the military over 24 years (counting ROTC) missed some blatantly obvious shots that are, in fact, required for secondary school registration!

Sorry, need the “proof.”

Fine, Jody says.  She’s in the medical loop, and attempts to direct the junior Petty Office at overseas screening to access the electronic version of my shot record.  This version, a relative stand-alone document in the Navy’s medical world, specific to immunizations (as best I understand it), is not accessible by just anyone – wouldn’t want the overseas screening staff to actually be able to screen someone for overseas duty.  Turns out they can’t access this record.  Although I would prefer to push the issue and make THEM find a way, Jody accesses it herself, and sends a copy to overseas screening.  Oh, and she actually goes through my ENTIRE few hundred pages of medical record and finds all the areas where my shots & immunizations are annotated….

Not good enough.  No, there’s no proof of chicken pox (shots or the disease), and oh no, I need a flu shot!  Okay, we’ll handle these issues one-at-a-time.

I’m no conspiracy theorists, but I do harbor a healthy mistrust of the military (read:  government), shots, and my body.  Not that they are out to get me, but just that they have generally a pretty dismal record of, well, not even just not caring, but of maliciously doing things that are ethically questionable by any other reasonable standard.  Not that the flu shot falls into this category of concern (it does not), but then again I don’t fall into the at-risk population for that particular disease.  In my final personal analysis, I choose, for a number of (personal) reasons, not to take the flu shot/mist since retiring….

And they can’t make me.  You see, I’m not longer active duty, but a mere dependent.  Which means I am not their (government) property, as the cliché goes….

So, I tell Jody that they are going to have to show me in writing where the flu shot is required for me to do that.  I feign aggressiveness at calling the fraud, waste, & abuse hotline, as well as the inspector general at my “missing” medical record and all the privacy concerns that raises.  So, Jody goes back to overseas screen and asks about their “list” of “requirements” for dependents’ entry into Japan.  “Well, we use what the CDC recommends for Japan.”  “So, is it a requirement, or a recommendation??”  “Well, we use what the CDC recommends for Japan….”  Enough said.  I take that as a recommendation only.  No flu shot for this guy.

Finally, we come down to chicken pox.  Now I understand there is a resurgence of chicken pox, mainly because of failures in early childhood vaccination, or adults who were never vaccinated (properly).  Worse yet, there is no record of those shots for me:  I had the chicken pox as a child.  How the heck do you prove that?  Well, the Navy can draw blood and check something called blood “titers” for the right level of antibodies….  Needles?  Needles are worse than spiders, but just barely.  Another medical appointment and trip to the hospital to be treated poorly and seen late?  Heck no to both, I claim!  Don’t get me started on spiders….

So, I do have my original medical shot record from when I was an infant and child (pictured above).  Thanks to my Mother who insisted on copies, and insisted – and taught me how valuable and critical such a document was and remains.  It looks nothing like anything official; a collection of typed and hand-written notes on lined paper, some with date stamps, others with scribbled initials or signatures.  But it certainly is enough to show all those childhood requirements…once the medical hieroglyphics are deciphered and penmanship failures are placed.

But how do you prove that you’ve had chicken pox when you were a kid, like in the early 1970s?  C’mon.  Well, let’s just say that Photoshop is my friend, and that early childhood record captures my run-in with chicken pox just fine…NOW.

So, after all this back & forth over shots, after ignoring my own military service and previous overseas screening for Japan, after all the searching and attempts at accessing my health records, it all came down to a much-photocopied single piece of paper of immunizations which has really no possible means of positive verification.

And this, Ladies & Gentlemen, is what was ultimately accepted.  And I have my all-important DEA to follow Jody halfway around the world.  Thanks Mom, seriously.

Now, about those guns and porn…(wink).

Okinawa Here We Come!

Okinawa 2013, Okinawa here we come!

Konnichiwa!  It’s been official for quite some time now, but now that it’s right around the proverbial corner, Jody and I have finally started our blog “Far East Fling.”  We’ll use this medium (and media) to help keep in touch with friends, fans, and family while deployed overseas, so far to the east that it’s actually closer going west.  Please help us keep in touch by interacting early and often; although we are very excited about our upcoming move, we will miss all that we are leaving behind.