CONUS Replacement Center (CRC) Part III
Ft Benning, GA - May 1999
The CSA had indicated the majority of CRC issues had been resolved. Based on my redeployment exerience, though, sad to say, there were still a few...shall we say, 'Deficiencies' to be corrected.
The following are extracts from my Journal:
05 May – (Wednesday) Day 07 & a butt (D172):
Finally, by 1245 we were off the ground, airborne for the States. Goodbye Euope…and this is the final leg of my third roundtrip across the Atlantic in less than six months. Reached landfall in Canada at 1200 local…hell, talk about a time warp…haven’t even ‘left’ Germany yet…given that I departed there at 1245. Landed at Baltimore at 1432…having to offload and clear all our luggage prior to rechecking it to be loaded back on for our continuation to Atlanta.
Did not take off until 1705…landing in Atlanta at 1900. It took nearly 30 minutes or so to gather our baggage but, as expected, we found no CRC representative waiting for us…even though they had to know we were flying in. There were two Army SSG’s in Class B, though, standing around, and we had them check into it for us. There did happen to be a bus from Benning, though, here for another pickup. Somehow, luck was finally on our side for once and it was deverted to take us back around 2025.
Following a quick stopover at a McDonald’s for a bite to eat…and, needless to say, they did not have the chocolate shake I was craving for…we arrived at Benning around 2230. Again, the professionalism of the reserve NCOs about here was lacking that night…but, they did have a manifest already completed with our names on it so they knew we would be arriving…they had the names as confirmed by the list…so why no bus or representative to meet us?
Gathered up the bags and went back to the pitiful transient barracks…rooming with M…of all people. Very wrestless night of sleep…not just because of the anticipation of going home but because of the plastic cover on the mattress that made one sweat!
06 May – (Thursday) Day 06 & a butt (D173):
Will this be the final day of my ‘Groundhog Day’ nightmare? Will this ‘terror’ finally, once and for all, come to an end? Stay tuned to find out…’news at 11.’
Didn’t wait for the alarm…getting up around 0525 to cleanup, shower, and dress…in BDUs. Incredible, for a lousy fifteen minutes of time, we need to be in BDUs to turn in our gear. Ah…thank you Fort Benning, home of the Infantry, for ‘taking care of soldiers.’
The day started off great…with an unexpected ambush! While I had considered a number of other items to serve as obstacles I never gave thought to the CIF…Clothing Issue Facility…being one of them. Come on…CRC and CIF coordinate and do this stuff on nearly a daily basis…right? Well…CRC seems to be on the extremely low end of the totem pole on this installation. They say a Ranger class and a training brigade will be in today to draw their equipment and, thus, rather than us going over there at 0730 to finish up, we will now have to wait until fifteen fucking thirty to do so! Twelve people, all returning from overseas, all deployed for six months, all separated from family…and the fucking civilians running the fucking place cannot set aside the first fifteen fucking minutes for us? [My 'Steve Martin' Planes, Trains & Automobiles imitation]
Man…this really is service to the soldier and all the more reason why I have to get out. I cannot tolerate the inconsideration any more…I cannot tolerate a senior chain of command that no longer really gives a shit about troops and common sense…I cannot tolerate a national leadership that is just plain fucking stupid and breaking this military in half. And…most of all, I can no longer stop complaining about it all…I can no longer motivate soldiers to stay in or seek the military for a career…in good conscience. That, is the most painful truth, of all.
Outside, I spent about ten minutes trying to counsel the young company commander and some of his NCOs about the necessity of taking the initiative rather than dociley sitting back and ‘waiting’ for it to happen. There was no reason why we had to sort out the bus issue at the Atlant airport, last night. And there was no reason they should have waited until this morning to check with CIF to make an ‘appointment.’ That should have been done, and resolved, yesterday.
What really rubs salt in the wound is the fact the CIF has a policy of providing a 30 day grace period for mailing back any equipment that may have been accidentally sent home. Ok…let’s think about this. They do ‘accept’ mailed items. Why then, do we continually fly back…all the way to Benning…just to drop off two fucking duffel bags of equipment…all the active army personnel? Why can’t it be mailed to save everyone the literal hassle…and to save the US Army the cost of transport to and from Benning? Everyone will win by just mailing the damn things. Ah…I feel a last memo to General Reimer coming on. And, he thought he was through with me.
Little to do but bum about…in the great and wonderful ‘land’ of CRC. Went back to the mess hall for breakfast…some coffee…turned in the bed linen…and just went back to the orderly room to bang away on the computer. What a long, fucking day…and it’s only just started.
Encountered a major just after dropping off the linen. The conversation eventually (no surprise) got around to the state of the CRC facilities and he mentioned, “I passed through here in January and I heard that an LTC wrote a really scathing editorial on this place.”
“I know,” was my response. “I’m the LTC.”
Little to do but wait around and hope that, maybe, the CIF will call and move our ‘appointment’ up. In total, we only have fourteen people, total…thirteen of whom are active duty which means dropping off TA-50 is all we need to do. Some of them eventually head off for the PX…while others go out to lunch. I hang out in the dayroom…just rat a tating on the laptop. Colonel C, the 1st Cavalry Division officer who’s part of our group eventually drops by with his laptop to do the same.
Not sure how to read him. On one hand, he says he’s near a melt down…’flaming’ on one of the NCOs for a few minutes…then apologizing to him minutes later for taking out his frustration on the poor man who is not the one who sets policy. Given that he is ranking officer, I have deferred to his taking action…if any, in regards to this screw up. But…he’s done much less than I would be doing with his rank. The CRC commander is an LTC so I have nothing over him but….the colonel does….and, if I were he, I’d be ripping some ass. More so, I’d have ordered the LTC to take us all over to the CIF and get us in line and not have soldiers such as us sitting about, after six months deployed overseas, away from family just because CRC failed to coordinate properly. But…he didn’t and we didn’t.
The CRC commander, LTC M, rushed into where I was sitting just moments after Colonel C had departed, around 1350 hours—obviously just made aware that the infamous ‘LTC Lock’ was in this batch of returnees, asking me to follow him for he understood I had some issues. Some ‘issues?’ What a waste of oxygen. Where is the bastard when things are falling apart in his organization? Hell…all he’s responsible for as commander is deployment and redeployment…and he hasn’t gotten either of them right. What a real shithead.
LTC M and I entered the company commander’s office and he was very polite, asking me to sit on the couch. He asked if there were any questions he could answer…then, thinking better of it stated, “I suppose you don’t want to hear what I have to say?” What an understatement.
My response was, “You’ve got that right,” and then I hammered…covering all that was wrong. Along the way, I mentioned a phrase I had used in my editorial…’Federal Express does a better job of tracking packages than the US Army does of its soldiers.’ He made a rather sad face. “Yes, I read that.”
Ah…nice to see he recalled something of my editorial.
“So, do you think you’ll be writing another letter to the CSA?”
With a slight pause for effect, I responded, “You can probably count on it.”
For the next hour, LTC M tried to get a hold of the deputy post commander, a BG Russ Honoré...damage control I’m sure…to get an office call for me with him. But, no luck as his office stated the general would be behind closed doors until the evening hours.
Note: Later, after Hurricane Katrina, August 2005, it would dawn on me that 'The Ragin' Cajun' LTG Russel L. Honoré of New Orleans fame and 'my' BG of CRC infamy were both one and the same.
Around 1500, we loaded the vans and finally headed over to the CIF. As we were off-loading our gear, one of the admin sergeants with us handed me a phone…if was the CRC informing me that the BG was on his way to the CIF to personally speak with me. Pretty nice…a one star coming to me rather than me going to him. I must be ‘important’…
We were in the ‘waiting’ room of the new facility when the deputy post commander/assistant commandant of the infantry school, BG Honoré, arrived. I was standing in the room, in full view, waiting for him, knowing that he would most probably ‘pull’ me out to speak with me privately. I was ready, just standing by ‘at ease’…the others around me, other than the colonel, oblivious to the events…and my role in them.
The BG poked his head in, looked at me, and stated, “Come with me colonel.” Off I followed, him and others probably viewing me as a sheep being led to the slaughter.
We walked outside, where I put on my cap…to feel in complete uniform...while the BG kept his off.
“So, you like writing the Chief of Staff,” the general started, in an opening gambit to intimidate me.
“No, sir. I wrote the CSA out of professional courtesy,” I responded, giving no ground…nor apology.
For a few minutes, he continued to hammer on that theme…of my jumping over the chain of command and trying to ‘make a name’ for myself.
“You’re with the Corps of Engineers, correct?” he asked rhetorically. “When you have a problem with your program managers or on a project, do you go straight to General Ballard?”…the Chief of Engineers.
I maintained my composure…and my tongue…but I’m certain he couldn’t fail to note my jaw getting tense and my eyes squinting as I prepared to ‘launch’ a counter offensive.
His second query about personally writing the CSA and his response of “No name?” when I stated there was nothing ‘in’ this for me, finally set me off.
“General, I don’t make a habit of going outside of the chain of command…and my career clearly indicates that. I’ve been in the military, in one form or another, for twenty-five years…enlisted for four years, an NCO, a West Point graduate, assigned to the 1st Armored and 82nd Airborne Divisions,” and as I spoke I watched him look back and forth a few times at my Ranger Tab and Master Jump Wings (he of no Tab and only novice jump wings)…knowing they gave me credibility as a ‘warrior’ who’d earned the ‘right’ to speak out; someone who was not just some light weight staff puke. "I didn’t need to do this…knowing that I’d be coming back and someone...like you...would try to ream my ass for it. I did it because it’s the right thing to do. I did it to take care of soldiers…of those who would follow.”
“Give us a chance to fix it,” was his weak response.
“General, that’s the problem…there has been no fix. I left in November and I’m here to tell you, other than some limited changes to the facilities, there has been no change with the service. Not one damn thing…communications are still screwed up. Why did we have to find transportation from Atlanta? There are two damn NCOs in Germany who boarded us on the AMC flight. There’s a phone. All they have to do is pick the damn thing up and say the following people are on their way to you. Why did the staff duty NCO have a roster with our names when we reported in and, yet, the CRC stated today they did not know we were coming in? Why, given that they had the list, did they wait until this morning to try and get us an appointment here to turn in our TA50? This is the only damn thing we even came back for and, after six months deployed, we have to wait an entire day to process twelve damn soldiers?”
Whipped…his head just kept getting lower…I had the moral high ground and he damn well knew it!
“Give you a chance? Why did I write the editorial? Because I gave LTC M a chance to explain why the CRC was so screwed up when I was first here and all he did was offer excuses. My concern was for the privates, sergeants and lieutenants who would follow…not the LTCs and colonels. We can take care of ourselves…they can’t. Just last night, one of the sergeants with us didn’t know we had all linked up and grabbed a bus back from the Atlanta airport when we were not met to be picked up…he rented a car to drive here from Atlanta. That’s not right. I provided the CSA a copy of my editorial out of professional courtesy…that’s all. It was his choice to respond to it, not mine.”
I’m not sure the general was use to a subordinate giving no ground and staying ‘toe to toe’ with him in a trench fight but…by the time we were done, he was apologizing to me for the shoddy performance of the CRC.
“The CG’s standard for those returning is three hours and out. Obviously, we failed to achieve that in this instance.”
Ah…it’s always nice to see one’s stand vindicated…first a four star and now a one star who wanted to chew my ass. ‘Balls’ can get one somewhere…if they know how to use them.
He walked me back in…where I grabbed my equipment and made my way into the warehouse with everyone else who had already begun turning in equipment.
Up and down the line the general walked, loudly stating his mantra to the CIF workers. “Get these people out of here. I want them gone in fifteen minutes.”
As we moved through the line, he spent some time with COL C…the two of them having worked together in an ‘earlier’ life. Why the fuck did the colonel not involve himself, I wondered? Why did an LTC have to take a stand a force the issue? Are even colonel’s scared of ‘rocking the boat?’ Sad to say, I personally believe that to be the case.
It was interesting to see a BG shepherding us through the line…in the place of the idiot LTC M who should have been the one. The general’s aide was rather busy, calling a whole series of people from LTC M, to transportation, to ticketing…orchestrating our flights and movement to the airport. He spoke with the one reservist with us…only to find out he had some serious admin problems that had not been addressed. The general assured him he’d take a personal interest in it to get him out as soon as possible.
Loading up once again in the vans, he came by to speak with everyone…telling them what he had planned to assure we’d get out today. He left, only to walk back about a minute or two later…to apologize to everyone for the mistakes that had been made throughout our processing. A general who was not only willing to learn from mistakes...but, also acknowledge and apologize for them? My faith in some of our leaders was partially restored.
If I get the chance, I will forward to him my suggestion…which is quite simple. Given that the only purpose for active duty personnel to return to CRC and, given the fact that everyone can mail back within 30 days to the CIF any missing equipment…why the hell aren’t we just mailing back the two duffel bags and saving the time and money of having to process people? It makes absolutely no sense what so ever.
In the front seat, the colonel turned around, looked at me, and just shook his head in my direction for a job well done. Everyone else just looked at me, surprised…it only beginning to dawn on each what had just transpired.
Back at the CRC, we reported to the ‘dayroom,’ received our tickets, signed out, went back to our rooms to change, loaded our remaining baggage on board two vans…I paid to keep an extra duffel bag…about $16…to pack items I could not stuff into my kit bag…and finally headed out for the Columbus airport at 1700…not sure, though, if any flights would be departing given the thunderstorms raging through the area.
As we started out…I opted to sit in the rear…those riding with me turned to thank me…obviously fully understanding my role in the events that had occurred.
“Sir, we appreciate all you did. We know we would not be leaving now if it hadn’t been for you.” While I didn't need the 'Thanks," I was pleased to have been able to use my rank in a manner that was able to be of some value to these junior soldiers. We may not have been a 'unit' but I felt, as the second ranking officer, they were my responsibility and had to act accordingly.
At the Columbus airport…we learned that all flights had been canceled. Driving to Atlanta it would be…after we coordinated the cancellation of our flights out of Columbus. If we had not done that, our tickets for the connecting flights in Atlanta would have been cancelled. Man…nothing is ever ‘simple.’
The drive to Atlanta was an additional 94 miles. Along the way, I had to keep my eye on the driver…who was obviously tired. A few times, I ‘woke’ him up, questioning if he could hang in there…or I could drive. He made it.
Arrived around 1900…checked the baggage through out front…and found out the 2000 flight I was scheduled for had been canceled. Damn…this really has been a pain in the ass day. Fortunately, there was a 1930 flight and I ‘motored’ down to the gate to get on stand-by. Of course, that flight was delayed and it finally departed around 2000.
The flight was one hour and forty-two minutes in duration…with an extra 20 minutes or so tossed in as we circled in a holding pattern around Newark…the deployment ‘fucking’ with me until the end. Then, of course, before we got to the gate, the jet had to shut down power and we had to wait until a ‘tug’ pulled us in.
At the gate, I was met by my 'loverly' bride. We grabbed my two bags and headed off. On I78…a massive slow down. Everything to prolong the misery… Finally, home just prior to midnight.
Home? My ‘Groundhog Day’ existence has come to an end….as has my ‘Bosnia Journal’…thank God
POST SCRIPT: After reading back over this, I gather I don't need to wonder why I most likely never would have made Colonel :)
3 May 1999: Sarajevo Airport - Final view of Sarajevo ... on my flight out. Poetry that dark when I arrive and sunny when I leave?
Sarajevo Airport - American C130 ... "I'm leaving, on a jet plane ... "Well, not quite ... turboprop ... but who cares.
Ramstein, Germany - Out of 'The Box.'
5 May 1999: CRC Fort Benning, GA - Outprocessing, B Company at the CRC.
6 May 1999: CRC Fort Benning, GA - Final view in the rear view mirror ... such a sweet sight ... full circle. Mission complete! Been there, done that.
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