Exit, stage left

In the 1960s, Saturday morning cartoons were a favored diversion as I had my bowl of Fruit Loops (or oatmeal, when my mother intervened in my breakfast). The cartoon lion, Snagglepuss, had a trademark saying whenever he faced a challenging situation. ” Exit, stage right” or “Exit stage left, even!” However, I was never one to flee from demanding tasks. I think of Snagglepuss now as a classy way to exit this career and explore some new roads.

I am old enough to remember a simpler time, for kids anyway, when the American work ethic was the envy of the world. Parents, neighbors, and teachers taught me values and work ethic. I already had figured out about hard work, respecting others, and making your own way in the world, since I earned money from before and after-school jobs since I was 14. After a few years in the service, and then four years in college, I went back into the service in 1987 and remained in uniform until 2010. The unit held a great ceremony, gave me a nice party, and a wonderful shadow box of my military memories. I was already working at Viasat, so I had my second career already figured out.

I retired from my second longest career today. Well, technically, my last day is tomorrow, but our division threw me, and a co-worker also retiring in August, a retirement party. This latest career was the closest I have come to the camaraderie I felt in the Navy. And now, what does a two-career veteran do at age sixty?

Start my own business, or more accurately, support my spouse who started a business. I am sure the Senior Chief or the Engineering technician can tackle just about any business issue.

“Gray Area” to Blue retirement

My previous post talked about the not-so-smooth process that members of the Retired Navy Reserve (“Gray-Area” reservists”) who are turning sixty in 2019 are facing. For my shipmates and their families, I need to pass on what I have encountered to help you with the process.

First things first

The first step is to submit the member’s application for retirement pay to PERS-912. While the Navy’s website instructs the member to apply within six months of her 60th birthday, it would be more prudent to apply nine months to a year beforehand. An article in the Navy Times from August 2018, describes that the Navy was not prepared for the number of applications the last of the Baby Boomer Navy retirees submitted. And the current website advises the department is processing applications received eight months ago.

One unusual detail, which seems to justify an experience I had with the Veterans Administration evaluating me for disability (things that occurred during my last period of Regular Navy (DD-214-issued) service), is the Navy Retirement branch not possessing complete military records for the period after the member transfers from Active Duty service to the Navy Reserve. I remarried while I was Reservist, and though that information was entered into my Reserve record, into DEERS, and I received pay accordingly while activated, PERS-912 – four months after my January submission – asked me to provide a marriage certificate.

Blue ID card after 60

After the member submits an application (forms DD-108 and DD-2656) found on the PERS-912 website, the Navy clerk should contact the member acknowledging receipt within a week. A letter from PERS-912 usually follows in the snail mail. In subsequent months, the member turns sixty, and requires a new ID card, before eligibility for medical benefits and other access privileges are “turned on”. While I am unfamiliar whether “Gray Area” reservists who had enrolled in TriCare ( the medical insurance system for military members and their families) prior to turning sixty have the same issue, the TriCare enrollment site does not allow a member to enroll from the expiration date of one’s ID card until it is renewed. However, there is no information provided on the website clearly describing why the links are unworkable. Thus this tidbit is instructive.

On the website to request an appointment for a new ID card, there may be a statement about a window from sixty to ninety days prior to card expiration to renew, but that is NOT APPLICABLE to Reserve Retirees turning 60. The member can only renew on or after his sixtieth birthday.

Patience is rewarded eventually

Should efforts to contact PERS-912, the clerk that contacted the retiree about processing one’s record, may prove unsuccessful, there are additional contact numbers though not intuitively obvious. After the first of the month, when the member might expect to receive retirement pay (via Direct Deposit) comes and goes without payment, the obvious step is to contact first DFAS, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service. MyPay, which is the same one used during the member’s service period may have an ambiguous non-statement. Contacting a representative requires a telephone and a lot of patience. Waiting on hold may take an hour or more to speak to someone. For Reservist retirees, use this number:

1-866-827-5672, Option 1

Be prepared for phone disconnection, the computer system to be “down”, and the like. If DFAS does not have your retirement pay being processed, the member is directed back to PERS-912. To avoid more confusion, but not the “on hold” of an hour or more, call

1-833-330-6622

At least, from every indication that one may find via social media from fellow Reservist retirees, payment does come through, and backpay is provided to the date of eligibility. It is not clear whether those members who first apply for retirement pay AFTER turning sixty will receive retroactively.

the check is in the mail

and other misadventures of Navy Reserve retirement

Ten years ago, in August, I began my last months of work for the United States Navy as a uniformed member of the Navy Reserve. The following April I officially retired from the Navy Reserve. While many of my fellow Sailors retired at 38, 40, or 45, I was then 50 years old. For many Reservists who do not elect discharge, they are placed in a status the Navy calls “Gray-Area Reservist” for the next fifteen or twenty years. Like me, when eligible to draw retirement pay at age 60, we would receive retirement pay calculated from the Active Duty rates in effect at that time.

I turned sixty a little over a week ago. I expected a couple of enrollments, phone calls, and some waiting to be required. And predictably, it is a Government bureaucracy after all, it has not been a smooth process. For anyone familiar with the Affordable Care Act and the complexity of the online process of a Government-run website, the application for military retiree- healthcare (TriCare) was somewhat nebulous.

As it turned out, when I and my spouse got our expired ID cards replaced ( needed because I changed status at my birthday) , the healthcare site I had visited several times last month then became user-friendly-ish. Apparently, it only worked for the brief time I, prudently, enrolled my spouse (first) in a healthcare plan. Telephone numbers resulted in long wait times or directed me to the same website where I had issues. For the next week, that website obstinately would not let me complete my own enrollment! Finally, I got online but it asked me to pick between two confusing status changes I had not seen before. I picked the more unintelligible of the two, and successfully completed enrollment.

As for processing my retirement pay, a different bureaucracy altogether. It was a redesign of the website I had years ago monitored for my Navy Reserve pay, but the messages this year only told me it had nothing to tell me. No updates. And for anyone who has tried to use a telephone – a last option – it requires more patience than most can muster. After three hours on hold (I was disconnected once), then reaching a person only to be told their computers were offline, I ultimately learned that my records were still at the Navy Department. And from the Navy Department – a telephone number I only discovered by reading some commentary and related military-news websites – my record was still in the queue. Apparently a document the Navy should have had for the prior nine years I had been in uniform, that I then re-sent them – held up processing. I decided to give them an additional month before trying again.

While many of my peers, my children and their peers – Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z, all believe in the Government as the best delivery system for Free Healthcare, Free Education, Free Housing, and Happiness, they had better stock up on anxiety medication now. I have patiently waited for ten years to receive the promised pension for Navy service between 1977 and 2010. I can wait a little longer because I put aside a fund over the last twenty years to live on one day. Until the Government decides to manage THAT – and we are stuck in a jam of red tape and offline computer systems – I will not be in a bread line.

the fog of war, and other business problems

One of the most basic issues in business that causes inefficiency or worse, confusion, is miscommunication. And as things get more technology-dependent, communication stubbornly remains an obstacle to be overcome. Communication difficulties between people or now, also between machines, can be more than an irritant. With various militaries, it contributes to lacking situational awareness and can wreak havoc in wartime.

How does this relate to your or my business venture? Everyone has, at least once, experienced a presentation to prospective clients, current clients and co-workers “hang” for a sound issue, a wireless network password mismatch, or in certain situations, restricted or “secure” computer channels failing to connect due to out-dated “digital certificates”. Being able to handle the various unexpected situations that involve either the work site, the clients, problems with technology, or bureaucracy, is part of a successful entrepreneur’s skills.

Information technology and business are becoming inextricably interwoven. I don’t think anybody can talk meaningfully about one without the talking about the other. Bill Gates

https://www.brainyquote.com

Anyone over age forty has at least heard of, if not actually used a fax machine. We use ‘analog” transmission (if you have ever misdialed a telephone number and heard a long series of tones or chirps- that’s fax) to transmit and receive client tests/reports. So it was that my business submits examinations via a fax to an nationally-recognized agency that scores and reports back in short order whether a prospective healthcare worker has passed or failed the exam.

What can possibly go wrong with that? Well, either with the human, the machine, or the medium being used! With experience, our management team recognizes when the scoring or report cover sheet is missing data “bubbles”. Or someone misses the instructions about using a pencil – and a specific one. at that. (We carry dozens to meet a need.) Anyone who has taken a multiple choice exam filled in with a No. 2 lead pencil might remember that “stray marks”, multiple “bubbles”, or incompletely-darkened ovals can be misinterpreted. Or in certain specific situations, a device with an internal battery was not charged prior to being needed. Or the communication system may be plagued with “poor line conditions” generally at the distant end we all agree , or equipment power issues. Sometimes, in an age of Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), that is, phone running within the Internet, we have experienced a lack of connectivity before the “fax” transmits or receives.

fax machines
not a musical instrument nor a museum piece

In these situations, a successful business person should try to mitigate the embarrassment and irritation we all might feel. Take a moment to relax. Breathe deeply. Remain calm. And then, to quote a recent client, and entrepreneur who is a retired military man, in this situation, one only needs to “adapt and overcome”.

before Lightyear there was another Buzz

Buzz Aldrin stepping onto the Moon, 1969

The second person to set foot on the Moon, “Buzz” Aldrin, is a living icon. The late Neil Armstrong and the Command Module pilot, Michael Collins are the other two legends of Apollo 11, whose feat of landing on and returning safely from, the Moon are celebrated today. Had it not been for a clear challenge, originating between two competing ideologies, the “West” and the Soviet Union – which first successfully put a man into space, the technology we take for granted would have come around a lot later. Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z have cell phones, cable television, and solar panels today, due, in part, to the science that sent mankind into Space, filtered down to the rest of us. The motivation for Governments may have been political, but undeniably, people are dreamers, builders and adventurers, too. Mankind advanced from stone tools to building the first flying machines in 100,000 years. From barely leaving the ground to launching orbiting satellites: less than sixty years. And from orbiting rudimentary satellites to putting people on the surface of another world and returning them, safely, in less than ten. And in the last half-century? We should be. in Star Trek parlance, “beam me up. Scotty!” by now.

When a human being first set foot on the Moon fifty years ago today, I was five days short of ten years old. When I ask my children today what they scientific achievements remember from the time when they were ten, space flight is not among their first memories. Movies and television, created with the technology inspired by the science and engineering of the Space Program, they recall.

Star Trek, Star Wars, and a host of other fascinating stories involving travel to other stars have filled the human imagination with possibilities. But the first grainy images on a television set of Neil Armstrong and “Buzz” Aldrin setting foot on the Moon, was the reality that people working together, around the globe, could achieve impossible dreams. We are starting to finally see private enterprise invest in next-step ventures. We have man-made objects moving through interstellar space. In the last half-century the amazing feat of people living and working in orbit, the probes that visit distant asteroids or Pluto or travel in interstellar space have garnered less attention than someone’s latest inappropriate Tweet.

We need a challenge to unite millions to travel into a new Frontier. It is time to send adventurers, dreamers, and builders out again. In the rallying cry of that Disney character, Buzz Lightyear, in the Toy Story movies,

“To infinity and beyond!!”

Home, a quarter-million miles away

when dreams collide

The acronym CBDR in navigation terminology stands for “Constant Bearing, Diminishing Range”. When the navigator announces a radar contact as having CBDR, that contact and you are on a collision course! Time for evasive maneuvers.

Where this comes into play was very early this morning. I was dreaming about being back in the Navy though I just marked my ninth anniversary since retirement. Somehow I was not a Chief, but rather much younger, and was wearing dungarees. There was some confusion about my role in this dream, for in my real Navy life, I worked with electronics. In the dream, I was being directed, and none too kindly, by a nurse demanding bandages, gowns, and other medical “stuff” for a patient. For some reason, this shipboard space was something like a ship I used to deploy on, but looking like a much older class of ship – like something in the CAINE MUTINY movie. And oddly, medical manikins crowded the ‘sickbay’.

Just before waking up, I recall having some sort of struggle with poor fitting latex gloves. I was handling something nasty with a single glove half-on. As a Sailor for more than twenty-five years, there have been numerous occasions that I was confronted with nasty things. Rarely, have I flinched nor have I been tormented in dreams by them.

But the source of my problems may be carry over from new business that my wife and I are running. While all of my medical training has been as a patient over the decades, I am getting a lot of medical training by observation as our business provides testing services to nursing graduates. Perhaps that is why dreams are colliding?

At least I know the dream was PSYOPS (psychological operations a.k.a. warfare). There was no coffee mug in “my” hand. And none brewing anywhere. THAT alone is enough to know that whoever that hollywood was probing my dream this morning, he was navigating in dangerous waters.

No coffee?! Sound General Quarters!

Save the children?

door-knocking

This evening I was almost carried away by a good-natured heart. After preparing dinner of grilled, fresh-caught fish my buddy shared with us, the dogs started to bark at the front door. A very tall young man with a big smile, wearing “Save the Children” attire was standing there. I went out to greet him. We get waves of door-knockers in summer, from the Jehovah Witnesses to the local high school footballer fund-raisers. As i knew he wanted a donation- everybody’s heard of this charity- I was willing to step outside.

Charity is a good thing. We believe in and support tithing to God through my church. We support a few nationally and internationally-active organizations. But as nice and hardworking as these young “Save” people are going door-to-door, to only allow donors to sign up for automatically-deducted, monthly, quarterly, or annual ‘suggested’ donations “you can cancel anytime” – set my “DECLINE” meter off. As fancy as their Ipad app is, I hesitated after he took my address and email information at the financial selections.

I do not feel any less charitable however, as i believe giving of your time, talent or finances to worthwhile causes often comes back to you in many positive ways. But we have to be prudent as well as generous. As for “Save the Children”, some complain that their generosity was taken advantage of. I have dealt with businesses where it takes more diligence and temerity to cancel a subscription than it ought.

As for the social media, “Save” seems to be fairly adept at this as well. Not five minutes after I finished my supper, and went to opine in this blog, Facebook was already showing me ads for “Save The Children” in my Feed!

I will probably look to see whether I can make a one-time donation through the web. I will still welcome young people who knock on doors. But my advice is to help children give to your church. Or to your community center. Or give to a local hospital.