no Minion is an island

A four-hundred year old English poet understood how badly human beings need connection in their lives. I have been thinking of the movie “Castaway” (Tom Hanks), a scene in “Iron Man”, and a phrase John Donne penned centuries ago. As 2020 comes to an end, looking backward over the last twenty-something years, the world has had a difficult time finding things to be joyful. I do think mankind, in general, mean well of their fellow human beings. We were formed to be social creatures to associate and cooperate together. However, two thousand years after Jesus walked, and five thousand years since Mankind’s first civilizations started conquering neighbors, our social invention, Government, is forcing individuals back to isolation and competition.

No man is an island entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.

Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions and Seuerall Steps in my Sicknes – Meditation XVII, 1624

Our little community in unincorporated El Cajon, California, like many communities across the world, has rallied to brightly decorate their neighborhoods in the holiday season. In the United States, preparations for Christmas begin right after the November Thanksgiving holiday. This year has been exceedingly draconian for everyone worldwide particularly children. As such, my wife encouraged us to start decorating early, putting up lights and inflatable yard decorations, and she decorated inside. Since then, as people drive through the holiday-decorated neighborhoods, or walk “socially distant”, I hope they get some extra cheer from one walking Minion, my spouse, chattering “Merry Christmas” and “Banana!”

If the squeals of delight from kids and adults, and their picture-taking are any indication, Mankind will survive and eventually, thrive again. Tune out Government and the media for a little while. Look at the stars. Think of others more than oneself. Share responsibly. Practice hospitality however that may be this year. Visit a neighborhood lit up for Christmas. And perhaps, take a picture with a dancing Minion.

John Donne’s poem continues:

 If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
As well as if a promontory were,
As well as any manor of thy friend's,
Or of thine own were.
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

You have two basic rights

I am dusting off and republishing a few of my oldest efforts blogging. Rough around the edges. Originally published in July, 2009.

My old Senior Chief back in the days before political correctness blanched most of the testosterone from the military, used to introduce himself to his charges, “You have two rights in this world, one, to live, and another, to die. Gentlemen, when you f*** up, I will take one of them away from you!” I was the Petty Officer assigned to escort restricted and brig confinement -bound men at the NTC San Diego Correctional Custody unit, when the Navy Training Center and not an artsy community/ civic center.

It was his responsibility – and by delegation, mine as well, to attempt through proper application of discipline and hard work to turn last-chance misfits – clowns, chronic whiners, and immature boy-sailors into rule-followers, and rehabilitated men. There were of course, two alternatives that several ended finding – discharge at the convenience of the government, or hard time at the Navy Brig – and then discharge.

After those formative days of my youth, I see my responsibility as training young people in my charge, Sailors in my Reserve unit, recent graduate-engineers at work, and especially my sons, to help them develop along the right course. There is a culture in the military that juniors respect the senior enlisted mentors, as this is how the former progress to becoming the latter. In the civilian workforce, particularly in companies which nurture and reward excellence among all employees, there is a lot of the same cameraderie, cross-training, and shared purpose.

As a parent, though, raising boys who were as independent-minded and stubborn as mules, was work! These teens were self-disciplined only to the extent of things which held their interest – guitars, skateboards, and motocross bikes. Perhaps memory of similar behavior in those young men from the Correctional Custody days, urged me to impart some cautionary pearl of wisdom. Often the effect was wrath and counter-accusation, and exasperated red-faces. It would have been so much easier to find “a fan room”. (a Fan Room is a noisy air handling compartment where 2 could a disagreement with a few fists, without a public display). But political correctness has broken down all the means to apply discipline at any age.
Too much is thought of individual liberties, psyches, and others well-being, to the detriment of everyone from classroom pupil, to those helmsmen of a warship or even public transport operators. Policy which prohibits certain behavior (texting on cell phones while operating a train) is only effective when the individual has ingrained self-discipline.

Were it within my ability, I would like to see a return to the days of the old Senior Chief at NTC. A good butt-kicking would nip a lot of these problem behaviors.

Cold War service certificate

A veteran friend of mine reminded me that veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces who served during the period of the “Cold War”,   September 2, 1945  – December 26, 1991,  can apply to receive a certificate of recognition.   The Department of the Army Human Resources Command is managing the issue of these certificates (there is NO DOD medal nor ribbon associated with this.)   I thought it would make a nice addition to my “I Love Me” wall.

Following normal online searching methods,  I went to the Department of the Navy public website, and entered a query.  Information returned on “Cold War Certificate” – among many other search returns- indicates that the Department of the Army manages the issue of these certificates for all military branches.  However,  the link provided leads nowhere.  Even when entered with an “https://”  it still is a broken path.

Going to the main official Army website, does not provide a link – though every search term does return a series of possible websites that are not “cold war”  but “cold” weather, or “war” or personnel certificates for various education achievement.   Fortunately,  I had a clue where to look.  The Human Resources Command of the US Army.

And in that specific website, when I entered the same search terms I had used all along, I found the application for Cold War service recognition.

And you, my fellow veterans, continue to hope that the Federal Government  – or any bureaucracy for that matter – has the tools and wherewithal to manage our earned benefits?

You have to know where to look.

Florida’s Panama City, torn apart by Hurricane Michael, now managed by 2-star Army general

Your post-military career can be a refreshing change of pace,  or an opportunity to put everything you have ever done to use,   testing of your faith,  and the hopes and dreams of your neighbors and friends, right where you are needed. 

via Florida’s Panama City, torn apart by Hurricane Michael, now managed by 2-star Army general

Ask the Chief: dress for success

In the manner of dressing for work,  the corporate world I entered in 2000,  was a lot like the corporate world where my father worked.  That is,  suits, or sport coats with button-down shirts and ties,  nice slacks and polished leather shoes.  With the corporate headquarters in Washington, D.C. and the CEO and founder a product of the late 1950s, we dressed up even when we never left the office.  But employment in San Diego in the new Millennium was being influenced more by Silicon Valley than Wall Street or Foggy Bottom in D.C.

Not surprisingly, the client of my employers in that first decade of the Twenty-First Century were the Naval officers and senior civilian staff (SPAWAR) who oversaw technical development in ships, electronic systems and aircraft for the Navy and Marine Corps. Since the military has prescribed uniforms for daily wear, and standardized grooming,  these military officers had a certain expectation for civilians who supported their efforts.

In published articles in the Wall Street Journal and Scientific American , studies have shown also that dressing well, whether in button-down shirt and tie,  or  “business casual”,  in the years since my father’s generation retired,  has positive benefits on worker advancement, attitude and productivity.  When I first interviewed at my company eleven years ago, I was still a member or the Navy Reserve and a Chief Petty Officer, so I arrived fit, clean-shaven, with shined shoes, and in a tailored suit.  When the offer of employment was accepted,  I was told that the dress code, when our clients were not on site, was more casual.  California in general and San Diego, in particular,  is a center of technical businesses, Integrated Circuits, Biotech, software companies and avionics.  But with several universities in the area,  interns and later their graduates were recruited and accommodated with casual dress options, flexible working hours and amenities from gyms to coffee houses to volleyball courts.  Of course, the industrial standard requirements for manufacturing areas are as uniform in required dress as the military.

While senior management of the major divisions were often more formal due frequent meetings with senior-level clients, it was still an office environment where a staff meeting occurred at 10 AM to allow for surfing or gym workouts.   In the last ten years however, the growth of the company has changed the culture slightly.  From acquisitions, becoming a publicly-traded company, and increasing leadership roles in major technical boards, advisory groups and other businesses, business casual, including button-down shirts, nice tailored polos (with the corporate logo) and slacks and leather shoes is increasingly seen in the middle and senior division-management and those groomed for their next level.  New hires, and casual employees who make a significant contribution to a project  (read “brain trust”) are often the ones who are more casually attired year-round.

What does all this mean for the transitioning military member who has the education or the skills to enter the corporate world?  It means having to adjust their “uniform” for the workday.   While it may seem refreshing to wear baggy shorts and sandals,  or hair that recalls more of the college dorm life than a corporate environment,  one’s work ethic and contribution to a project, may be hindered.  During meetings with military or senior government clients,  a sharp appearance can foster more productive outcome.    And the more ambitious a former military member becomes, there is value in a certain standout appearance.

This also seems to motivate employees to maintain or enhance a certain fitness and healthier lifestyle.  Not only because the workplace may subsidize health insurance for workers more generously for fitness, but also it reflects better on the employee’s advancement opportunities.  (Of course,  this does not imply that any of the equal opportunity standards that govern employment are overlooked.)  A sharper appearance and a healthier overall person is more often a better candidate when looking at similar qualifications.

Ask the Chief: interview skills

 The world’s third oldest profession*.

When I was a younger Sailor,  traveling from foreign port to foreign port,  I encountered a lot of outgoing people engaged as vendors, tour guides, shopkeepers and restaurant owners.   Often their families were the wait staff that ran these places or made the things that provided their living.  When your livelihood depends on people, there is an advantage in being a “people person”.

When I was a kid,  I was actually an introvert.  A gangling kid with poor eyesight,  I was not the best athlete nor a glib talker and jokester.  From several moves, a lot of activities that caught my interest,  studying people, and experience in several professions from ranching to construction,  furniture sales and auto parts counter work, I got to talking with and taking an interest in people.  I worked as a bartender and waiter before I went into the military.   One of my dreams, long before I became a technical worker in the telecommunications industry, was opening a bar or restaurant based on what I visited in foreign places.    A kind of dive that had “atmosphere”.   With all that experience of these exotic places and tourists from every part of the world I thought it would be fun.   I had been working in bars and restaurants prior to my military service so it was somewhat familiar.   I learned to speak, or at least communicate in  three foreign languages, Spanish, French and Russian.

The service industry depends on people-skills as well as a strong work ethic.  Marketing.  Being a good listener as well as an observant and diligent service provider.  And have a good memory for people’s names, their likes, and so on.   In France in he early 1990s I saw the “smash sandwich” vendors – paninis as America now knows them – and thought it was a novel idea to bring to these shores.  With the buxom women staffing these kiosks, the Toulon vendors served a lot of sandwiches.   In Turkey, shoeshine boys mobbed visitors, appearing at the dock where our ship’s water taxis deposited them. These  kids knew how to say “shoe shine” and  make small talk about sports, whether you were an American sailor, a Brit, an Arab or perhaps even Chinese tourist.  Even sailors wearing sneakers were not overlooked by boys with pats of shoe polish.    In the markets, almost every vendor spoke some foreign tongue.

Interviewing, like selling,  takes skill and people-smarts

Just as there are people who do not understand the difference between “selling” and “buying”,   there are people who do not understand that the interview is a skill that one perfects.   Preparation,  listening, knowing what and how, to answer a question is part of the interview.   Confidence, balanced with humility,  and understanding the requirements of the job being sought as well as knowing something of you prospective employer, can win the interview.

Technical professionals I have coached have earned an offer of employment, not only from their preparation, but knowing how to “answer the question being asked” with sufficient detail, but not enough to get bogged down.   It is a marketing opportunity to show that you will be an asset to those doing the hiring, but not telling them as much.  And to win their trust, through your personality and likeability.

I know others who are successful gardeners,  pool men, insurance agents and financial counselors.  Some are musicians.  Others are artists and writers.   And still others with a love for and enough experience in hunting, fishing, camping or motor sports, they made professions as guides and teachers.  And they connect with their clients and employers, with the same people-smarts.

Commitment and self-improvement

Practicing interviews, such as the “elevator talk” or meeting people in social settings, is valuable.  Listening to people’s names and observing details about those you converse with, not only makes the other person feel valued, but aids in your ability to connect with your message.

Books I have read recently and recommend to everyone,  engineer, actor, or military member in transition,   include  How to Start A Conversation and Make Friends, by Don Gabor (Simon & Shuster),  and the classic,   How to Win Friends and Influence People , by Dale Carnegie.   Another great read and short,  is The One Minute Sales Person, by Spencer Johnson, MD, and Larry Wilson (Harper Collins).  There are also many good books and websites on personal development, the interviewing process in the social media age as well.

Selling “you”

In a job interview,  a prepared and confident person builds a relationship and earns trust with the interviewer and the employer.  Beyond the hiring process,  as an employee or consultant, you continue being a student of the company, the people you meet, and learning by asking the right questions.  There is also the times and places you can market yourself for new opportunities in the company, and by demonstrating value – increasing the bottom line,  can use the same interviewing skills to ask for raises as well.

As a manager, you are still engaged in the sales profession.  Whether as team leader, morale booster,  mentor,  recruiter or  discipline agent, you still show the “customer” the value of the company and role that person fills,  which provides their needs and their relationship to the team.

People do not want to be “sold” but they do want to “buy”

Just as someone who shops for a new vehicle, kitchen appliance, or bringing on a new team member,  the skill is in recognizing what motivates, interests or is valued by the customer.   A customer looking for the security of business insurance is not going to respond to the agent’s ‘hot buttons’.  And an employer is not going to be encouraged by a prospective employee’s focus on pay rate, vacation earned  or working hours.

Interviewing requires diligent effort and practice.   But the military member also has what many other applicants lack.   Focus.  Endurance.  Attention to detail. And maturity.  As well as experience working under stressful situations and deadlines.  So take charge and carry out your mission.  Interview, interview, interview.  And I have benefited from fifty years of practice.  I am no longer gangling, nor introverted.  I have been a recruiter and meet people everywhere I go.  Though my best friends will tell me I am still not “glib”.

Fair Winds and Following Seas.     – Senior Chief (Ret.)

* Wikipedia repeats the quote attributed to Ronald Reagan that a politician is the second-oldest profession.  Prostitution is frequently quipped as the “oldest” profession.

Military, Active, Reserve or Retired:

  • If you live in, or are moving to,  the San Diego area,  

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Contact Doug Diemer:

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DoD Announces Policy Change on Transfer of Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits

Via DoD Announces Policy Change on Transfer of Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits:


CTMCS (ret) Summary: DOD has changed policy to increase retention, mandating service members must be under 16 years TAFMS (or Selected Reserve), to elect a transfer to spouse or kids,  and must have 4 years service obligation remaining in order to transfer benefits.

The Defense Department issued a substantive change today to its policy on the transfer by service members in the uniformed services of Post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits to eligible family member recipients.

Effective one year from the date of this change, eligibility to transfer those benefits will be limited to service members with less than 16 years of total active-duty or selected reserve service, as applicable.

Previously, there were no restrictions on when a service member could transfer educational benefits to their family members. The provision that requires a service member to have at least six years of service to apply to transfer benefits remains unchanged in the policy.

Focus on Retention

“After a thorough review of the policy, we saw a need to focus on retention in a time of increased growth of the armed forces,” said Stephanie Miller, director of accessions policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. “This change continues to allow career service members that earned this benefit to share it with their family members while they continue to serve.” This change is an important step to preserve the distinction of transferability as a retention incentive, she added.

If service members fail to fulfill their service obligation because of a “force shaping” event — such as officers involuntarily separated as a result of being twice passed over for promotion or enlisted personnel involuntarily separated as a result of failure to meet minimum retention standards, such as high year of tenure — the change will allow them to retain their eligibility to transfer education benefits even if they haven’t served the entirety of their obligated service commitment through no fault of their own.

All approvals for transferability of Post-9/11 GI Bill continue to require a four-year commitment in the armed forces and, more importantly, the member must be eligible to be retained for four years from the date of election, officials said.

The policy affects service members in the uniformed services, which includes the U.S. Coast Guard as well as the commissioned members of the U.S. Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

editor: emphasis added 

Combat-injured veterans tax relief

righting a wrong

Of all the things that politicians do that gets people’s dander up,  then-President Obama signed into law  a bill that rights a wrong for combat-injured veterans.   For more than a hundred-thirty thousand  veterans whose combat injuries ended their careers,  the government has ended taxing their severance pay.  The veterans affected served from 1991 (Desert Storm) through the present.

The IRS bulletin :

The Combat-Injured Veterans Tax Fairness Act of 2016, enacted December 2016, allows certain veterans who received lump sum disability severance payments additional time to file a claim for credit or refund of an overpayment attributable to the disability severance payment. The law directed the Secretary of Defense to identify disability severance payments paid after January 17, 1991, that were included as taxable income on Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, but were later determined to be nontaxable and to provide notice of the amount of that payment. The Department of Defense is mailing letters to affected veterans (letters 6060-A and 6060-D) in July 2018.

What this means for some veterans

Veterans discharged from military service due to medical disability may receive a one-time lump sum severance payment. Disability severance pay is taxable income unless the pay results from a combat-related injury or the service member receives official notification from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) approving entitlement to disability compensation.

Anyone who received a disability severance payment that was taxed and determines later that the payment qualifies under one of the rules above can file a claim for credit or refund for the tax year in which the disability severance payment was made and was included as income on a tax return.

For veterans who received a lump sum disability severance payment after January 17, 1991, the Combat-Injured Veterans Tax Fairness Act of 2016 may provide additional time to claim a credit or refund for the overpayment attributable to the disability severance payment.

What you need to do

You must complete and file IRS Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, for the tax year the disability severance payment was made carefully following the instructions in the notice mailed by the Department of Defense in July 2018. You must mail the claim generally by the later of:

  • 1 year from the date of the Department of Defense notice, or
  • 3 years after the due date for filing the original return for the year the disability severance payment was made, or
  • 2 years after tax was paid for the year the disability severance payment was made.

If you did not receive the notice from the Department of Defense and you received a disability severance payment after January 17, 1991, that you reported as taxable income, you can still file a claim as long as you attach the necessary documentation to your Form 1040X. You may contact the Defense Finance and Accounting Services to obtain your documentation for submission with the required Form 1040X. See the FAQs for additional information.

Text of the 2016 law:

VADM H. Denby Starling, II — honor365

Vice Adm. (ret) Starling began his last assignment as commander of Navy Cyber Forces at its establishment on Jan. 26, 2010. There he was responsible for organizing and prioritizing manpower, training, modernization and maintenance requirements for networks and cryptologic, space, intelligence and information operations capabilities. He concurrently served as commander Naval Network Warfare Command, where he oversaw the conduct […]

via VADM H. Denby Starling, II — honor365