Ask the Chief: we follow orders

“.we follow orders..Or people die”

A Few Good Men, (1992) movie, line uttered by Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson)

As a retired Navy Senior Chief, I spent 26 years following orders of those seniors-in-command, whether directly from Commanding Officers as their unit Senior Enlisted Leader, or indirectly, while carrying out my assigned duties, watches, or maintenance tasks during my career. As a civilian, I am trying to follow our State officials, medical experts, and emergency First Responders who have been asking the public to minimize their comings and goings. While the military has both non-judicial punishment and legal proceedings to enforce “social distancing”, in the civilian world, the public is “strongly suggested” to follow State Emergency guidelines for public safety. Some will always decide they know more than public safety officials. As we have seen during hurricanes, people who refuse to evacuate the path of the storm are frequently requiring rescue or hospitalization when disaster strikes.

Tonight, as I contemplate that the Governor of California has issued a Statewide mandate to limit public contact by restricting gatherings and use of public venues even further than two weeks ago, I think how an old veteran can be a model for others. It is the eleventh hour, and our political representatives have finally stopped fighting among themselves, and are seeking to do what is best for our citizens. Given the example of places like Italy which has been overwhelmed by the number of critically ill, we have only days till the numbers of the ill exponentially exceed our response. This thought about the eleventh hour, reminded me of the orders I learned in bootcamp forty years ago:

Eleven General Orders of a sentry

  1. To take charge of this post and all government property in view.
  2. To walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert, and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing.
  3. To report all violations of orders I am instructed to enforce.
  4. To repeat all calls from posts more distant from the guard house than my own.
  5. To quit my post only when properly relieved.
  6. To receive, obey and pass on to the sentry who relieves me, all orders from the Commanding Officer, Command Duty Officer, Officer of the Deck, and Officers and Petty Officers of the Watch only.
  7. To talk to no one except in the line of duty.
  8. To give the alarm in case of fire or disorder.
  9. To call the Officer of the Deck in any case not covered by instructions.
  10. To salute all officers and all colors and standards not cased.
  11. To be especially watchful at night, and, during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post and to allow no one to pass without proper authority.

I have not practiced military drills in the ten years since retirement. I might leave the heavy lifting to younger service members. But I am observant as to what has been lacking in the years, months and recent weeks leading up to the coronavirus response within the United States. Clear direction, unified communications, and orderly process. Precision and calm, measured response to emergencies requires frequent practice. That is what our shipboard drills honed into us, Collisions at sea and terrorist attacks are not the time to practice. In the eleventh hour, the nation needs to heed the “best practices” to minimizing the casualties from this pandemic.

trust betrayed

Thoughts and prayers to comfort the grieving and hurting members of the U.S. Navy family, residents of Pensacola, and the nation are needed today. A terrorist opened fire at the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida on Friday, 6 December, killing four and wounding many. The killer was dispatched.

Apparently, the deceased was a Saudi national receiving pilot training. And a terrorist. As part of international alliances, agreement, and cooperation between militaries, the United States placed trust in the government of Saudi Arabia that their personnel were their “best”. That trust was betrayed today. At the cradle of Naval aviation, and in a part of the country I know well from years spent during my Navy career. The responding Sheriff’s deputies, Naval security forces, and military personnel acted admirably, and were wounded in the process of saving many lives today. May they receive the care and healing that our best can provide.

There will be another time to process this barbarity. And my hope for America and all those who oppose acts of savage barbarism, is that we can find that Love covers over a multitude of sins. Hatred has no defining color or nationality, religion or language, but it festers many places under the guise of “tolerance”. For today and perhaps tomorrow, let us cease being divisive about religion, politics, social status, whether rich or poor, and let us honor the victims, grieve with the families and be united in purpose.

a sea-dog’s mystical signs in chicken, bones, and Internet

Photo by Bezalel Thilojan on Pexels.com

“Why do chickens cross the road?” Yesterday, I encountered 3 of them doing exactly that on my early morning dog walk. And that evening, at our church men’s fellowship, I found we were eating chicken wings together before our devotional meeting.

After our dog- walk this morning, I had the urge to check the Navy pay system website, “Mypay” again for any sign that my pension was being processed. For the last couple months, I have been “retirement pay” eligible but have not been showing up in the online system. Of course, I am not superstitious, and don’t search entrails, bones, nor “signs”, but I did send a few prayers heavenward to ask whether I was rash in becoming “retired”.

I don’t know whether the prayers, or chicken had anything to do with it, but after the morning walk today, the website welcomed me with a “Retiree Pay” banner. No indication of payment, yet, but perhaps I might “roll” some chicken bones tonight. In my time in the Navy, my fellow Chief Petty Officers and I used to joke that we consulted the ‘rolling bones’ to help in our decision-making.

On my way home tonight, my spouse informed me we’re having baked chicken for dinner. Perhaps, once I get my retirement backpay, I should get those ancient sailor tattoos after all.

drowning protection, image credit, tattoodo.com

never ask a Navy Chief to be a decorator

what “we” think “we” want -cabinet color, but a darker countertop
surface preparation: Voyage-tinted primer

A Navy Chief Petty Officer is never given the “how-to” just the task to accomplish. The wisdom of the Chiefs’ Mess provides suggestions and a sounding board. That is the wisdom I have lived for the past thirty-five years. For the last several days, I have been dismantling, cleaning, and priming the wood cabinets in our sixty year-old galley kitchen. Removing grime of years needed scrub pads, many buckets of hot water and TSP, and elbow grease. Cleaning and dismantling was easy compared to the next phase of the “in-port Habitability period” (remodeling, for you civilian-types).

What color do I like? I am not sure what “warm”, “complementary” or “2019” colors are. What drawer and cabinet hardware do we want? After hours of online research for kitchens resembling ours, I was given some wide margin. The retired Boatswains Mate at Lowes suggested a cabinet paint that will be “one coat and done” at $50 a gallon. Suspecting, if up to me, I would get the wrong shade, I bought a small can of primer instead, and had Valspar “Voyage” tint added.

where can I find a Boatswains Mate?

In 2019, matching paint and counters to a thirty-plus year old floor was low on my list of worries. Few current-millennium homes have white-tile floors throughout (the previous owner cursed us). Tearing up the floor was a job all my friends said would be a nightmare, so my first thought, would a terrazzo coating over the tile be an option? I kept that idea to myself. I had some experience working with it aboard the USS PETERSON. Color-matching the terrazzo, cabinet paint, with a yet-undecided new countertop, would challenge this Chief’s can-do. We both decided that the floor could be covered with a mat. As for colors, I was going to opine to the Admiral that her next shade pick was a glossy (Navy) Deck Gray. Shipboard colors were kept utilitarian and for camouflage. Deck Gray for decks. Haze Gray for exterior bulkheads (walls) and White, plain white for most everything else. I decided to keep that to myself also.

will terrazzo cover tile?

Next item: these cabinets and drawers never had handles before. I am thinking how to install cabinet handles and pulls precisely. I will need to design a rig to do that. With the ongoing plan to repaint the whole house interior, I am scheduling my “Intermediate Maintenance Availability” for as long as it takes. But time is not really the issue; I am not commuting to a job any longer, so as long as the job is done well, the Admiral shouldn’t fire me?

Sherwin-Williams “Gray Harbor”

the paint locker

When I wandered over to the Paint desk at my local Lowes, I had been tasked by my favorite “Admiral”, my spouse, to rehab our kitchen. This is where “Boats” comes in. Retired Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate, was, appropriately enough, working the Paint counter at Lowes the day I came looking for “cabinet” paint. I was wearing one of my favorite Retired CPO shirts, and we connected. During my career afloat in the Navy, I learned that salt water corrodes metal seven days a week, so it was a continual task for our Deck Division to chip paint and remove rust, and apply new. When it was needed, all hands took part in priming and painting.

Though our residence has never put to sea, periodic painting inside and outside is considered routine. At least, for married homeowners. My neighbor across the street completely rebuilt their kitchen at the behest of his spouse. Fortunately, I have a fiscally understanding Chain of Command. Since I am not a professional painter, Boats told me about cabinet paint and how to prepare the surfaces for painting. I bought a small can of primer, tinted to what we think we like, today. With friends coming over to dinner this week, I only got started before it was time to pack it up. Long ago, the mission would have been ’round the clock, to prepare everything for dignitaries arriving. Unfortunately, Senior Chief will be unavoidably detained.

“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.