Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Reason I Got Out

I recently got reconnected with someone who was very good to me while I was in the Army, stationed in Germany. She's one of my favorite people - ever! When I was getting sent to Ft. Huachuca (my time in Germany being, sadly, over), she informed me that I was going to have Major Palmer as my CO. She warned me that Palmer hates tardiness (I was always late) and to watch out because Palmer was rumored to be a bit weird.

My friend in Germany had no idea. I promised her I'd tell all so here it is. Grab a snack.

So there I was...

stationed at Ft. Huachuca, I had the worst CO (commanding officer) ever. Well, at least in my limited 5 year military experience. She was the second worst boss I've had in all the jobs I've done. (Someday, I'll tell y'all about the worst.)

Major Cindy Palmer. I hope she googles her name and reads this someday. Not that she'll care.

Whenever you get to a new base, it's usually best to get a bank account on that base and have your direct deposit go there. Makes money access so much easier. I was at the bank on Ft. Huachuca with my boyfriend, Aaron. This family came in and signed in to wait (just like I had) and sat across the room from us. Aaron and I looked at each other with decidedly WTF?? looks on our faces.

The family was very tall. The husband and wife were well over 6' and the 2 boys were as tall as me and taller (not saying much there - I'm 5'2"). That's not what we thought was so strange. The strange part - they were all dressed the same. Same exact madras plaid shirts, same exact khaki, knee-length cargo shorts, even the same damn shoes! White keds. Very strange.

So I get to work the next day at the eye clinic for the hospital (I was an optician - screened patients for the Optometrists). I get my "welcome to the base" briefing from my new NCO (non-commissioned officer in charge, i.e., my Sergeant). It went a little something like this:
"If it's poisonous and lives in North America it's here - to include water moccasins and the brown recluse spider. Hydrate or die." I said, "Sounds like a lovely place." (I had a run-in with a brown recluse shortly before I got out of the Army. You can read that adventure here.)

I was given a tour of our meager offices and then introduced to the staff on hand. I was told that there was going to be a new Major and that she would be there the next day. The next day came and guess who my new Major was. Yea. The crazy lady with the family that all wears the same outfit.

I was stuck with her for the 2 years before I got out of the Army. She's the reason, the very specific reason, I know of that at least 3 other people gave saying, "yea, that's enough Army for me". She wasn't the only reason I got out (as the title of this post implies) but she was a big help. Maybe I should actually thank her for being such a bitch that it woke me up to the truth. The truth of my having become complaisant to the idea of staying in the cocoon that the military becomes for so many people. People like me who originally joined just for college money.

She was uberchristian yet seemed to never get enough of other people's business. Including the tragedy and business of strangers - she couldn't get enough true crime books. She once got caught in the clinic next to ours when we were moved to the new wing of the hospital. That clinic was the OB/GYN clinic and they kept their records in a small room locked with a key. She was caught in that room going through people's test results. Pregnancy, STD, and Pap results.

We could hear the Major from that clinic ripping her a new one through 3 closed doors. Of course, nothing happened to Palmer, other then being told to find her OB/GYN care downtown somewhere, at her own expense. Had she not been a Major, I'm sure criminal action would've been taken, but such is the Army.

Just as I'm sure, had she not been an Optometrist in the Army, she would not have had a successful practice. She was always a minimum of 20 minutes behind (usually, more like an hour). Even Cpt. J once said, "There's no way she'd make it in the real world." And she was a horrible leader. One of my duties was to keep the clinic stocked with whatever we needed. Palmer would come raging out of her office, yelling at me (oftentimes in front of patients or anyone else who happened to be standing there) because she was out of something. After the 4th or 5th time, I raised my voice back at her, "What am I supposed to do? There was no psychic class in my training. You won't let me into your office to take inventory. You don't tell me when you're low on things, you just yell at me when you're out. So what am I supposed to do?" After that, she started giving me lists of what she needed. I should've stood up for myself much earlier!

The first year there, she had a Christmas party at her house. She and I were stationed there in July and in that short 6 months, she'd already alienated everyone in the clinic. But, she's our CO, so we gotta go, right?

My captain in the clinic was a female, we'll call her J. J had a wife (D) and everyone knew it. My NCO also was a female with a girlfriend and everyone knew it. No one really cared. They were excellent soldiers (I was not. At all.) and so no one cared. The day of the party, I was hanging out with our receptionist guy (a retiree named Stu) and Palmer came up front to hang out, too. She was making small talk and then asks, "Is J. coming tonight?" Stu and I didn't know. Then she says, "Is she bringing D?" Again, we didn't know. Then she asks, "So.... what is D? Like her roommate or.... what?" Stu whips his chair around and is suddenly very busy at his computer.

I look at her dumbfounded and when I find my voice (silenced by my low rank and my desire to keep the college money I'm in the Army for), I say, "Well... I don't know. I mean, it's really none of my business and if you have any questions about Cpt. J, you. should. really. Ask. Her." And I mosy on to my desk in the back office. What a bitch!

But wait, there's more....

At the Ft. Huachuca optometry clinic, one of our duties was to go to Yuma, AZ once a month. They had a tiny base in this tiny, desert, OK - shithole of a town and it wasn't big enough to warrant their own Optometrist. So we went. One Optometrist and one Optician. No one ever wanted to go with Palmer because, well, as I've said, she'd pretty well alienated everyone she ever met.

But it was an extra coupla hundred bucks TDY pay to go, so I usually went with Palmer because I could pretty well let her craziness roll off me. Or so I thought.

The first time we went together, we drove. I didn't bring my Walkman because I didn't want to be rude. I listened to Christian talk radio for FIVE HOURS in that car. At one point, I almost opened the door and jumped onto the freeway going 75 miles an hour. yea.

On the way back, I settled in to sleep through the next 5 hours of Christian talk radio. Palmer asked me to stay awake with her because she was sleepy. sigh. I busted out my book, thinking, "I may have to make sure you stay awake but I don't have to entertain you." Wrong again. Only her form of entertainment was to rip into me about the books I read. I love the scary stuff! She said, "How can you read that trash?? It's so graphic and disgusting!" I asked, "Well, how do you know that if you've never read it?" (Not that she was wrong mind you, just bein' snarky.)

Palmer: I used to read that stuff when I was younger and I know how graphic it is. You shouldn't fill your mind with such filth.
Me: (eyeing that car door handle again) Well, you read true crime books all the time. Those are way more graphic then anything I read.
Palmer: That's different. Those are real.
Me: (turning red with incredulity) Doesn't that make them WORSE?!?

We didn't talk much after that.

The next time... we flew.

Each base had it's own tiny airport and we flew in these little puddlejumpers. Her family gave her a ride to the airport and was hanging around until she left. Her boys were 8 and 11 (this was in 1995-ish) and the younger, as I said, was as tall as me. (Palmer was a little over 6' and her husband was around 6'6".) At one point the younger walked up to her and put his arms up. I was thinking, 'How sweet, he wants a hug'. Uh-uh. She picked him up and carried him around for almost 20 minutes! The 2 guys on staff and myself couldn't stop staring. I wanted to scream at her, "Woman, he's eight years old - put him DOWN!!"

I'll get more into the way they treated their kids in a moment.

When we flew back from this particular trip to Yuma, she asked me if I could give her a ride home. Her husband had taken the boys on a bike ride to the OK Corral in Tombstone. (That's about a 30 minute drive from Ft. Huachuca, btw). I reluctantly agreed. What else was I going to do? It was almost comical to watch her fold her body into my little '66 Mustang. Even more so since my passenger side door didn't work and she had to go through from the driver's side. Anyway, she managed to get in and I gave her a ride home.

The next day, she had me written up because my speedometer didn't work.

That was the last straw for me. I refused to sign the negative write up and took it to the Hospital's First Sergeant. I had been keeping a record of my negative write-ups, which were many. I showed him the timeline I'd drawn out and said, "You notice the only time I get written up is when it's just Palmer and me? Whenever Cpt. J and my NCO are in Yuma or when they are on leave - that's when I get written up. And this last time? The only reason she knew my speedometer was broken was because she asked me for a ride home and I gave her one." My First Sergeant (who was about 40+ years old) went, "Nuh UH" just like a little kid. To which I replied, "Yuh huh!" He tossed that last write-up out and I started paperwork to get out of the Army.

So. Her kids.
These poor kids were home-schooled. Now I don't want a bunch of crappy comments on the joys of home schooling and how I don't know anything about it. That's true, I don't. Two of my favorite bloggers home school. I'm only giving an account of my personal and very limited experience with home schoolers.

Yea, they were home-schooled by her husband who was a stay-at-home dad. They had absolutely no contact with other children. Palmer once told me how she told the lady across the street to keep their kids home since they were a bad influence. The Palmers went to a Korean Baptist Church - the Palmers are not Korean and one of the sons told me that most of the kids there don't speak English. In the Ft. Huachuca area, if you don't have cable, you don't have TV - the mountains are too close and there's no reception. They didn't have cable and other then the occasional Disney rental, they had no TV.

From what I've read around the web, I hear that home schoolers have a reputation for limited social contact and being very sheltered, but even this was taking it to the extreme. I always figured those poor boys were going to end up in a watch tower with a rifle when they got the culture shock of experiencing the real world for the first time. They'd be about 21 and 24 now. I wonder what's become of them.

So there you have it. My last experience with a crazy Army person. There are other crazy experiences/people I encountered in my brief time in the military but those are for another day.

So happy to be out, Ruth!


Tammy said...

OMG! You poor thing! But that's just too funny. I had to pause The Office to finish reading. (You had me with the matching clothes.)

Speedometer write-up. I wonder if that's an official Army penalty... maybe it's a Korean church crime. Oops sorry, that was bad.

Well, I can certainly say that you have served your country above and beyond your duty. ;)

Yarnhog said...

This was SO entertaining! My sister and brother both served several years in the Air Force and have similar stories to tell. As for me, my own worst boss ever was in the Foreign Service, and let me tell you, she gave "crazy" a whole new meaning! She was absolutely the reason I left--not because I couldn't stand her, but because I didn't want to become her.

Nell said...

Wow. Yeah- The Army is a whole other world. Very interesting where some people have to go to succeed, isn't it?

Turtle said...

Gotta love the freaks that somehow seem to do fairly well in the military..not sure how they do it but they seem to co-exist with the humans! isn't civilian life so much better! As hubby tells folks when they ask why he got out after 15 years...."the military tradition was gone and johnny was never held accountable for his actions any longer"