The Sounds Of Silence shadowed the faces of our close-knit family within the Office of The Staff Judge Advocate at Fort Ord, California, that day in 1991. Next came shock, disbelief, anger—it couldn’t happen to us. We’d heard talk, but unfortunately our Congressman, Leon Panetta, now Secretary of Defense, had sold us out. Closing Fort Ord would help balance the federal budget and that was Panetta’s mission under President Clinton’s administration.
I’d never worked in such a tight group as the one we’d formed at Fort Ord JAG. We’d been together thirteen years and had gone through the good, the bad and the ugly together. We’d rejoiced at weddings, children’s achievements, grieved with office mates when they lost parents and then thought nothing worse could happen when we lost two of our own. We were family.
We kept saying, “But we do it better than any of the other installations that are staying open. Why us?”
We’d been kicked in the gut but we weren’t down. To save money, all non-essential contractors on Fort Ord were let go. We made a game out of cleaning our own offices and yes, the toilets as well. The cleaning rotated equally among attorneys, paralegals, file clerks and investigators. No one was exempt.
Friday afternoon became special. We organized a new sport. Instead of a round of golf at one of the famous golf courses, we played basketball trash and became even more loyal to each other. Being a legal office, we produced some mighty heavy trash but learned to print on both sides of the paper when we had to start buying our own.
That’s right. The final two years I was at Fort Ord, I purchased box after box of copy paper, legal size of course. I was in the legal business after all. I wasn’t the only one buying office supplies—everyone that wanted to get their work done and keep the morale of their staff up did the same.
There was a bright side to buying your own office supplies. Yes, I still had to conform in ways, but I discovered a pink stapler didn’t disappear at the same rate as a black one. I still have the same one I purchased in 1992. My department produced thousands of files and suddenly we were color-coded with lavender, powder blue, hot pink, and other shades. Oh the joy of colored paper clips and funny sticky notes. We still had to write with black ink but at least the pen was not a government issue.
We looked for anything to be happy about in those dreary days. Fort Ord over looked the sparkling expanse of Monterey Bay and the majority of its winding tangle of streets never let you forget the tranquility of the bay was just over the sand dunes.
Decisions were tough. Should I stay and see what happened to the career I’d worked so hard to build? I was eleven years shy of retirement and I’d become responsible for our family. My husband was ill.
I’d sent out resumes and head hunters came calling. They offered me excellent money but no one provided the health insurance I needed for my husband. He now had a pre-existing condition.
With this blog, I’m beginning a new series. I’ll continue the book reviews but my platform of healthcare, insurance reform, defense policy and other legislative musings will be woven in.
Allow me to provide you an example: Fort Ord, California, was established in 1917 but not one building was declared historically significant on its 27,827 acres on the day it closed or on any day since.
Perhaps the most horrific casualties of all were the soldiers who had given the best years of their lives to the military. They were told they were no longer wanted. They were surplus. Seventh Infantry Light was moving to Fort Lewis, Washington, but not everyone was going.
The soldiers, enlisted and officers alike, were caught in the crossfire. They knew their jobs in the Army. They hadn’t planned to get out. Most had families to support. Where would they go? Where would they find work? Would driving an armored vehicle translate to the civilian world?
For the civilian employees at Fort Ord: some qualified for a $25,000 one time only buy-out. After taxes, a friend told me, he had around $11,000.
Other civilians were eligible for early retirement and accepted reduced benefits. Others were eligible for retirement and they simply did so.
For the rest of us, we faced a gamble. We knew a small fraction would be retained at our office but we didn’t know how many, which positions, or at what pay grades.
I had a family to support and we lived in one of the highest cost-of-living areas in the U.S.I sent out government applications, threw my name in the pool and made what seemed like thousands of phone calls. Thankfully, my reputation preceded me and I was hired by the U.S. Coast Guard in Washington, D.C. This farmer’s daughter had no idea just how deep the water was.
Has your congressman made promises to you? What are you doing to protect yourself? Will it help? When the final cuts are made, where will you be?
Please join me for this continuing series on the current 2012 military drawdown, to include Tri Care and other benefits.