In my nearly 16 years as a Reservist, I’ve only done something really crazy—like sneak off base, hop on a plane, and leave the time zone—twice. The first time was in March 1999. My friend Chad was getting married, and I was to be a groomsman. I’d known Chad since the 5th grade when we took a field trip and sat together on a bus bound for Hunstville, Alabama from Nashville, Tennessee. We stayed friends through junior high, high school, undergrad, and careers in different cities, so I was damned if I was going to let one “No, you can’t leave the vicinity” of Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, Texas and a strike by American Airlines, the airline I was to use at the airport where they were headquartered, keep me from his big day. I sneaked off base early in the morning, drove 2hrs to the airport, looked at the monitor for all the “cancelled” notifications, and prayed I wouldn’t see Nashville on there. Then I did the same on the flight home. I’d decided I wouldn’t get punished that badly, given that I was a lowly 2nd Lieutenant, and took the risk. I got away with it.
In spring 2006, I deployed to Andrews AFB, Maryland. I’d brought my new wife and daughter with me (asking forgiveness rather than permission, since no one ever takes dependents with them on a deployment). I was a Major by this time and worked for a very micromanaging and insecure Lt Colonel who was a psychiatric nurse in the civilian world. By this time, I had already deployed to Iraq once and was practicing law full-time as a fairly independent senior associate, meaning I’d developed a healthy disdain for authority. My friend Glenn was getting married, whom I’d also known since the 5th grade and with whom I’d stayed friends through junior high, high school, rooming together twice at U. of Alabama, and careers in different cities as adults. The stakes were a bit higher this time when I took off for the airport (outside the mandatory 3-hour driving radius) for Destin, Florida, as I was higher ranking, and I was deployed this time, not just attending training. The orders were different. And, by 2006, cellphones were ubiquitous, even in the antiquated Air National Guard, and I had one I was required to keep with me at all times. I remember nearly shitting myself when the government-issued cellphone rang during a layover in Atlanta on our way to Florida. I covered the receiver and prayed the delayed flights announcements overhead couldn’t be heard by the Colonel in Washington, DC who had questions for me. Once again, I got away with it.
A few days ago, I emailed my unit’s squadron commander to let him know I’d be gone during February drill weekend to attend a “work-related conference” in Houston. I even said I was speaking (which I don’t quite know that I am for sure just yet, but I was submitted for at least 3 panels and hope to be)! He’s new to our unit, having taken over command only a few months ago, but I wasn’t worried–after all, every commander I’ve served under has allowed us to miss one drill weekend a year without questions or concerns. I’d bought my plane ticket, conference ticket, and hotel room months ago. I’d even made plans to give the extra bed to Andy. Plans were set. Leaves of Absence were filed with the local courts. All was set. Telling him was a mere formality. Maybe a courtesy. The last sentence said “See you this weekend!” because I’m casual like that.
His response wasn’t casual. It included this:
“I need you at this UTA, we have 3 major inspections around the corner and you are managing a key area for one of them…we published our annual UTA schedule far in advance and a speaking engagement should not have been scheduled.”
He CC’d a bunch of other officers from our unit who work there full-time. I read this email while sitting in traffic on my way home from what was not the best day at work I’ve ever had (a client with whom I spent nearly 5 hours in a mediation right before Thanksgiving decided to fire me over the holiday weekend, thinking someone else could get her more money than what we got at the mediation. She’s wrong.), so my response was curt:
“I didn’t schedule it; I was requested months ago. I apologize.” Sent from my iPhone
His reply was even curter: “Understood, we need you here.”
Then I went from frustrated to concerned. I decided to back up and explain things better. I can be diplomatic! See?
“Let’s try to figure something out. Maybe I can come out a few days before or after.
I’ve already paid for hotel, airfare, and registration fees. Everywhere I’ve served (Guard or Reserve) for the past 15 years allowed 1 UTA miss without any problems, issues, or permission required. In 15 years, I’ve never missed a UTA for illness or anything that wasn’t work-related (i.e., I’ve skipped weddings, kids’ birthdays, football games, etc.). However, I tend to need to miss that 1x/year “freebie” for a conference every year (last year it was Aug UTA to be in NYC). I’ve never had anyone protest such, so I figured letting you know about it was a formality or courtesy, not a request. That’s why the travel, etc. was booked last spring or summer, way before I knew Feb would be a 3-day drill (I believe the drill schedule for 2013 was handed out in Sept or Oct 2012).
It’s a few months away, so I’d like to try and fix any issues so I don’t have to “eat” over a $1000 already paid (not to mention the non-monetary benefits of attending). I’ll be there Dec and Jan UTAs, plus all the other drills in 2013.”
I had hoped to hear nothing until I see him in person Saturday, but instead I got this, with a bunch of people CC’d again:
“Let’s take this out of email. Report to me on Saturday and we will discuss. It is evident you already committed to attend without obtaining approval from your chain of command prior.”
And then I went from concerned to pissed. So I stopped mid-stride in my walking to my car after having coffee with a friend this morning and typed this:
“Actually, that’s not true either. At the time, I was under Maj DeVall, whom I did consult. But, I’m glad to talk about it later.” Sent from my iPhone
To which he replied like this: “Enough…report to me Saturday morning.” and CC’d a bunch of people again.
So, we’ll see how Saturday at 0630 goes. I’ll call my friend who’s the base JAG (in the military, I’m not an attorney, and I really know next to nothing about the UCMJ other than what I learned in “A Few Good Men”) tomorrow, since we’re friends in the civilian world. I’ll try to be respectful when I meet with my commander Saturday, but as of this typing, I’m planning to go in February. Whether it turns out to be my 3rd absence without permission or not remains to be seen.
Cause you know what? I don’t want to miss Dad 2.0 in February.
That, and I don’t like being told “no.”