Your tax dollars at work

I'd apologize for not updating, but I don't want to be this guy.

Annual training was splendid, thanks for asking. I probably ought to post about it. Note, I didn't promise to post about it. I didn't even suggest I was thinking about a post. I just said that I probably ought to. You should see my "probably ought to" list some time. It's absolutely horrifying in scope and scale, and that's just the work-related stuff.

Ahem.

OK, so with the September drill weekend just a few weeks away, instead of preparing for that I got to spend Wednesday through today (being Sunday four days after aforementioned Wednesday) at a conference for the brigade-sized-element-that-is-not-really-a-brigade over my battalion. Being that this is toward the end of the fiscal year (which is a whole 'nother post that I will also probably not actually write), said BSETISNRAB was able to attain really swanky accomodations for only a fair bit above the normal lodging rate authorized for this region. (For the curious, we stayed in the "Deluxe Lodge Studio Room.") Because they are pretty clever, they set up the tables in such a manner that there was no electricity for me to charge my laptop, meaning that I could only do about 90 minutes of work (on battery) while they were yammering on (and on and on and on).

The first portion of the conference was for the AGRs (Active Guard/Reserve--the full-time permanent people who run things the other 28 days a month). We showed up on Wednesday afternoon, got checked in, and had the conference all day ("all day" adjourning around 1430) Thursday and then Friday morning; checkout was at noon, and then the commanders and senior NCOs started showing up for the second portion, which was geared toward them and scheduled in a similar non-grueling manner. Since I'm cool like that (and because it was recommended for unit readiness NCOs), we stayed for the entire period through Sunday noonish.

The accommodations were nice. REALLY nice. The conference was a little disappointing. Much of it ought to have been directed at the commanders and 1SGs rather than the full-time staff. It's nice to know that our NCOERs and OERs are ridiculously behind (my company is 52% up to date, vice the BSETISNRAB average of roughly 60%), but I already know that and know that it's a problem. However, I have no control over this and damned little influence over it. I cannot make people do their evals; I certainly can't make them do them right, and even giving a class on it would be problematic since a) I'm not actually in a position of authority and b) I have never actually written an NCOER for anyone but myself (yet another post).

During the second portion, they unveiled Yet Another Tracking System for me to maintain. In this case, it's a comprehensive know-all-do-all web-based retention tracking tool that will feed stats up to the state level and allow us to keep better tabs on soldiers who are thinking about escap---er, allowing their contract to lapse. Retention tracking is important, no question, but this tool is really detailed: name, contact info, family and spouse info, pay entry base date, birthday (?!), ETS date (obviously), contact records, counseling records, and all sorts of other silliness in this big-ass color-coded Excel spreadsheet to which everyone and their mother will have at least read-only access. In theory, the Retention NCO (a one-weekend-a-month soldier) would keep this up to date, but since so many of those fields are things requiring access to personnel records, in practice it would find its way to my plate.

First and most obviously, this is a massive privacy invasion. There is no need for that many people (and they included everyone in the NCO support chain, chain of command, and retention system) to have that kind of information on my soldiers. All it would take is one jackass to lose a laptop and it would be in the open. Since that happens roughly every seven minutes within DoD, this is of concern to me.

Second, this is the fourth or fifth place that some of this data is stored and updated--by yours truly. Seriously. I have to update many of these things on the battalion's Access database, the Reserve Component Automation System (RCAS, web-based, frequently down for no reason), Commander's Dashboard (ComDash, web-based, usually works but isn't super detailed), and Digital Training Management System (DTMS, web-based, slower than payday, and designed by people who hate soldiers) already. I do not need another One True Solution for tracking soldier data. I need three less solutions.

Here's how we track retention in my company. Each month, I run the retention report on ComDash, which pops up everyone in the unit who is scheduled to get out in the next six months. I must update their status (even if there is no change) at least every 30 days during those six months. I put in who contacted the soldier, the date they did so, the soldier's intent (get out, extend, undecided, etc.), any supporting notes, and check a few applicable boxes. Usually, I print this report out before drill and put it in the Retention NCO's box; it's his job to hit up as many of those people as possible and find out what their plans are and what it would take to include the Nasty Guard in them. He makes notes on the sheet, and I update ComDash on Monday after drill. If we're doing really well, we can record it as "Already Extended" and file the accompanying paperwork.

Some soldiers just aren't up for it any longer; they want to do something else with their lives. Some are lazy. Some want more than the Guard can provide, and seem not to have realized that with the current economy and new political climate, we can't afford big (or any) bonuses to keep them in uniform. Some just have done their time and aren't willing to deploy again. I did 11 (mostly) easy months in theater; who am I to tell someone who has spent 27 months in Iraq that they need to step up to the line again? If I think it's good for the unit and good for the soldier, I will try to talk them into it, but I won't try to guilt or trick them into staying in.

[Ironically, our Retention NCO inadvertently ETSed when his paperwork got screwed up and he was mistakenly listed as ineligible for extension. Don't worry, we got it fixed.]

The point of this digression is that the current system takes me about 15 minutes--per month. I don't need or want yet another spreadsheet to track the soldier's family situation and factors coming up in their lives. That's clearly an officer idea, or from the perverted mind of a full-time Recruiting and Retention Command (RRC) puke. In a company of only 61 soldiers, where even the platoon sergeant might have 12 people under him, a good NCO can keep track of his people with a notepad and a bad one wouldn't use the spreadsheet anyway. If we lose someone to civilian life, it is not because we didn't know exactly when and why it was going to happen. This is a solution in search of a problem.

The conference wasn't all about making more work for SSG Sig. A big portion of it (outside the sessions) was supposed to be networking and crap like that. Oops, gave away my attitude a little. I'm not a big socializing networking sort of person. This may amaze some of you, but I don't actually like talking to people I don't know. That's one of the reasons I do so well squirreled away in a SIGINT company office with only a taciturn cav scout for company. I was able to put a few names to faces, and gain new appreciation for some people at echelons above BN, but I'm not a big drinker, particularly when I'm one of the two or three most junior people in a crowd.

We aren't into golf or the bar scene, so a lot of the amenities of the resort were somewhat wasted on us. We did go for a nice walk or two, and play on some playground equipment, and even take Siglet for his first swim. He was unimpressed, mostly (I think) because the water was chilly, although he stopped whining once he saw the ladies. Way to suck it up and drive on, son--you're a credit to your gender. In the evenings, we went out to eat (cheaper than eating at the resort, even at "discounted" prices) or did a frozen pizza in the oven, and played Nintendo DS games while waiting for Siglet to fall asleep.

Overall, it was somewhat entertaining, and the closest I've had to a vacation since I started this job back in March. I have taken one (1) day of leave since then, and that was a must-stay-home-to-watch-Siglet deal (not that I didn't enjoy it), so this was kind of nice. Still, there's a lot of work that did not get done in a timely fashion, and I'll be playing catch-up right until the drill weekend. I would have been a little happier if we had more small group sessions so I could pick the brains of some of the other Readiness NCOs, and a little less time getting briefed on stuff that applies to only a handful of people in the audience.

One plus: I sat through the brigade (well, BSETISNRAB) command sergeant major's brief on the wacky National Guard enlisted promotion system, and I think I can definitively say that my briefing is both better-focused and more entertaining than his. I finished working on it at annual training (in the evenings after my regular training and frantic attempts to do my day job), but then they never scheduled a time to do it so I'm giving it at September's drill. Interestingly (to me), I don't like talking to individual people but I have little problem telling groups of them that they are doing it wrong.

Sig