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More Additional Duties.
I didnít have many additional duties while I was in the Marine Corps, either time, but there were a few worth mentioning. An additional duty is something that no one in your unit might be specifically qualified for, but that your unit is responsible for anyway. These are assigned to people on an Ďas neededí basis. The second time I was in the Marine Corps, from 1983 to 1992, I got a few plums, and several Ďnon-plumsí, but mainly I was assigned to these during the year I spent in the and Radio Technicianís courses at MCB 29 Palms, California. There were three separate courses and an add-on, and some of the breaks between courses were long. I was a fresh Staff Sergeant in the Marines at this time, so I was implicitly qualified to do a lot of things that I didnít particularly enjoy.
The worst one was inventorying peopleís gear. If someone was killed, or went UA (Unauthorized Absence, the Marine Corpís term for deciding that you didnít want to be a Marine any more.) all of their clothing and equipment had to be inventoried and disposed of according to regulations. This was touchy at the best of times because we didnít want to damage the image of the service by sending something home that might make parents or loved ones know that their son (males didnít inventory femaleís stuff) had been sexually active or anything else like that, while away from home. The first time I had this unfortunate duty was when my driver in the Army in Germany, Darriel Johnson, had a family emergency that turned into a long term thing, and was given a humanitarian transfer back to the US. At least I knew that he wasnít dead, so it wasnít too bad, and unlike many, his gear was clean and neat, but there was a lot of it. He must have had several hundred LP phonograph albums, and I had to put every oneís name on the inventory list. I think it took me a whole day to do that one.
I did about four or five inventories at 29 Palms for people that had departed for various reasons. None of them were interesting, but some were educational. I got to the point where I could tell whether the person ever intended to come back or not, and things like that, based on what they left behind.
Standing duty is not really an additional duty. Someone from each military unit is supposed to be around after business hours and on weekends to answer the phone, handle minor emergencies, and notify appropriate parties when things really go wrong. It usually wasnít too bad except for once in Germany when I was the Battalion Staff Duty NCO and the unit was alerted. The problem was that I hadnít been in Germany long enough to know how to use the local phone system and most of the people I needed to notify lived off post. While Iím thinking about it, one of the things that really didnít endear me to my unit in Germany was that, during the months that I was shooting with our German partner unit and working on the Division Tank Gunnery Qualification Standardization Committee, the battalion Sergeant Major hadnít excused me from duty. When I got back I was close to getting out of the Army, so I ended up standing duty 5 times in one month although it was rare to have duty even every other month.
I did have one funny occurrence while standing duty in Norway of all places. The chances of Ďcatchingí duty while on deployment were pretty slim and it only happened to me twice, once in Korea, where it was boring, and this time in Norway. This was in the late 80s when portable telephones were both large and rare. There was a portable phone in the office where I was standing duty and at about 0200 it started ringing. It took me about five minutes to figure out how to answer it. It had been a live fire exercise where Marine aircraft were involved and my unit was providing tactical air command and control for them. Apparently our squadron had also taken care of providing ordnance for the exercise somehow because the phone call was from a very irate Navy Commander (O-5) who wanted to know what to do with several tons of bombs that the Marine aircraft had not used during the exercise. I finally had to tell him that the squadron supply officer would call him back as soon as I could find him, even though I knew that officer had taken the opportunity to spend a night in one of the local cities for a much needed rest. (An interesting aside here is that some Navy SEALs were involved in the exercise as aggressors and their preferred method of communication was by portable phone. I heard that the Marines didnít have much trouble picking them out, but I donít really think the SEALs were careless enough to run around with short hair, loud shirts and displaying portable phone sets.)
The worst duty I ever stood was one weeknight at 29 Palms. In my special instructions I was notified that there was a Woman Marine on suicide watch and that I was required to wake her up every hour and speak to her face to face, to make sure that she was still alive. As a rule I didnít have anything to do with the Woman Marines who lived on the third floor of the barracks. When on duty, a few times each night I would walk around the platform outside their rooms, but I really wasnít terribly interested in anything that went on in any of them. I just wanted to make sure that no one was in trouble. I certainly didnít want anyone to accuse me of spending too much time up there or bothering anyone. Those young women, many away from home for the first time, had enough problems. Anyway, I had never seen this WM (Woman Marine) before the first time that I knocked on her door. I really felt sorry for her. She wasnít much to look at, but the thought of having strange men come to her door (she had the room to herself) every hour of every night until someone decided she was no longer a suicide risk must have been pretty depressing. I have no idea what the rest of the story was, but I donít think I would have recommended this particular course of action if I had been given the option.
One of the most boring additional duties I was ever assigned was Marine Liaison to the Palm Springs airport. Palm Springs was about an hourís drive from MCB 29 Palms and is a nice looking city. Since a lot of Marines came to 29 Palms by air, via Palm Springs, the base command decided that it would be a good idea to have someone there, in uniform, to keep them in line. I was assigned to this duty for 45 days while the Ground Radio and Air Radio sections of Comm-Elect Schools were going through a big political dogfight. In the end, we, the students, lost. This was extremely boring duty and I hated it. I wasnít used to wearing uniforms other than cammies and didnít like dressing up. Flights came in at least an hour apart, and there were no problems that I needed to get involved in during the whole assignment. I did see the Schools battalion commander fly in one night, obviously feeling no pain, with his ribbons hanging by one pin. I also saw Sonny Bono there one night. He was the mayor of Palm Springs at the time. Other than that, and one poor Marine sent back from being UA that I had to drive back to 29 Palms under Ďescortí, it was boring. I usually left 29 palms around 1600 and got back at 0200 - 0300.
One of the worst additional duties I had was as a monitor for the Comm-Elect Schools urinalysis tests. As a Staff Sergeant I was eligible for this definitely non-plum assignment and caught it several times. At this time the unit policy, if not the Marine Corpsí was Ďno-toleranceí. At least once a month the 2000 odd students all had to be tested, including students who were going to night school, and this was a real imposition on them. Basically I had to stand in a bathroom all day and watch about 1500 men urinate in plastic bottles, make sure that the bottles were sealed and initialed properly, and that no one filled his bottle from another bottle or put any foreign materials in them. I canít really tell you how depressing that was. My uniform immediately went into the cleaners after these tests, to get the smell out.
Something slightly more interesting was not really an additional duty. I had built my first computer from parts while stationed on Okinawa a few years before, and I knew a little about them. I became fairly good friends with the troop handler for Marines who were in between courses and he mentioned one day that he had a dBaseIII+ database to keep track of what rooms people lived, (room assignments changed all the time) but there was no easy way to search for a particular person or room. He said he would also like to come up with some equitable way of assigning people to work details. As it happened, I had a computer in my room that I had mainly been using to play a game that was complicated enough so that I needed to keep track of progress using a dBaseIII+ database, so I had the program and knew a little bit about it. I learned a lot more from taking care of the troop handlerís database. I have a tendency to push things to the limit and this was one of the first times I heard the familiar phrase, ďI didnít know it could do that. That kept my brain from rotting for a while.
There was another noteworthy additional duty that I still feel kind of neutral about. While I was assigned to TACC Center, H&HS-28, 2nd Marine Air Wing I was appointed the United Fund drive coordinator for the unit. I didnít like that at all because I donít often give to charities and certainly didnít like the idea of trying to talk people into doing something that I would not ordinarily do. I have nothing against most charities but I just donít feel comfortable giving when my personal finances are deep in the red. Anyway, we had a really great company commander at the time and he didnít like his people to be away from their jobs, so he decided to get the whole thing over with in one shot. He had me schedule a classroom on the main post for our use one afternoon, and make sure that everyone knew that they should be there if at all possible. The United Fund representative for the post gave a short speech. The company commander gave a short speech. I think I said a few words. Everyone filed out past the pledge tables, and that was it. Until we found out that we had exceeded our assigned goal by a larger margin than any other unit in the Wing. The unit was awarded a plaque and I got a nice letter in my service record book.
My thanks yet again to Rory.
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