After I had over eight years in the service, I was transferred to the East coast, for the first time in my career. I reported to NOPF, Dam Neck, VA, when it was still just an idea on paper. Captain Paul Harrelson was slated to be the C.O. of the new command, but he was still X.O. of COSL, so in effect, I reported in to myself, and by virtue of being the only member of the new command, I was also the O.I.C. At first, this seemed like a joke, but as weeks passed, it came to be a very handy fact.
When I reported in at COSL, the X.O. introduced himself as “Scratch.” This, I felt, was either a very good, or a very bad sign, depending upon whether you read it in a biblical sense. As it turned out Scratch was one of the finest officers under whom I was privileged to serve. He gave me a blank check and full access to one of the finest military computer systems in the world, and told me when I should have the facility ready. That proved to present a real challenge, as I had slightly less than six months to have a highly sophisticated computer facility on line, and all I had inherited was a semi-cleared field, some nebulous plans, and an immense budget. In view of the last, I readily told him, “Can do, Sir!”
It seemed to me that the first thing I needed was an office, near the site, so I rented a mobile construction office. Then transportation became a problem, so I ran through a request for a vehicle assignment for the new C.O. When the vehicle arrived, I was surprised to receive a Class A limo, and thought perhaps I had screwed up on the requisition, since for the last few years, limos had been refused for any military officer below JCS level. I asked Scratch about it, and he simply shrugged and suggested that I enjoy it while it lasted.
So, I took him at his word, and began driving the car to and from work in civilian clothes, returning the salutes of all the officers and enlisted who saw the conspicuous blue eagle on the bumper.
On one occasion, the M.P.’s came to my door in Navy housing, wanting to know if I was driving that military limo out front.
“Ssshhhh!” exclaimed my wife. “You’ll wake the Captain! He’s taking a nap!” They left, and never bothered us again.
One really awkward incident occurred when I was trying to execute an Intra-Service Support Agreement, whereby the Public Works Department of our host base would support us with utilities and garbage pick-up, among other things. I had gone through the back door, extracting a promise of service, but on the scheduled day for pick-up, nobody showed. I called my contact, and he assured me that he had routed the request to the main office, so maybe I should call them.
I got an infuriating Ensign on the phone, explained my problem, and was told about their tremendous workload, their budget cuts, the hot weather, and his sick wife. I decided that an instant promotion might help, so I became Captain Paul Harrelson.
“Mister, are you trying to tell me, that because your wife has a bellyache, you’re going to ask me to walk through a pile of garbage to get to my 4-1/2 billion dollar facility?” I bellowed.
“Well, no sir… I mean yes, she does, but no, sir. I mean, I can’t…we don’t…if we were to… oh shit, sir. I’m sorry, sir. I’ll have someone there right away, sir. Sorry, sir.”
“That’s okay, son. Don’t get your knickers in a knot. Just get this crap off my porch! And I hope your wife is better soon.” I added.
“Yes, sir! She will be, sir! And I’ll have that crap…I mean, that garbage, sir, off your porch right away, sir.” he stuttered.
“Outstanding, mister,” I said, stifling a laugh. “Carry on!”
About 20 minutes later a disgruntled driver showed up with a garbage truck. “Hey, buddy! You know where I can find NOPF?” he asked.
“You’re in it!” I answered.
“Well, where’s your skipper? I’m supposed to see him about some trash!” he bellowed.
“He just left. He said to tell you it’s right over there,” I pointed, as I shouted back at him.
“He’s gone?” he asked.
“Yeah, he just left,” I lied.
“Yeah, well then, go pound sand! If you want to get rid of that shit, here’s the truck,” he snapped, as he rolled up his window.
What the hell, I thought. Put it in the truck for him. Scratch can always raise hell about it later.
So I did.
And “Scratch” did.