So there I was…..
Most great stories and nearly all tall tales start with those four words. The following post is neither, but more of a cautionary tale about how reality often smashes my errant assumptions, and in this case, it smashed my belief that I had completed my weekly visits to the barbershop.
So anyhow, there I was. Standing at the customer service counter in the Separations and Retirements section of our base Installation Personnel Administration Center (IPAC- yay! Another acronym!), I held in my excitedly trembling hands a folder that contained all of the papers, documents, and adminstrivia required for me to check out of the Marine Corps and start my life as a civilian. Under the assumption that once the I had completed all of my checkout requirements (don’t worry- posts a-plenty on those requirements are in the works) I would be able to take off my uniform for the very last time and explore the exciting new world of hair care products. My giddiness was suddenly crushed, however, by a sign on the bulkhead (Marinespeak for wall) that proclaimed in bold capital letters:
According to MCO P1020.34G, both
Males and Females must be within
grooming regulations and appropriate
Civilian attire or Uniform of the Day
It wasn’t a new sign. A little dusty and curled at the edges, it was hung in the typically austere fashion of all such signs in administrative offices across the Marine Corps; a plain black and white sheet of paper inside a plastic document protector and taped to the bulkhead with some yellowing cellophane tape. It also wasn’t alone. Glancing around, I saw that identical signs in identical document protectors were taped, pinned, or otherwise stuck to almost every vertical surface in the office.
Apparently they wanted the Marines and Sailors to look like Marines and Sailors when they came to the office to conduct their transition related business.
That, in and of itself, is no surprise. However, I was a bit taken aback because I realized that I had indeed not had my last Marine Corps regulated haircut, and here’s why:
I have posted several times about the End of Active Service (EAS) date. It is your last day on active duty, and the next day your obligation to serve your country is complete (unless you have a reserve service obligation of some sort) and you are free to run amok and do all of the things that you couldn’t do in uniform- like grow your hair and sleep in ’til noon. Totally makes sense.
Ahh, but not everyone leaves work on their last day and wakes up the next morning as a civilian. There are some benefits that can insert a few days between your last day at work and your first day back in the real world. Those benefits are known as “Terminal Leave” and “Permissive Temporary Assigned Duty”, or “PTAD”.
Terminal Leave, which is technically titled as “retirement or separation leave”, is referred to as “Terminal” in the jargon of the service (“You out yet?” “Nope, going on Terminal.”). It is simply an opportunity to use up whatever leave (vacation time for non military types) that you have accrued before you get out. This is actually a pretty big deal, because taking your leave instead of selling it back to the government offers some significant advantages. If you use your leave you continue to receive all of your other pay and benefits, such as housing allowances, subsistance stipends (for food), medical care, dental care, and so on for as long as you are on leave. If you sell your leave back, which is the other option, you receive a lump sum payment for your your prorated salary. In other words, you are handed a check (not really, nobody gets checks anymore- your bank receives an electronic deposit) that totals the amount of salary you would have made had you taken leave, but with the huge difference that no other benefits or payments are included. Considering that a significant amount of the benefits package in the military is not part of your salary, you stand to lose out on some money as well as medical coverage and such. Sooo……nearly everyone takes some terminal leave.
Permissive Temporarily Assigned Duty, or PTAD, is another way that you can get some time off with pay before you get out. PTAD is mil-speak for Paid Time Off (PTO) in the civilian world, and it is allowed in a number of instances and for a variety of reasons. Examples include time off for the father when the little ones arrive (great for when your kids are born while you are able to be there instead of being off fighting the Taliban or Al Queda), for military families who are adopting children, jury duty, and the countless other events in life that occur that require you to be absent from work yet should not require you to use up your leave to attend them. How it works is you, the Marine, are assigned a set of orders that direct you to go do what you need to do and report back in when you are done. Using the example of paternity PTAD, when the child is born the father is granted ten days off to bring the newborn into the family. During that time, he is free to care for his family without having to come into work or put on a uniform, which is good because he probably won’t be at his best at work anyway! At the end of the ten days, he needs to come back to work and check back in. When he comes back he must be within grooming standards and wearing his uniform. (Before I get angry comments on how sexist the paternity policy is I must point out that mothers in uniform receive 42 days of maternity leave after birth, and that can be extended if medically required, so the benefits associated with parenthood are actually pretty good!)
Getting back to what Terminal and PTAD have to do with my desire to grow longer hair…
In my case, I had a significant amount of leave on the books. Leave in the military accrues at a rate of 2.5 days per month, so you earn 30 days of leave a year. Nice! If you take it all, then you have none left over, but if you don’t take it all you build up a leave balance that grows monthly. The regulations state that you can maintain a balance of up to 60 days of leave, but any leave in excess of that number on the change of the fiscal year is lost. What that means is that if you have 65 days on the books on September 30th, five of them are “lost” (meaning deducted from your balance with no payment to the leaveholder) and the new Fiscal Year starts on October 1st with your balance reduced to 60 days.
Well, there are a couple of wars going on and it can quite often be extremely challenging to take all of your leave. For me, I had completed four deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan in the five years leading up to my transition, so I had not been able to take much leave. In fact, since leave accrues until your EAS, I was looking at over 90 days that I could take as Terminal Leave. Because there are literally thousands of people like me out there the 60 day annual limit on leave was temporarily increased to 75, and up till October 1st you could carry a balance of 105 days (because you lose excess leave on that day). Anyway, I had to request for approval to use 95 days as terminal leave in order not to lose the time I had accrued because my terminal leave would bridge the fiscal year. The request was approved, and so half of the equation was complete.
The other half is PTAD. As a retiring servicemember I am authorized to take 20 days of PTAD to facilitate househunting, looking for a job, and other transition related tasks. Similar to leave, every day that you are on PTAD counts- even weekends and holidays. That means that 20 days PTAD is 20 consecutive days on the calendar that may be taken in conjunction with your terminal leave. Pretty nice benefit! You still receive your pay and allowances and can take care of the millions of things that need to be done as you transition. For those moving away, they can take the 20 days with their terminal leave, which in effect allows them a nearly three week head start on their new lives. And they get to start using haircare products that much sooner…..
Which brings me back to my coiffure related dilemma. Since I was not moving away, I was actually eligible for a little more time off because I would be allowed to take my 20 days of PTAD in five day increments. Locals like me can check out on PTAD on Monday morning and use five days that week, with the orders expiring on Friday at 1700 (five o’clock in the afternoon, which is the end of the work day). The weekend would be “liberty”, which is naval terminology for time off that is not chargeable as leave or PTAD. I would then go back in the next Monday and pick up a new set of orders…..and my 20 days became 28. Excellent!
But……that’s where the signs plastered all over the transition office come in. I would have to pick up my orders in uniform, or in appropriate civilian attire. And within grooming standards, which meant I still have a few dates with my barber. D’oh!
That’s OK though. He is a great guy, and he knows just how low he can go and still keep my hair within regulations…..
– Read the small print, or in this case, the signs that adorn the office. I had never paid any attention to them because they never applied to me before, but now that they do their significance rocketed to the top of the chart.
– Pay attention to when you are getting out. If you are not careful you can lose some of your leave when the fiscal year ends at midnight on September 30th, and once those days are lost you cannot get them back. Your administrative section can help you get the waiver request together.
– If you are taking local PTAD then expect to go in every week to pick up your orders. I had never heard of this requirement before, but I should have expected it because that is simply the way things are done. As a result, I have a few more haircuts to take, but that is no big deal. What is a big deal is if you don’t go in to pick up your orders you can get in trouble for Unauthorized Absence, which is the modern term for being AWOL.
– Terminal leave and PTAD must be approved by your commanding officer, and in some cases the service headquarters. It is not a right, but is a benefit that may not be approved in some circumstances. The rub is that while you are on terminal leave and on PTAD your unit goes without your replacement- he or she usually doesn’t show up until your EAS and you job is gapped. Depending on what you are doing or what is going on, you may be too important to let go.