Checking Out (2): Hello, Checkout sheet!

Back to work.  Well, back to leaving work for the last time, or at least back to trying to leave work for the last time- and the emphasis is on trying.

Leaving a job in the civilian world is a significantly different experience than leaving military service.  Generally on the outside you can leave your job in one of two manners: happily or unhappily.  The happy way of leaving is with an office party with a nicely decorated cake, some kind words, and a thoughtful (but not too expensive) gift from your cubemates to speed you on your way.  The unhappy way is finding yourself wedged between two security guards as they hustle you and the dented cardboard box that contains your precious office belongings out the door.  In either circumstance you generally get to leave the company with a minimum of fuss and hassle- and it all happens in one day.

Not so fast or easy in the military world.  Following the vaunted tradition of making simple things very difficult every departing Marine must run a perplexing gauntlet of clerks, administrators, and senior leaders on his or her way out of the unit.  He or she must obtain the mark of consent from a dozen or two different entities before the byzantine process of checking out is complete- marks that range from elaborate signatures that would make a calligrapher swoon to stark and brazen ink from a much-coveted rubber stamp; coveted because without the mark of the stamper you will remain forever in the purgatorial no man’s land inhabited by the lost souls who could not obtain the vital mark on the most important of all documents to the so0n-to-be departing: the checkout sheet.

I have alluded to this most glorious and momentous document in a recent post.  It is indeed a glorious bit of vellum because, much like Pirate Captain Jack Sparrow’s map, it holds the key to that which you most strongly desire: your departure.  Like a treasure map it divulges the often hidden location of important places that otherwise would remain forever hidden, or at least forever ignored because the only time you really need to go there is when you are checking in or checking out.  The vaunted checkout sheet is so crucially important because it is the one and only key to receiving your final orders to the outside- without completing it you can be stuck on hold and denied the ability to leave despite your desire to grow your hair and rediscover the joys of sleeping in during the week.

The checkout sheet is usually provided by the administrative section of the unit you are checking out of.  The purpose that it serves is to make sure that you hit all of the wickets on the way out the door- important wickets like turning in thousands of dollars worth of military equipment as well as completing critical paperwork that ensures that you receive the benefits and entitlements that you have earned during your service.  So, in and of itself, the checkout sheet is actually a good thing because it ensures that you do everything you are supposed to do before you hit the road.  Unfortunately, just because the checkout sheet is important to you that doesn’t mean it is particularly important to anybody else, which is a painful lesson to come to grips with.  Your eagerness and urgency to get it completed has little to do with the desire of others to assist you in getting it done, so a word of warning the soon to be departing- make sure you allot ample time to knock it out.  A smart guy once told my that a crisis on my part did not correlate to a crisis on his, and that must because I was in a hurry didn’t mean that he was.  Important and accurate advice, as we shall see…

What does a checkout sheet look like?  It is invariably similar across the spectrum of units and services.  It is a sheet of paper that lists all of the agencies, offices, and people that you need to visit in order to depart your unit.  More importantly, it has a place for each of them to make their mark- eminently important, because without the proper notation by the functionary behind the counter your visit will be in vain.  For those with nimble fingers and an eager pen beware!  Don’t think that just forging a random set of initials will let you slide by- that has been tried by many who have gone before you and as a result most places have acquired nifty and unique little rubber stamps (and variously colored ink pads) that must be used on your checkout sheet for it to be deemed authentic.  Forge at your own peril, because to be caught will get you in big trouble and result in a trip to purgatory as your transgression is sorted out.

Here is a link to what my own checkout sheet looks like: Checkoutsheet

As you can see it is a colorful document- at least it is now that it is completed.  I obtained my checkout sheet from the administrative section of my unit, in this case 1 Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group (try saying that three times fast!) located aboard Camp Pendleton, California.  To get your mitts on a checkout sheet you have to be able to show the nineteen year old administrative clerk that you are indeed departing soon, which is actually pretty easy.  The major muscle movements of personnel administration are done over a centralized computer system, and since my retirement request had been approved the young Marine only had to check the system to confirm my not-so-imminent departure.  He reached behind the counter and pulled out a single piece of paper, and with the efficiency borne of experience he whipped a yellow highlighter over numerous lines of text.  “These are the places you need to hit, sir,” he explained, “take it to IPAC (the Installation Personnel Administrative Center- where my friend the retirement counselor works) and they will cut you your final set of orders.”  With a cheerful “thanks, and see you around!” to the clerk I left the admin shop with a virginal sheet, ready to be filled with the scribblings and stamps of those who stood between me and my final day on base.

The sheet itself is an innocuous looking bit of poorly Xeroxed paper.  It is a copy of a copy that was a copy of a copy, and as a result is a bit faded and tough to read.  I filled out my administrative information at the top, stuff like my name, rank, and section (HQ for headquarters, in case anyone didn’t know that) and headed out to get as many signatures and stamps as I could in the shortest time possible.

As usual, it wasn’t that simple.  It never is.  More on that soon…

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