So what do Captain Jack Sparrow and a Marine checking out of his unit have in common? They both want the same thing: to follow the map all the way to the end and uncover the treasure that lies waiting there. The treasure is different, but the goal is the same. Jack Sparrow wants what his heart most desires (usually accompanied by rum) and a Marine wants something equally as important; the final signature on his checkout sheet.
Just as the “X” that marks the spot where pirate treasure always seems to be buried the final signature on the checkout sheet marks the spot where a Marine can officially take the form to his administrative section and turn it in. Once turned in, the Marine receives that most special and treasured document- his official set of orders that will take him into retirement.
But before you can go ashore for the last time you must first obtain that last and most important signature. Before the holder of the sacred pen will scribe his or her mark on your sheet you must get all of the other signatures first….and therein lies the rub. Just as Jack Sparrow must endure adventure after adventure to find the buried chest-o-gold, so must a Marine follow the twists and turns of the map that is the checkout sheet.
My case turned out to be a little unusual. Most Marines check out of the unit they have served in for a few years on their way out the door, which makes sense. For me, though, things were different. I had turned over command at the start of the summer, and had several months between leaving the best job I ever had and departing active duty. While in charge there was no time to start my transition, so I put off all of the things that I needed to do until I had passed the mantle of command to my successor. Immediately after turning things over I left the building (much like Elvis, I suppose) and headed out to the higher headquarters unit where I would perform my outprocessing.
The difference between the two is pretty astounding. Being the commanding officer of a Marine Corps unit is undoubtably the greatest honor an officer can be entrusted with, and it comes with some pretty nice perks. One perk in particular makes the whole business of checking in and checking out pretty simple- the Marines in the unit bend over backwards to make sure that everything the CO could possibly need is done as quickly and efficiently as possible. In a previous post I lamented about the drudgery of turning in my equipment- that drudgery was a function of no longer being in command. As a commander I had only to mention something and it would magically happen. Take my unit issued equipment for example. One of the mounds of gear I used overseas was specific to the unit that I commanded- we were fire supporters, so we had special binoculars, laser range finders, infrared target designators, and a host of other neat widgets that we got to lug around the battlefield and use on the Taliban. Anyhow, as the CO I had only to mention that I needed to turn the stuff back in and within an hour a couple of Marines showed up at my office and took it all away. No lines to stand it, no annoying paperwork to get signed, no arduous accounting for each item- it just happened. Kind of the opposite of Christmas, with the jolly Marines of the Supply and Armory sections taking away my mountains of gear and leaving me with a lot less to worry about.
Contrast that with being warehoused in the headquarters unit. Nobody knew who I was, and nobody really cared. I was just another Marine with a checkout sheet, and the fact that I was a senior officer was interesting but largely irrelevant. There were rules to follow, places to go, and specific hours to go there. No jolly elves here.
I did, however, have the tool to get me through the checkout process- my checkout sheet. So, just as intently as Captain Jack Sparrow followed his chart I turned to and started working my way down the list.
There are some low hanging fruit on the list as well as some annoyingly difficult places to go as well. Being a creature of habit (and in no particularly huge rush) I started with the fruit that was hanging lowest and closest; that fruit being the various offices and buildings around the in and around the headquarters. A quick gander at the checkout sheet revealed about a half dozen offices just down the hall and up the stairs from where I was standing, so off I went. The operations section ensured that all of my required training was complete (not that I need anything special on the way out the door) and to my great relief the legal section confirmed that I wan’t pending a court martial. The Substance Abuse Control Officer (SACO) confirmed that my most recent urinalysis was clear of drugs (good thing they don’t check for gin and tonic) and the Family Readiness Officer happily stamped my sheet after a nice chat. Things were progressing nicely!
So much for low hanging fruit. Time to work my way up the tree.
I tracked down the Uniform Victim Advocate. I don’t know what that person does, really, but without obtaining the red squiggle from the official pen of the UVA office I would be stuck. So, after a quick “Hello- can I get your autograph?” followed by the scratch of a pen on my sheet and a “Sure, have a nice day!” I left none the wiser as to the purpose of that particular office. I wandered across the camp to the armory and supply sections, where I waited until the time listed on the signs for checking out (at lunch until 1300!), and upon their return from the chowhall (or Subway) I queued up and after a few minutes racked up a few more stamps and squiggles on my sheet from the largely bored Marines who were the keepers of the sacred stamps and pens.
Higher up the tree I climbed. Jack Sparrow had nothing on me! I chased security specialists down to turn in my “secret” access badge and get them to ink my paper. I snuck into the Commanding General’s wing to garner the mark of the Chief of Staff. I drove across base to turn in the gas mask that I had (thankfully!!!!) never used outside of annual training. I sat in the dentist’s chair for my final checkup and was poked and prodded next door at the Group Aid Station for my final physical. I met with the system administrator and turned off my email accounts. I met the mail clerk and completed a forwarding address card even though I had never received any mail there and I knew that I never would, but a checklist must be followed and the mail clerk to his credit was adamant.
On and on it went. Days turned into weeks, but before the weeks could turn into a month I finally obtained each and every stamp, mark, and squiggle needed to complete my quest. Were I Captain Jack Sparrow I would be chortling over a chest of gold with a bottle of rum in each fist- but I was more gleeful than he could possibly be at that moment because I had done it! My checkout sheet was complete! With a happy heart and a smile on my face I drove down to the Installation Personnel Administrative Center (IPAC for you acronym connoiseurs) and met with the holder of the pen that would scribe the final signature on my checkout sheet: my retirement counselor. More on that soon.
1. Checking out takes time. A lot of time, and the time is not yours but instead belongs to the people on the other side of the checkout counter. Unless you are a General or a CO you must get in line with everyone else. That isn’t bad, though, because you meet a lot of great people along the way.
2. Make sure that all of the prep work is done. Bring everything you need to turn in and make sure that any required documentation is done ahead of time so that you don’t have to go back several times to get the stamp.
3. Be nice! The Marines and Sailors that are on the others side of the counter are doing their jobs. They will be much more friendly and forthcoming if you are friendly to them first. The golden rule surely applies!
4. Follow the rules. Show up during the times listed for checking out because the Marines and Sailors who man the checkout counter only do so during those times, and if you show up and throw your rank around then you are taking them away from their other duties. And you will look like an arrogant jerk.
Good luck, Skipper! You held up better than I did back in 1969. Great read, you may have a second career as a writer.
Thanks, Vance! I hope our paths cross soon. I just received “Not Many But Much” and am looking forward to reading it.
Mike, amazing how all that gear is reduced to little brown tear away tabs. As a reserve guy, I know the check out game well. IPAC is brutal when you’re short a pancho liner, watch cap or even a canteen cup. But you’re right, be there on time, get in line and don’t be a jerk. Best of luck … Fair Winds and Following Seas; shipmate. Marty Sepulveda