So now that I’m done writing all those posts I promised I was totally going to write in the last post and we all enjoyed discussing all those things together and we feel really fulfilled and confident in my ability to do things exactly the way I say I’m going to do them, let’s talk about how things have been going for the last little while. It’s a long story, so this is a me-length post, or probably a double me, so, you know. Park it or bail out now, or scroll down to the big red text at the bottom if all you care about is how this all may affect you, personally.
Anyway, I begin.
Last chance to bail before rambling run on sentences begin.
So the story, it’s actually two stories running simultaneously alongside each other. Wait, three stories. It’s three stories. Two are just pretty closely related. Well, they’re not actually related to each other at all except for sharing similar subject matter if you’re not really familiar with the ins and outs of the subject matter, so really, it’s three different stories, all running alongside each other, all at the same time. Basically starting at the same time, last winter. Well, no, last fall. One of them started last fall. I started really not feeling well late last summer, that’s hardly unknown if you follow me here or on Twitter or anything at all. So that’s story one. I don’t feel well. So we’ll start there. Okay. That’s a good place to start.
After writing out most of that, I changed my mind, I’m starting somewhere else. Okay. In December, which is actually before other posts I wrote here, we got orders, which I think even most people not in the military are familiar with, terminology-wise. We’re moving! Yay! Well, not-yay. Not-not-yay, either. Neutral. Well, not neutral. I don’t know. I’m trying to think back to December. I wasn’t thrilled. We weren’t thrilled. We were negative-thrilled. We were nilled. But we’re long past that now. I’m not saying we’re over the moon, but we’re not feeling bad for ourselves. We’re just moving, it’s not a big deal, and it’s not a bad thing at all. We’re not-not looking forward to it, and my only negative feelings are that I really like Phoenix and I really, really like my house. I love my house. I LOVE THIS HOUSE. Ugh, I love this house. There’s not anything even remotely comparable where we’re going. We’re actually going to be moving back on base for at least a year. WE THINK. HA. HA. HA. YOU’LL SEE.
So, that’s story one. At the beginning of December, we got orders informing us that we’d be moving, and that’s all we knew. Phil got what was essentially an email saying this is where you’re going, and you need to report by June 30th, and that’s it. Literally NO MORE information. A couple of days later, I called my parents to let them know, ONLY because they had mentioned they were thinking about getting a beach house for the summer and whether or not they were going to get it seemed contingent on whether we would come or not. With a move, we definitely weren’t going to be able to make it, so I wanted to let them know in order to make their plans. I called and said, “THIS IS LITERALLY ALL OF THE INFORMATION I HAVE. LITERALLY ALL OF IT. WE ARE GOING, THIS IS WHEN. I KNOW ABSOLUTELY NOTHING MORE.” Yet my mother still managed to ask at least 5 questions and then text me two more. This is part of the reason why I haven’t shared anything online before now. One, I had nothing to say for a long time. Two, I can’t stand answering questions like that. It makes me an asshole. I know that. But seriously, how are you going to ask me fifty thousand questions about information I just told you I don’t have that also has nothing to do with you so you and I both know that you don’t even need to know so you know you are just making me insane right now, COME ON HAVE WE JUST MET NO WE HAVE NOT BECAUSE YOU ARE MY MOTHER AND I AM THIRTY TWO YEARS OLD SO NO WE HAVE NOT JUST MET.
We got that news at the start of December and we don’t have to be anywhere until the end of June (now is a good time to check your calendars!), so we were able to set that aside for a while. Nothing to do about it, except for all the things we kind of had to do about it, and we had other things going on, which are the two other stories, both of which I’ve briefly mentioned here. Let’s talk about the USAF draw down a bit. I’m going to explain this as best as I can and very quickly and very angrily. Basically, the Air Force is downsizing, and they’ve outlined a process for doing so, and after outlining that process, they’ve proceeded to fuck it up in as many ways as possible and dick people over as best they can and make it as absolutely stressful and gut wrenching as they possibly could. Sounds good, right? It’s been a blast. Here’s what I understand, and if you understand better, you can jump in in the comments.
First, they explained that they need to cut down by about eleven trillion people, and that first, they were going to take volunteers. They offered a fairly attractive compensation package for people willing to submit an application to take early retirement. After the process of taking volunteers, numbers would continue to be met by something called the Quality Force Retention Board, or QFRB. USAF members with a negative indicator of some sort on their record (there was a list, including things like DUIs, poor performance reports, etc) would be in a pool that would have their package go before a board and that group would then be culled. After that board met, the Enlisted Retention Board, or ERB would meet. This is essentially everyone else among the enlisted members. It’s broken up by career field and rank. Obviously, you can’t just throw people out willy nilly, so different careers and ranks have different levels of overages depending on manning. For example, Phil’s career and rank has about 200 people and 100 of them are excess, or that was about the number when this all started. In theory, as people put in their packages for voluntary separation and as people met the QFRB, the number who would need to meet the ERB would dwindle or even be erased. But when this all started, Phil was looking at a 50/50 shot of being involuntarily retired from the Air Force after spending his entire career there.
OKAY WE’RE REALLY STARTING TO HAVE FUN NOW GUYS.
So people start putting in their packages for the early retirement. Not us, because we’re not in a place for Phil to retire right now, even with the bonus for doing so. We’re just not. We have a plan for his retirement, but we can’t speed it up by 8 years, so it’s just not in the cards for us to take this deal. And Phil’s not up for the QRFB. He’s got a solid record in the Air Force. He does his Air Forcey stuff. He’s an Air Forcey guy. He does his job and keeps his head down, I don’t know, he’s a regular guy doing regular things. In digital desert camouflage which is fine until you remember he works in an office and then it’s weird. So he’s in the middle group. Not voluntarily retiring, not being kicked out for being bad at being in the Air Force. Just hanging out and waiting to see what happens. And people are putting in their packages for retirement and… everything grinds to a halt. Nothing happens. A “strategic pause,” they called it. Pardon me while I reuse a gif.
A bunch of people had said, “Yes! Me! I’d like to leave the Air Force right now!” In front of their supervisors and the people they supervise and everyone, and then the powers up above left them hanging there with all their cards exposed. That’s not good. I think you can extrapolate why that’s not good. It’s really not good. It’s happened in the past, and it wasn’t good. It was promised that it wouldn’t happen that way again, because it wasn’t good when it happened in the past, but guess what, it happened that way again! And it wasn’t good! Holy shit! Unbelievable! All the processing of these applications came to a COMPLETE halt. People were trying to make plans for their families. For their entire lives. Still in the Air Force? Not in the Air Force? Are you getting this payment package to retire? Should you put your house on the market? Should your wife quit her job? Should your wife get a job? Don’t know. No way to know, because they’re just going to sit on your application til they’re ready. When are they ready? Don’t know. That guy’s application got processed, why not mine? Don’t know. But here’s the thing. If your application is in there but not processed, that doesn’t mean you’re not still eligible for the ERB, which still means retirement. Just without the bonus package of retiring voluntarily.
So that voluntary retirement thing, it’s called VSP, or a voluntary separation program. And since it was announced, applications got processed on and off, here and there. They’d start up again… and then halt. Some would go… and then nothing. There was a deadline for submitting… but was there? The AFPC, the department running this WHOLE THING, is a giant mess, and is not a place or person or group you can just contact. They just are. They? He? It? Them? Don’t know. At this point, I imagine it as a big silver spaceship object just floating in the sky, with no actual access point BECAUSE NOTHING IS EVER COMING IN OR OUT OF THAT PLACE.
NO. NO COMPLIANCE.
Anyway. This all took place over the last FOREVER. I can’t even go back enough pages in my hardly-ever-posted-upon blog to find when I mentioned that this was all going on, that’s how long ago it was that this all started. And it’s taken us up from way back in last year up until this last week that VSP packages have been processed on and off. And the longer they take for those to be processed, the more the dates for the QFRB and ERB are being pushed back. Different information comes out weekly, at points it has even been daily. Conflicting information about who and how and when. But the basics are understood: the more people who exit voluntarily, the less have to leave under non-voluntary measures. So of course we want as many volunteers as possible. And then we get to this week – the QFRB should be meeting shortly? Now? I don’t know? And something called the “rack and stack” happened for those eligible for the ERB, to make things easier for that board should they have to meet next month (NEXT MONTH, SO THEY SAY).
In short, everyone in an overmanned career field and rank was given one of the following designations: retain, consider, or do not retain. Following that, within that designation, everyone was given a number ranking in their career field, and then a number ranking in the squadron overall. This, along with THREE BULLET POINTS summing up each persons very very best everything, is what’s being sent to the ERB. I wonder what they write down for you if you’re someone who recently indicated you’d like to voluntarily separate! Never mind, I’m sure it’s fine.
The rack and stack letters came out this week, on Monday. That was after a briefing on Friday, where they told everyone that they’d be getting their letters on Monday. Which seems like a really cool way to do things. “Hey, guys, on Monday, we’re going to tell you all where you stand with regards to what you supervision thinks about you and how they think it should affect your future with the Air Force. Okay, see you after the weekend bye!” Phil was, as we expected, in the “retain” group, but he had feelings about his numerical rankings, and while there are reasons behind the numbers that are logical and don’t have anything to do with anything and everyone was instructed not to get hung up on the actual numbers, there’s been a lot of being hung up on the numbers this week, and I can see why he would be.
This whole thing has been really fraught with terribleness, the way it’s been dragged out. It’s been handled so poorly and with no transparency. Phil signed a contract with the military that he’s honored completely, and now we get to sit and wait and see if they’re going to decide to honor their end. It’s disheartening and demoralizing and he actually said, “I’ve always known I was just a number, but I’m actually just a number.” It’s been really hard for him – and he’s obviously far from a unique case in this situation – to keep on keeping on while we just wait and see what happens, but there’s no other option. And this is condensed for the sake of this story (haaaa, condensed), but this part of what’s been going on has been stretching on since the middle of last year. That’s how long this draw down has been going on. That’s how long dates have been pushed back and confusion and uncertainty has been hanging around. Fortunately, numbers have slowly dwindled while we wait, too. I think the number is now something like 89 out of 400 need to be cut at Phil’s rank in his career field, or something like that.
Still unpleasant, still nerve wracking, but we can hope it will be met with more volunteers, and then by the QFRB, where you have people like the one who posted this reddit post I came across the other day. He’s just a Senior Airman, and he’s had a bit of a history with some drunken stuff, and also failed some PT tests, and got some really bad performance reports, and kind of got on the Commander’s watch list, and also had to go through the alcohol training course which “ruined his life,” and had some Article 15s, but! Loophole! His career field isn’t overmanned! And he really likes the benefits and the travel! And was wondering if anyone thought he was going to be kicked out through the QFRB? When someone says, “I hope so,” he replies something along the lines of, “Why would you say that? I don’t think it’s fair because up UNTIL I did all this terrible stuff, I wasn’t terrible. ” AND THEN I COULDN’T READ ANYMORE BECAUSE I ACTUALLY EXPLODED.
No, no, you’re right. You really LIKE being in the Air Force, I see. So since the Air Force really needs to cut people, they should get someone else, not you. The criminal who really LIKES being in the Air Force. That wouldn’t be fair. Because you really like it. I hate everything. And everyone. And this shirt I’m wearing.
Also this week, the results for the promotion to MSgt came out. Obviously with everything going on, promotion rates were low, and it’s not that we were hanging our hopes on Phil getting promoted, but it would have been nice, and it also would have removed him from consideration for retirement this year (but not next year). Anyway, that’s also bad news we got this week. AND he had his going away lunch and they didn’t give him a plaque. Everyone gets a plaque. EVERYONE gets a plaque. What a shitty week.
It would be great if I had a conclusion on the whole retirement thing but that’s where we are right now.
We got orders in December, like I said, but they’re not actually orders at that point, they’re kind of just… informers. Like, okay, we told you. Apparently, there’s a whole other SOMETHING that serves as your OFFICIAL orders. Don’t ask me, because I don’t know the difference. All I know is, we got one in December and then we did nothing for a while. Phil had to do a bunch of stuff on his end, and I didn’t really have to do much until I started to have to do medical stuff, because I see a specialist more than twice a year WAIT LET ME DO THAT GIF AGAIN.
I was going to do the moving stuff now, but I guess I’ll go back to the medical stuff because it ended up getting so ridiculously tangled in the moving stuff for a while.
Last summer around when Phil was away at training for six weeks, right before then, I didn’t feel well. Wait, we have to back up farther, because I just started feeling really bad then. That’s August. August of 2013. I was hospitalized, though, for not feeling wellery, about two years ago now. Around Penelope’s first birthday. So it’s been over two years now that I’ve been sick-slash-seeing specialists-slash under medical care for something non-deadly yet greatly uncomfortable, but it was last August that I started to get really uncomfortable. I don’t really want to spend a ton of time now or in comments going through a lot of medical history or answering a lot of medical questions about stuff I’ve already been over with my doctors (because I’m talking about the past right now so I’m asking you to trust me that it’s been/is being handled), so for the sake of not being mysterious but not playing armchair medical appointments on my blog, we’ll say that I had really bad headaches coupled with really bad Other Things Too. Up until then, it had only been really bad headaches with really bad other things, little letters, so this required new tests and a hunt for a new diagnosis and a whole new batch of medications which would all end up being a nightmare in themselves, and I think that pretty much ended up being most of the early fall. It was gross. And it was terrible.
And the Internet sent me a TARDIS!
The whole of the fall was really a mess as far as medical stuff goes. Back around Penny’s first birthday, I was diagnosed with vestibular migraine, and that diagnosis and the treatment really seemed to hold for a long time. I think. It’s hard to say, at this point, and I think I’ll be able to explain why. Late summer/beginning of fall, things started to get really weird with the headaches getting much, much worse and more constant, and a whole lot of new Other Things Too added in, which lead my neurologist to repeat some tests, give a new diagnosis, and add that new batch of medications I mentioned, which made fall double miserable. It was really hard to know what was working and what wasn’t, and what was medication side effects, but I couldn’t not take my medications because at that point we were operating under the assumption that my condition was both Unpleasant and Dangerous in Ways Not Including Death No One is Talking About Death, so it had to be treated, both for comfort and for safety. I spent nearly all of the fall, through the holidays and into 2014, balled up in an arm chair.
There were two complicating factors here. One was a whole second rack of specialists I ended up having to see. One of those specialists met me for about 15 minutes, said he disagreed with everything that my neurologist was doing, and that I should stop taking all my medications immediately. I’ve been seeing my neurologist for over two years and we’ve been working very hard on me not feeling like crap, but at the moment of this proclamation, I REALLY FELT LIKE CRAP, so it was rather distressing. Especially because that doctor then left the room, offering no alternative anything. The other is something called the Exceptional Family Member Program, or EFMP (sick of letters yet? I AM), a program the military does or doesn’t tell you about, depending on how badly it feels like messing with you. Any dependent who sees a specialist more than twice a year (or is special needs in any way) should be enrolled in this program before orders are ever issued. It seems that rarely happens.
So right around when I’m trying to figure out WHICH DOCTOR IS THE REAL DOCTOR WITH THE REAL ANSWERS, we get orders, which is delightful, because the best thing to do when you’re in the middle of an uncertain time in your medical care plan is up and switch doctors all together. What we did decide is that I would stop one of my medications (THE LESS SIDE EFFECTY ONE BECAUSE MY VOTE DOESN’T REALLY COUNT) and then early this year I began the super fun run around of getting my EFMP paperwork filled out. WHICH we were kind of told wouldn’t affect us being issued our ACTUAL orders. See, you need those actual orders to do things like reserve the moving company that comes and gets your stuff, and oh yeah, also to GET A HOUSE for them to put your stuff into. But the EFMP process wouldn’t hold up us getting the orders, it would just work alongside that process. When I got my EFMP paperwork done, it would be sent to the receiving base, and the receiving base would look it over and make sure that they had adequate facilities to take care of me. Since we’re doing a fairly rare stateside to stateside (in country) move, we anticipated no problems.
LOOK WHO IT IS.
Oh, you guys. I can’t. I can’t even anymore. YOU KNOW WHAT WENT ACCORDING TO PLAN? NOTHING DID. SURPRISE.
Guess what. The EFMP process does NOT work alongside the orders thing. No. I had to go through all of that BEFORE they would issue us orders. Weeks for my doctor to fill out the forms. And in the meantime, we decided to change my medication and let me tell you how that went no wait you should guess okay never mind, I’ll tell you it’s horrible. It’s so bad. It’s so awful. I don’t know what’s going on anymore. I spend four out of every seven days in bed, at least. All I do is sleep, if I can sleep, and sometimes I can’t sleep. I haven’t felt well for a long time, and that’s fine, and it’s been fine (well, it hasn’t been fine, but you know), but lately, it’s stopped being fine. I’m not fine. I don’t mean physically, I mean I am just not fine, I just don’t want to do this but there’s no option except to do it, that kind of not fine, you know? I don’t leave the house for weeks on end and I don’t even care. Don’t worry, I have an appointment next week to tell my doctor that this medication is KIND OF A NO. But it’s made me wonder about all of them. How many of them have even actually worked, and how many of them have I thought were working but what I thought was working was just lulls in between feeling shitty that had nothing to do with the medications? WHO EVEN KNOWS. I don’t.
The EFMP process did not work alongside the orders process. The orders went nowhere while we waited on my doctor. DOCTORS, because I was ALSO made to see two other doctors for no other reason than the EFMP process is invasive and up in your business and there’s nothing you can do about it, and then I had to sit across FROM A PANEL and ANSWER QUESTIONS FROM STRANGERS ABOUT MY BUSINESS, UP TO AND INCLUDING POST-PARTUM ANXIETY WHICH HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ANYTHING RIGHT NOW OH MY GOD.
So that finally gets submitted, and we wait. A LONG TIME. And it comes back just like we thought it would, the receiving base is fine with us. In fact, they have TWO WHOLE NEUROLOGISTS IN THE AREA! Neat! Great. Fine. Give us our orders.
Nope, actually, that’s going to be another week. You should know that by that point, it was April. And we had no orders. No orders means no reservations for the moving company to come and pack and move our stuff, but that’s fine, because they would have nowhere to take it, because without orders, you can’t apply for a house, but who cares, it’s April, Phil doesn’t have to report til June 30th haaaaa.
GUESS WHEN WE GOT ORDERS GUESS IT WAS LAST WEEK.
Moving company reserved this Monday, they’ll be here to pack our stuff June 16/17th. Phil’s final out on base here is June 20th Housing application sent in right away last week, called them again this Monday. Oh, they’re super busy, if we haven’t heard by the end of this week, call again. Called yesterday, since today is a down day. Oh, they’re REALLY busy, but they can MAKE AN APPOINTMENT to SPEAK WITH HIM ON THE PHONE. June 2nd.
So anyway, what’s been up with you?
PJs at TJs is still on for 2015. Jerk.