Photo of USTDC courtesy of Les Duffin

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My Job at USTDC, Such As It Was

It occurred to me today that in the previous 433 posts I've made here, I've said very little about my job at TDC. It probably has something to do with the fact that the personnel field isn't all that glorious to begin with. I mean if you ask a special forces guy what he does, he'll come up with something suitably impressive like, "I neutralize threats and break things." I'd have to say something like, "I typed and filed a lot and told people they couldn't have what they wanted." It's just doesn't have the same macho ring to it, does it?

I completed basic training in August of 1962 at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. I have two clear memories of that place: We got yelled at constantly and there was no air conditioning. I'm sure there must have been other things going on, but I can't remember any of them right now.

Anyway I was then sent off to a small base in Mississippi (that ceased to exist decades ago, by the way) to learn all about processing records, assignments, job classifications, awards and decorations, military pay, and a host of other tasks. Pretty exciting stuff, huh?

So after I mastered all the blocks of instruction, more or less, I was sent forth over the next ten years or so to apply my skills in places like Okinawa, Florida, California, and Colorado. Some time in 1973 I received word that I was going to a joint service outfit in Taipei, which turned out to be USTDC and that was fine with me. The Air Force had some really nasty remote areas where I could have been sent and I figured that 15 months in Taipei beat the heck out of 12 months in some other cold and lonely places I knew about.

So on my first day at TDC, the guy I was replacing explained the kinds of things I would be dealing with there. It was like stepping onto a new planet; almost none of it was what I'd been trained to do. And what the heck was a quarterdeck anyway? But I vowed to soldier on, or whatever it was that we Air Force people were supposed to do.

One of the first things he introduced me to was something called a staff summary sheet. Now I'd heard of these things but I never actually had to deal with one before. In a nutshell, for those who've never had the pleasure, it is a sort of routing sheet that you attached to some document that you're sending to someone else, usually higher in the food chain, so they know what the item is, why they should care about it, and what they're being asked to do with it.

At this point, I should explain that at TDC I worked for an Army lieutenant colonel. His boss was a Navy captain (06). The captain's boss was an Air Force brigadier general who also had the additional duty as commander of all the Air Force guys at TDC. Of course the general's boss was the Navy vice admiral.

So here's how the staff summary sheet worked in practice: Let's say I got an immunization roster from our (Air Force) support unit in Hawaii. On it would be a list of names of our Air Force guys who were due for an immunization booster shot or some such thing. I'd contact each one and give him a card to take over to the hospital where they'd get the shot, bring the card back and I'd check them off the list. No problem so far.

The problem arose because the roster itself had a line at the bottom for the unit commander's signature, certifying that everyone received the shots they were due. Now on a normal base, I'd just trot over to the commander's office, ask him to sign the thing, and then drop it in the mail. Life wasn't that simple at TDC because my commander was The General.

So I'd fill out the top of the summary sheet with date, a title that I'd make up, the regulatory authority for the action (which I usually had to scramble around to find), and several other blocks of information so that everyone in the chain up to the general could see what was needed. They would then scribble their chop in the appropriate block and send it forward.

However, it wasn't at all unusual for documents to come bouncing back because one of those in the chain had a question that I hadn't addressed sufficiently or there was something they wanted me to change on the SSS. So I'd make the changes and route the package back up again. Sometimes it would come back again because someone higher in the chain wanted another change made. Something as simple as a shot roster could take days to work its way up and down the system.

The funny thing is that I don't think anybody really cared about the thing. They just wanted to be sure that if their boss had a question, they'd be able to answer it.

So I guess you could say that much of my time at TDC was spent explaining the obvious about the unimportant to the disinterested.

That was my job.

What about yours?


Anonymous said...

Don: Your job was what we called a
"pilot". You took paper from here and would "pile it" somewhere else.

I worked for a while in the office of Chief Of Naval Operations in the puzzle palace. You want to talk about PAPER!!!! They created more paper mountains every time they tried to "reduce" paperwork!

You had to either laugh or cry.

Jim Sartor

Don said...

Jim, do you remember Jimmy Carter's approach to reducing government paperwork?

He directed that everyone reduce the number of filing cabinets!

Yeah, that really solved the problem.


Anonymous said...


I enjoyed your story, and really chuckled at the last sentence!

Reminds me of the patch I got in Thailand in 1973 - "Participant, SEA Wargames".....

Thank you for your service - it all counts!

Best Regards

John Hurst

Anonymous said...

I too chuckled at your summation Don - always good to have a sense of humor, and I know you did your jobs well! Thanks so much for your blog. Rory O'Neil