Friday, March 13, 2015

PCS orders and the dividing of responsibility

Permanent change of station orders are a fact of life in the military, and in any given year 25-30% of the military moves.  You would think that by now executing the orders would be fairly routine, and yet how many people wind up messing up the process and causing grief for either the gaining or detaching command?  One of my friends recently had some bad experiences:

"As the gaining command, I had a sailor arrive without the proper security clearance.  The orders clearly stated that the security clearance was required.  As the command’s mission is conducted solely in a secure environment, this means the sailor is unavailable to be tasked.  Exacerbating the impact is that the sailor is a Chief.  Being shorthanded a Chief impacts everyone around him who now has extra tasking.  It is also personally embarrassing to the Chief, as he is unable to fill the role he was ordered to.  The mistake was not deliberate, as the clearance is common in the sailor’s rate.  The sailor had merely neglected to complete the necessary paperwork for his Periodic Reinvestigation, and had his clearance downgraded.  A simple mistake that a close eye on administrative requirements should have caught."

"As the detaching command, I had a sailor miss an important screening requirement until 2 weeks before detaching.  Transferring from shore to an operational tour, the sailor completed the standard Operational Duty screening supplied by Admin.  However, her new command had an expeditionary mission, and had also listed IA Screening completion as a detaching command responsibility.  Not surprisingly, 2 weeks is not long enough to fully complete the fully training regimen to have a sailor ready for an IA.  My Commanding Officer was placed in the unnecessary position of having to draft exemptions to the IA screening and requesting they be completed at the gaining command.  Although the gaining command concurred and the sailor was able to transfer, it could have meant cancelling or delaying the execution of the orders 2 weeks before she had planned to travel.  Anyone who has made a cross country move can agree that this would have been catastrophic to the sailor’s morale.  Again, an oversight that a close read of the orders would have caught."

At my last command I was the DIVO for an entire UIC of Sailors that had more-than-usual gaining requirements.  In our case it was flight-related things: flight physical, water survival school, one to two language or equipment schools, and an overseas screening.  We had a few Sailors show up not ready, and it definitely impacted our operations.

Part of what frustrates me is that so many Sailors act very passively after getting PCS orders.  The same Sailor that fights tooth and nail to get the perfect set of orders doesn't have the same tenacity getting screenings and other items completed before detaching.  I have had Sailors look me in the face and act surprised when they are two weeks out from detaching and think that they didn't need to check out with medical.  The worst was one Sailor at the command (luckily, not my Sailor) ask his DIVO three days before leaving the Navy if he "had to do anything before leaving."  You can't imagine the amount of pain that division went through to get him out with all the correct paperwork.

The first thing about PCS orders is that despite being a set of orders, it seems nobody reads them in their entirety.  Seriously?  I have openly chastised Sailors for not reading their orders through at least twice.  I know that often they are 11-15 pages in length and repeat a bit, but they are ORDERS!  You'd be shocked at what you find in there.  I make darn sure I do everything written in my orders, and your Sailors should do the same.

So, if you have Sailors working for you, read their orders and make them read them as well.  As a DIVO, I read through detaching and gaining orders.  It may seem like a lot, but after having one Sailor miss a screening and dealing with the lost time from fixing the problem, it's actually easier to read them beforehand then deal with the consequences of not reading them.

For detaching Sailors, I look at everything the gaining command wants and have the Sailor schedule the appointments.  I put those dates on my calendar as a reminder to ask the Sailor about the appointment the next day.  Is that micromanaging?  No.  It takes 5 seconds to ask the question and 5 seconds to put it on the calendar, plus maybe an additional 5 seconds to ask about it the next day.  15 seconds total.  If your Sailor shows up at the next command without a screening, it could be 30 days before they are able to deploy.  15 seconds vs. 30 days...don't be surprised if the gaining command is angry when they get Sailors that are not ready to go.

For gaining Sailors, I first check that the orders lists everything I want from the Sailor (screening, school, etc.).  Even stupid things like having an official passport should be listed, because nothing is more aggravating then having a Sailor show up and not be able to deploy because they don't have an official passport.  Then, I talk to the Sailor's sponsor and make sure he/she asks the Sailor about every item on their orders.

Now, let's say you have an incoming Sailor and they are going to show up missing something.  What can you do?  For starters, you can reject an incoming Sailor if they don't meet the billet requirements.  It's not the best thing to do and it certainly won't win you friends in Millington.  But sometimes accepting a Sailor backfires on you.  I once took a Sailor that couldn't finish an NEC school, thinking I was simply desperate enough I would take anyone.  After I sent him TDY and he failed again, I ended up having to boot him from our UIC.  He wasted a thousand dollars of TDY money and a good 15 hours of my time.  The detailer tried to send me a second person like him, but I had the CO reject her out of hand.  It resulted in a gapped billet for a bit, but in the end we got the right person and that's what mattered.  The rejected person went to another command and promptly failed, leaving that command with a filled body and still short one person.

Another option is asking for an orders modification to delay the Sailors arrival.  That's not going to make the Sailor happy or the detaching command, but remember that you own the problem the minute the Sailor steps in the door.  You have NO recourse if you take an unqualified Sailor.  If your command doesn't have ready access to medical and other facilities, an orders modification of one month might make more sense than dealing with multiple months of delay on your end.

If you do take the Sailor, have a plan in place to make him/her useful.  Nothing is worse than a Sailor sitting around with dead time, unable to do their job and adding work to everyone else's plate.

What if you're the detaching command and a Sailor doesn't pursue an overseas screening and suddenly it's two days before detachment?  For starters, your Admin department let you down a bit, because you should know 30 days out if a Sailor hasn't completed overseas screening.  Second, unless this Sailor is junior or there are extenuating circumstances, you should consider some punishment.  Why?  Because your next few days are going to suck as you try to cram a months worth of medical into two days.  Your mission will slip, and its a 99% chance the Sailor could have done this well in advance.  At some point, we are all grown-ups and have to take accountability for our actions.  That includes following fairly obvious orders printed in black ink on white paper.

You can delay or cancel orders.  If the missing thing is serious enough, please be the bigger person and tell the detailer that you can't send them without the screening/medical/whatever that they need.  It makes life easier for all in the end.  As much as the Sailor won't like being kept an additional month, that same person should have read their order's document in its entirety.

Some other tips:

- The status of screenings, schools, airfare, movers, etc. is never "Fine."  It should always be a sentence, such as "I'm waiting on bloodwork results for my screening, but I've completed all the physical portions."
- If you need people coming into your command to do something (say, get an official passport) then it needs to be written down.  Get your YNs to make orders coming from your command to say so.  I had one of our YNs add the Ombudsman website to our orders to ensure better family support.
- Screenings seem like a lot, but they really aren't.  You can get lots of information here:

PCS orders shouldn't be overwhelming.  Hold your Sailors accountable for what is written and make it streamlined to check out of your command, and you'll be making a small but needed effort to assist our Navy in the end.

(Edited because when I wrote this originally I was tired and forgot to add some more details)