Monday, July 15, 2013


Long ago the USN, in its wisdom, decided that all of us would be given American Express cards which we were directed to use for all our travel needs. This is a fine idea and we thought it might work out better than the Diner's Club cards that the Navy tried to force us to use earlier for all our travel needs. (Airlines and such don't accept Diner's Club)

I was a traveling man back then and I would always reply with a 'yes of course' when the Commodore asked me if I'd be willing to drop everything and go do some sight surveys and attend some conferences in Thailand or help out Naval Forces Korea or even lead an Air Detachment to Bahrain for further transit by land and sea to an island off the coast of Kuwait for a couple of months. A lot of this travel was back-to-back and most missions lasted 1 to 2 months. As a consequence, I seldom saw my mail.  One day while taking the sun at my place in Faylaka Island, Kuwait, I was called to the mess tent where I was told our Chief of Staff was on the INMARSAT phone and demanded to speak with me. I wandered over to the phone.
Faylaka Field Force
 "Curtis," he said, "the Commodore and I are both very angry at you because you are in arrears paying your AMEX bill." All delinquent bills were reported to the member's gaining command. I observed as how I had just got back from two months in Egypt and was asked the next day to lead the Initial Response Air Detachment to Bahrain and hadn't gotten my mail from the post office yet. The Commander assured me that this was no never-mind and my bills must be paid.  I told him that not only hadn't I gotten my mail but I hadn't been to the office and so hadn't filed any travel claims yet either and I hadn't been paid for 4 months. He muttered something about bills needed to be paid and hung up.
We kept on with the American Express card for all sailors and had the same sort of thing happen thousands of times. It was deeply stupid. I read later that the officer in charge of the program misused her card to the tune of buying new houses, cars, appliances, etc and never paid the bill. Nothing ever happened to her though. I used mine for official travel but when I was in command I told my people I literally didn't care what they bought with the cards as long as they paid the bill promptly. That worked for my 2 years in command but after that the admiralty changed the rules and started clamping down on card use for non-official purposes.
I stopped using the government issued card after I got back from Kuwait. Turns out it's use wasn't required; just strongly desired.
Screw that.


Buck said...

I hear ya, Curtis. I carried a corporate card in civilian life and it was more trouble than it was worth, given the lag between the time I received the bill and the time my travel expenses were paid... and there was no such thing as a "travel advance" at the places I worked. It got REALLY bad during those long-duration TDYs of two months or more.

virgil xenophon said...

Heh, I got caught in the transition from carry-your-own-records-rolled-up-in-cardboard-tube to centralization/computerization of pay records at Denver. When I arrived at RAF Bentwaters from DaNang I dutifully dropped off the records at personnel and blissfully went about my business. Come a month later and no pay. I went over to personnel and it was explained that the computerization process was behind schedule (the 1st I'd heard of it) and it would be approx six months before I would get my pay--arrears and all. "What am I going to do?" asked this newbie 1st Lt on his 1st PCS move. "Well sir" the SSGT replied, "We COULD give you partial pay from here, but you don't want to do that." "Pray tell why," I replied." "Well sir, if we do that they'll give you a lump sum all right, then with-hold from current pay going forward until they reclama the advance and if there have been any changes in your pay status in the interim like a promotion (upcoming) or housing allowance, etc., they won't get your pay status straightened out until you retire--got someone that could loan you the money until your pay straightens out?--it'd be a lot cleaner." LOL.

It's a helluva feeling as a serving officer to ask one's parents for six months pay, but thankfully Dad, who had been enlisted Army 1940 draftee, then OCS, then combat in the ETO, understood service pay problems (he'd had his own, lol) and things worked out. But a helluva way to run a railroad.

virgil xenophon said...

Heh, disregard OCS ending--forgot to delete.

virgil xenophon said...

And the American Express dealio came after my time in the AF (if the AF ever did it), tho most of us got one for personal use anyway--they're handy--you know the old trick: Put everything on the AMEX card and get the 30-day free interest float and then pay off AMEX with a credit card..

HMS Defiant said...

I had nobody stoking the home fires when I was gone. I didn't get married until after I settled down some....and started commuting to Korea every month. I reported aboard first ship back when we were all cash pay and no credit cards after 18 weeks of school in Newport. It fell just under the limit where I was entitled to per diem and they paid me per diem. After a couple of months waiting for that 5 month travel claim to be paid I asked the Disbursing Officer where my money was and he told me that my orders didn't entitle me to per diem and that he'd have to take it out of my pay. Ouch! A month later he came to me, check in hand for the full amount of per diem plus travel expenses and said there'd been an error and I was entitled to per diem and the best thing to do would be to take the check, deposit it and let the dead horse pay out to the end. That was the same thing as an interest free $3000 loan. Whooppee!
I've always had the money but I cannot pay bills that I don't get.

Anne Bonney said...

I like the photo - I would recognize you anywhere.