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Knowledge is Power in the Military

Dateline: 06/20/99

In the military, the person with the most rank is not always the person in charge. A major is completely at the mercy of the Spec-4 Assignment Clerk. A Master Sergeant with 15 years experience will often believe whatever the Finance Senior Airman tells him, as long as it relates to finance. But, how many times have you asked a so-called expert how to do something, only to be told that it can't be done? Then, how often did you later find out that not only could it be done easily, but dozens of others had done it?

The most influential military supervisor I ever had was not my T.I. It was not even my first boss. Nor, my second. My most influential military supervisor was my third boss, Technical Sergeant (now Chief Master Sergeant [Ret]) Jerry Worth.

Jerry's second-most-favorite phrase was "Who told you that?" If someone, anyone, ever told us anything, Jerry always wanted to know who it was that told us. I'd go to the Parachute Shop to ask about the status of a particular chute, and later give Jerry the answer. He would always respond, "Who told you that?" If I would say something like, "The chow hall is going to be open extended hours during the exercise," Jerry would ask, "Who told you that?" I began carrying a small notebook with me everywhere. When I would ask a question, and someone would answer, I would write their name down -- just so that I would have an answer when Jerry would ask me the inevitable.

However, I began to notice something strange: When I wrote someone's name down, five times out of ten, they would change their answers! One day I went to the Personnel Assignment Section, to ask about extending my tour in Korea. The assignment clerk told me I couldn't extend because I had already extended once. He stated that there was a policy letter limiting personnel to only one tour extension in Korea. From habit, I took my notebook out of my pocket, looked at his nametag, and wrote his name down. The clerk said, "What are you doing?" I said, "Oh, just writing down your name." Before I could explain that it was a "requirement" from my boss, the clerk said, "Wait a minute, let me check on that answer." Five minutes later, he returned with the correct answer. (There was no such policy).

Just when I caught on to the "Who told you" game, Jerry started up with "Show me." You see, I was the local "expert" in our shop. Korea was a one year tour, and I was half-way through my second year there. I was pretty smug about it, too. Until Jerry came along. Jerry would ask me how or why we did something a certain way, and I would answer the way my previous supervisors had taught me. I would say, "It's a PACAF requirement," or "It's in the reg." Jerry would then respond, "Show me." For two solid months, Jerry made me look up everything! Everything from duty hours to dormitory standards, to leave policy. Everything was, "show me....show me....show me...." I got to where I hated that phrase. However, after a few "Show me's," I found out that more than half of the time, the information I was giving out (stuff I knew was right) was wrong!

Jerry turned me into a "Regulation Buff," and for the rest of my career, I really was the guy who knew the answers. I knew the answers because I had looked them up myself. I learned not to necessarily trust what other people told me -- even if they were a so-called "expert" in their respective area.

Virtually everything the military does is covered by a written regulation or policy letter of some sort. Want to know how many pounds of household goods you are really authorized? You can look it up in a Reg. Want to know if you're eligible to move out of the dorm? Look it up. Want to know if your spouse is supposed to be providing you with financial support? You'll find it in writing.

If you want to stop a military "expert" dead in their tracks, just show them they are wrong in the regulation. The argument ends immediately. In the military, knowledge is power. Now, the first time ever, that power is available to everybody -- on the Internet. All four services, and D.O.D. publish most of their unclassified regulations, directives, and policies on the Internet. Some of these publications are stored in "PDF format," which means you'll first need to download and install the FREE Adobe Acrobat Reader in order to view them.

What? You say you don't believe me? Well, look it up yourself by clicking on the appropriate picture below:

Coast Guard
Department of Defense
Defense Finance Service
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