18. October 2004 · Comments Off on Rites, Legends and Lore #10: Supply and Demand · Categories: General, Military

I had forgotten, until I read Timmer’s essay on the fiscal year-end rush to spend windfall funds, when there is leftover money in the unit budget, and everyone must have a list of nice-to-haves, all neatly costed out and prioritized, for that money MUST be spent. The rationale is that if you have surplus money left over at the end of the year, then your unit has obviously been given more than you need, and in the next years’ budget the Powers That Be will adjust your budget to cover those needs with not a penny left over. So firm in the belief that what they can to do you, they invariably would, great care is taken to spend exactly what you have been budgeted for the year, and funds that have been set aside and held against a rainy-day emergency are up for grabs once it is clear that the year is nearly over without that emergency occurring. So doubly blessed units like Timmers’ can revel in ordering lavishly, filling their supply room with extra stock, which may later serve as the raw materiel in the machinations of the scrounge, swapping for favors from units less blessed.

Alas, for my time in AFRTS field units, we were the less blessed; budget wise, we were the illegitimate red-haired step child, and so far from having any sort of year end-surplus (and joyously spending same) during the last month of the old fiscal year, we would be looking at an empty cupboard, and shifting our last typewriter correction tape from typewriter to typewriter depending on who needed to correct something, and bringing light-bulbs from home. I also clearly remember carefully re-winding that last correction tape to the beginning again, so dire was our predicament: three weeks to go, and $%**#-all in our supply account.

At other times, the supplies just weren’t there at all, especially when waaaaaay out at the end of the supply chain. For some reason, AFRTS-Sondrestom Greenland was perennially out of splicing tape, used during those pre-electronic editing days when you marked the edit points with a tick from a black grease pencil, sliced on the tick mark with a single-edged razor blade, butted the two segments together and applied a length of white audio editing tape to hold it together. (We were strictly enjoined from using scotch tape for this purpose because the sticky element would run, and damage the audio tape, as well as collecting all sorts of crud at the edit point, resulting in a noisy and very audible sound as it went over the playback head… although— true story— I once did see a piece of 16mm film with an edit held together by a couple of metal staples. As in Stanley Bostitch office supply staples. ) As production chief, I had a packet of pre-cut tape splices in my desk, and dealt them out one at a time, upon presentation of a really good justification as to why this audio edit was really, really necessary. “We need splicing tape!” I would plead with the station manager, who would shrug and say, “It’s been on order, since last month/last quarter/time and memory began.” We got by with begging for packets of splicing tape from our sister-station at Thule, and when our order finally did arrive (by rowboat, around the Horn and across the western Atlantic, apparently) we had to send half of it to Thule in repayment for tiding us over.

Even having money in the account and supplies in the supply room/cupboard did not mean that supply would meet demand; the supply NCO at AFKN/Yongsan was not disposed to helpful on the day when I decided to train some of the other broadcasters in good newsroom habits, and provide them with an invaluable tool of the trade; to whit, a spiral bound steno notebook.
“Sorry, no can do today. I’ll get you four of ‘em when I go to central supply tomorrow.” I looked over his Army buzz-cut head to the shelf immediately behind him. There was a stack of spiral steno notebooks.
“You have ten of them right there, “I pointed out, doing my best to remain civil and non-judgmental. “And I need them right now. Why can’t you just give me four notebooks now.”?
”No can do, Sarge. I might get inspected, I gotta have ‘em on the shelf.”
“So…” I looked at him, “I am understanding this correctly— the purpose of your supply room stock is not to actually provide supplies as they are needed, but to make the supply room look good for a theoretical inspection?”
“Well… yeah. You gotta come back for those notebooks tomorrow, Sarge. You want how many? Four?”
“Never mind, I would hate to disturb your levels of stock for your inspection,” I said grandly, and turned on my heel.

I went straight down the little winding path that came out in the BX parking lot at the foot of the hill, went in and bought four steno notebooks out of my own pocket for the news trainees— a whole two bucks, but at least ten dollars worth of no hassle with an Army unit stockroom, and not the first time I ever subsidized the military industrial complex out of my own pocket.

Other heartrending tales of deprivation, supply skullduggery and budget excess are warmly invited in comments.

Also, I still have a qualitity of copies of the book, if you want to get an autographed copy directly from me: Paypal or check, just e-mail and let me know

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