A small war story - Everfree

I had been a mission staff member for a couple of years, but had routed off. It was an especially crazy mission and I'd seen some of the harsher realities of staff already, like being sent off for training without room or board provided and being left to fend for myself as best I could, and screaming seniors.

I was recruited by a Flag Command Bureau exec (Treas Aide, maybe?) as well as the Cont Flag Banking Officer (FBO) for local org staff to be FBO, for which I would need to be sent to the PAC base for training.

I had just started a small direct sales company and was struggling to get it going, had a few part time employees, hadn't really made anything of it yet. So although I wanted to be on staff, I was reluctant to leave my fledgling company for the training.

No problem, they said, you can get it turned over to someone else, and the training you receive in finance will enable you to really boom your business!

I wasn't convinced of that, but I went along because I really wanted to be on staff and help people. But just in case, I wanted a back up plan so I wouldn't be left destitute in case something went wrong so I asked the FB exec about the pay.

I'd been mislead about the pay by the mission when I had joined staff there; they told me that the mission was 20xing and would soon become an org with no need to moonlight because staff would be well paid and I should easily be able to make the paltry $200/wk I really needed to get by - I was just a young person with no real responsibilities at that time. Well, in reality I was rarely paid anything at all, which made it very difficult for me at times.

So, knowing that staff could sometimes be less than forthcoming about pay, I asked the FB exec that in case I had trouble with my business, what sort of staff pay could I expect? Being above pay related things on the org board, I thought he would have a good estimate. He told me that as FBO I'd be an exec and should at least get $200/wk.

This seemed real to me because I would be an exec and the org was relatively established and much bigger than the mission.

But I wasn't finished yet - I'd been sent for training by my mission once but not given any food or lodging or money and it had been a miserable experience I didn't want to repeat. So I asked the FB exec how my food and lodging would be handled. He told me that I would berth at the base and my org would pay my room and board, and assured me that it would be because he wanted me trained and back as soon as possible so I could be on post.

I was excited! It sounded wonderful, so I agreed to join and go for the training.

When I arrived at PAC I went to get my berthing for the night and told them my org would be paying for it. They said that they hadn’t received any money from the org so I couldn’t stay there. I didn’t know anywhere else to go and I wanted to be a willing and helpful new staff member, so I paid for a week out of my own pocket, assuming I would just get the money back from my new org.

I settled in and started my studies. I kept asking Berthing if they’d received the money from my org yet but they hadn’t, which puzzled me because I’d made sure ahead of time that it was going to be paid.

Unfortunately, my little business didn’t go too well in my absence, but I’d planned for the possibility, had a bit of savings and should still get my $200/wk pay and I’d have room and board handled as well so that would be plenty. I really wanted to be on staff and help people, so sacrificing some of my pay for a time seemed a small sacrifice.

After I paid several weeks berthing from my own money and my savings was depleted, I thought it was about time I CSWed (asked for permission) to get off course for a while so I could find out what was up with my org. I called and talked to Treasury and asked why I hadn’t received berthing money yet. He said that they’d asked for it each week but it kept getting disapproved by Financial Planning.

I asked if I could be recompensed for the money I’d already paid, and he said that since I didn’t get an approved PO first I was subject to “purchasing liability of a staff member” and it wouldn’t be paid. I objected that I had been promised it upfront or I never would have gone. He told me to read the policy.

It looked like I was going to have to keep paying for my room and board out of my staff pay, so I asked him about that. He said “Pay? We haven’t had any for a couple of months. Oh wait, maybe I have a few dollars…”

So I’d been mislead again! It turns out that while I should have been receiving some pay, in actuality the pay sum was being taken each week and put towards the rent which was a screaming “Hill 10” emergency. Besides, though I was to be FBO I wasn’t yet -- I was only a trainee so my pay would have been minimal anyways. Why couldn’t they have told me this all up front so I’d had a good idea of how it would have been and could have planned accordingly?

I went to the person who was handling my training evolution, a Swiss SO member in the Cont Banking Office named Paula and I wrote up my org for not paying my berthing as promised. I was told that I would have to do work study in order to keep my room and board.

Work study consisted of doing dishes in the galley of PAC base for 30 hours week. It was a lot of hours and I had to change and shower a lot though because it was filthy, disgusting work with lots of roaches, so it really slowed my study.

I had to keep CSWing off course because my personal finances were flapping because I was broke. I kept trying to put fires out as best as I could on course breaks, but I’d have to call and be on hold... My phone was shut off because I couldn’t pay it. Several other bills were piling up. My business bank account was overdrawn due to fees and I couldn’t borrow enough to re-open it so that I could re-institute my little business when I returned.

Paula was grousing at me for missing course time and not making enough progress on course (though I’ve always been an excellent student). She started suggesting that I was being “first dynamic oriented” for trying to handle my flapping bills and that I should concentrate more on my study.

I was miserable. I felt like if I’d known how things were really going to be I never would have joined and gone for training. BUT… I really wanted to help people by being on staff so I resolved to be “theta the problem solver” instead of “theta the problem” and “make things go right”.

How could I do that, I wondered. After much pondering, I hit upon it. I was a pretty good salesperson (though it’s really not my “thing”), I could probably get a part-time sales job and in 20 hrs/wk make enough to pay for my own berthing, take care of bills, and I’d be able to spend more time on course! A solution where everyone wins, hurray!

In fact, I went and found such a job fairly easily.

Proud of myself, I went to Paula and told her the good news.

Much to my surprise, instead of congratulating my on my handling of a very difficult situation so that everybody won, she fixed her steely eyes on me and said “We have a perfectly good work study program.”

“Yes, it IS a good work study program but it doesn’t allow me to pay my bills and I could be on course more this way…”

“I have had just about enough unusual solutions from you,” she said in her best “impinging exec voice”.

“Unusual solution? It’s optimum across all the dynamics, everybody wins…”

“Go back on study and I’d better not hear any more problems out of you!”

My hopes dashed, I went back to course. I was absolutely dejected, couldn’t hardly lift my head. I could see nothing but poverty and dirty dishes in my future.

The next day, maybe a couple later, Paula summoned me back to her office.

“I have decided you are not qualified to be FBO, I’m sending you home,” she told me.

The crushing was complete. Every step of the way I’d tried to plan correctly for any contingency and make things go right despite huge obstacles and even misinformation, bending waaaay over backwards financing most of it myself anyways, and now it was all for naught. I had started out with the grandest of intentions and big plans, now I was going home in debt to a job that didn’t pay. I was devastated.

Such is the life of a staff member.

I learned many things from this experience. One of the chief of which is that if you want to get things done, instead of getting permission ahead of time it is often necessary to go ahead and do it then make it OK with everyone later. You may get in trouble, but you can also get in trouble if you don’t get important things done so pick your battles wisely.

Another is that different people will interpret policy in different ways. I several years later went back to PAC and many people worked part time jobs to pay their room and board. Maybe I had something to do with that, but most likely I had the misfortune of running into someone who was perfectly willing to use policy to obstruct rather than to promote optimum solutions. You can identify such people and work around them.

Another thing I learned is ALWAYS get it in writing, no matter who is telling you. Other things as well, like don’t trust the word of a recruiter, hehe. Not that I think that any of the people who recruited me had any bad intent, but they can get so much pressure on them to get “products” that sometimes, well, a great deal of wishful thinking takes the place of reality.

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