When a service member deploys, often there are challenges back on the home front. I know from personal experience: I had a nightmare scenario play out after a 7-month deployment.
Two commands ago, I left my stateside apartment to do the Navy’s bidding overseas. A friend had a key to my pad. But still, I was not prepared for what I faced when I arrived home.
Imagine this, me opening my front door after being gone for that period of time. And finding my dining room table broken down the middle. Like a tired, old mule. Also, there were white splotches on various pieces of my furniture. Last clue: long screws were scattered here and there around my apartment.
I was renting, so the management company at the complex could really come and go as they pleased. But they knew my circumstances, that I was a Navy guy. I could not, however, piece together the three clues. It seemed too weird.
If I had only looked up, it would have become clear. But what returning Sailor bothers to inspect his ceiling when he returns from deployment?
So I take it easy on my first pass. On the phone, I inquire gently as to what happened in my apartment when I was gone. No one has any news. None. In fact, they are not sure what I am talking about.
I escalate it. I call corporate management in Baltimore to complain. And I finally get the story: my ceiling needed the drywall secured. But I am out of luck as to breaking my lease. I turn it up. I mention my dining room table. And the splashes of what I have figured for spackle on my couch and loveseat. Heck, a loveseat ain’t no good all weird like that.
Then, I threaten to break my lease and get nowhere. So I look to buy a home of my own. And find a condo five miles away. I literally move in two weeks, paying the seller rent before the sale is finalized.
But the management company tries to chisel out various fees from me. Not to say anything of the month or so I still owed on the lease.
I have one threat. The truth. And I played it. Threatening to get the Navy involved. The JAG. That finally broke their back. My table was a wash. But I did not owe them anything other than what I had paid.
Sailors: always mention the JAG. Maybe folks imagine Commander Harmon Rabb Jr and Lieutenant Colonel Sarah MacKenzie kicking down their door. To punish them for their misdeeds.
Still my post-deployment issues are nothing in comparison to one Navy Commander, who returned from deployment to face the nightmare of her life:
While Navy Cmdr. Wilma Roberts was stationed in Okinawa, she was comforted by the knowledge that her china and cabinets, her daughter’s ballerina outfit, her photos and all of her other prized possessions were safely stored in a climate-controlled unit under the military’s personal property system.
But her property wasn’t safe at all, she found, when she returned to Naval Station Great Lakes, Ill., this past summer.
Unbeknownst to Roberts, the personal property office had converted the storage bill to her expense, and when the bill went unpaid, the storage company sold everything she owned.
Wait, surely the good Commander could just claim her possessions from whomever had purchased them? Um, no:
A local man paid $2,101 at auction for all of her possessions — items she values at more than $60,000 — and sold almost all of it.
The silver lining, the base legal office helped her track down her stuff. (Legal office means that the JAG got involved somehow.) And she drove out to the gentlemen’s house, who had purchased the contents of her storage unit at auction, to speak to him:
“When I walked up, he knew who I was because he’d seen my pictures” among her household goods, Roberts said.
She said he told her after seeing her photos in uniforms, and other items, that he went back to the storage facility and expressed concern about whether the property should have been sold.
Odom said the man was so convinced that Roberts was dead that his wife set up a small shrine at their sale of Roberts’ possessions, with a picture they had found in her boxes, surrounded by candles.
Odom said the man was clearly upset when they spoke, describing how helpless he felt when Roberts sat in her car in his driveway for 45 minutes, weeping.
I have never heard a worse story from a Sailor returning from deployment. Not from our enlisted guys, nor our officers. (The buyer set up a shrine to her!) How is the Navy going to address this issue?