Once upon a time in the tiny U.S. Army post known as Camp Page, located on the outskirts of Chunchon in Kangwon-do province, Korea, there wasn’t an $88,000 generator. It was a big generator on a large trailer, and one day somebody hitched it up to a truck and drove off with it.
This created quite a problem for the transportation sergeant. He was in charge of keeping track of everything on wheels, and if he couldn’t find the generator, he would be held accountable.
So he did the only thing a transportation sergeant in his position could do: He forged a receipt that indicated the generator was on loan to another unit located many, many miles away.
Still, it was only a temporary solution: Sooner or later the day of reckoning would roll around, and when it did there would be hell -- and the U.S. Army -- to pay.
At that time a tour of duty in Korea was one year, so at the end of the transportation sergeant’s tour, he took the incoming transportation sergeant aside and explained the situation to him.
The incoming transportation sergeant was not happy with this news, but he knew there was no unit in any military of any nation that could account for 100% of its equipment. And transportation sergeants tended to stick together, since one never knew when one would be in dire need of help that only another transportation sergeant could provide.
So the incoming transportation sergeant signed for the stolen generator, and the old transportation sergeant returned to the United States, secure in the knowledge it was No Longer His Problem and at long last able to sleep the sleep of the just.
This went on for several years, each outgoing transportation sergeant explaining the scam to the new incoming transportation sergeant, who would sign the necessary papers to indicate the generator was on loan to another unit. It was a very, very risky game of hot potato, and sooner or later some poor schmuck would get caught, but until then, the theft would remain hidden from the Army’s view.
There are many different companies with many different responsibilities on every military base. Just as the transportation company was in charge of vehicles, the headquarters company was in charge of the clerks who shuffled all the post’s papers.
A new second lieutenant was assigned to the headquarters company, and he immediately set out to make sure everybody knew he was a new second lieutenant. There is a saying in the Army: You can always tell a second lieutenant, but you cannot tell him much.
The new second lieutenant was rude and obnoxious and insulting and irritating and to be perfectly frank, stupid. He had only been in the headquarters company a few months when the annual Inspector General team came through.
The IG are like auditors who check out a unit’s readiness, but they also take complaints from individual soldiers. They expect one or two cranks to complain about something during every IG tour, but they also know if three soldiers in a unit complain about the same thing, it means at least thirty soldiers have a problem with it.
Of the 120 soldiers in the headquarters company, twenty filed complaints against the new second lieutenant.
The IG took each soldier aside and moved quickly to squelch the complaints. They told each soldier that if they formally filed a complaint against the second lieutenant, it would go on his record. They asked the soldiers not to file their formal complaints…
…but they promised them something would be done about the second lieutenant.
And sure enough, as soon as the IG team left, the second lieutenant was reassigned from the headquarters company to the transportation company, which meant moving from the nice, clean, warm headquarters building to the noisy, greasy, cold motor pool.
The second lieutenant did not like this transfer, considering it to be a position below his station in life. He strove to endear himself to the transportation company in the exact same manner he endeared himself to his former comrades at the headquarters company.
In fact, he succeeded at this beyond his wildest expectations.
Whenever possible, the second lieutenant would leave Camp Page to spend the weekend in Seoul. Chunchon was a small, hard working, pragmatic city at that time, lacking the diversions of the capital. The second lieutenant would take the Army bus to Seoul on Fridays and return on Sunday.
There were only two buses from Camp Page to Seoul each day, and if one missed the second bus, one either had to take the crowded civilian train or wait until the next day for transport.
The transportation sergeant, frequently the subject of complaints and insults from the second lieutenant, bore this abuse stoically. He let the new second lieutenant get settled into his job, then one Friday, less than thirty minutes before the last bus to Seoul was about to leave, stepped up to the lieutenant’s desk with a thick stack of paperwork that needed to be signed.
The lieutenant cursed him and criticized him and complained how he had to do everyone’s job and how life was unfair in general and hastily signed all the papers without reading them so he could catch the bus.
He signed all the papers, including the receipt for the long gone $88,000 generator.
The transportation sergeant took the signed papers, wished the second lieutenant godspeed, and filed them away.
He waited a couple of weeks until the second lieutenant had forgotten the incident, then called the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division and said, hey, the second lieutenant signed out this generator and now we have no idea where it is.
The CID showed up and asked the second lieutenant a lot of embarrassing questions. And while they couldn’t make anything stick criminally, they sure could stick the second lieutenant with the bill. How he would pay it would be his problem, since they also determined a military career was not in his future.
And for the rest of his tour of duty in Korea, the transportation sergeant never had to buy another drink for himself at the NCO club.
Moral: Don’t fnck with the transportation sergeant.