We had our Old Fuds luncheon this week. A bunch of old retired Army Jags standing around before the meal trying to remember each others names. Oh yes, we have name tags, but with the condition of our eyes, it’s still a challenge. Then one of my friends showed up with his beard shaved off and I was clueless.
I ended up sitting between John Naughton, whom I served with in Germany back in the 60’s and Fran Gilligan, whom I served with twice at the JAG School. Whenever John and I get together, the subject eventually turns to our boss in Germany, Major Charlie Baldree. Working for Baldree was the worst experience in my life (not just professional life), but I survived it.
John and I worked as captains in the 4th Armored Division Staff Judge Advocate’s Office in Goeppingen, Germany. An SJA office only had about six officers back in 1967. Joe Donahue, our deputy, got promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and left and in came Major Charlie Baldree to disrupt our lives. Baldree would grin and smile, but he was downright mean as a rattlesnake. He insisted on competing with me. Believe me, I’m smart enough to know not to compete with my boss and rater. But every time I turned around, I was in the barrel.
Charlie’s office was about twenty steps from mine, but he would send me notes on everything. I would receive 20 – 30 notes a day. I remember receiving three notes at the same time. The first asked about the status of a particular matter. The next two complained that I hadn’t answered the first inquiry. I tried my absolute best to keep him informed and happy. But he was determined to crush me and I didn’t understand why. Was I paranoid? You bet.
There was a claims matter that I recommended paying. Charlie disagreed. That should have been the end of it. If he had told me to write it up denying pay, I would have. But Major “B” sent my recommendation and his disagreement into the SJA, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Wright and asked him to choose. You see how I am screwed? Well, to make matters worse, Colonel Wright notified Charlie that he would hear oral arguments on the matter. Here I am, competing again. After we both expressed our views, Colonel Wright agreed with me. Talk about a no-win situation. Jolly Charlie grinned, smiled and sent me back to my office. Here comes the notes.
At this time the Vietnam War was in full throat. The Army was increasing in size and people were being promoted rapidly. Because I was in the cue, I spent only three and a half years as a captain before I was promoted to major. Major “B” was unhappy that officers weren’t spending as much time as captains as he had. He didn’t come to my promotion party.
My promotion permitted me to move into field grade quarters. Majors lived in a building called the Glass House. Charlie, of course, lived there with his new bride. Shortly after I moved in, he sent me a note saying that since I had time to wash my car over the weekend, he assumed the projects he had given me were completed.
There actually was a chapter in the Army Officer’s Guide entitled, “Working for your S.O.B.” The chapter basically said it happens to everyone and do the best you can and before long, one of you would be reassigned. Well the first to be reassigned was not Charlie or me, but Colonel Wright. Our new boss was Lieutenant Colonel Charles Dribben. Colonel Dribben had been a reservist and had not spent much time on active duty. Now, all of a sudden, he was the 4th Armored Division Staff Judge Advocate. Colonel Dribben created enough confusion to keep Major “B” busy and things eased up on me. And, Colonel Dribben really liked me (bless his heart).
The OER or Officer’s Evaluation Report is how the Army decides who will be promoted and given positions of additional responsibility. Major Baldree wrote my OER. Before he wrote it, he came in and told me that he would never give a score lower that 92 (92 out of 100), because he wouldn’t want to kill a person’s chances for promotion. I need to explain that the OER numbers are highly inflated. A 95, at that time, was not a good number and I was convinced that a 92 would kill an officer’s future chances. When I got my OER from Major Baldree, he had given me a 92! He had that earlier conversation with me to let me know that he was giving me the lowest score he ever gave. Sweet. His narrative was consistent with the low score. He didn’t say anything negative, he just didn’t say anything positive. “Major Rice completes every assignment given to him.” Whoopee!
So how did I survive and go on to be the Commandant at The JAG School? Well, what saved me was the endorsement to the rating by Colonel Dribben. He maxed me out on everything. He gave me 100 out of 100 and said all the right things including that he considered me the best major in the office! When I departed Germany, I felt like a gigantic yoke had been lifted from my shoulders.
I have reread this draft about six times. First, it’s not very funny and my original purpose was to make you at least smile. Second, I’m not sure I can paint how stressful and downright horrible the situation was. I may come across to you as a griper or complainer. If that’s the case, you should have stopped reading well before now. Two years after Germany, I was in Vietnam and bumped into a friend who had had similar experiences with Charlie Baldree. A third person who was listening to us asked us what it was about Baldree that set us off. My friend said, “This is the best way I can sum it up. If Charlie were throwing a big party and wasn’t going to invite you, he would ask you to pick up the invitations.”
The ordeal was miserable, but I believe it made me stronger and I used the experience many times to help me out. When I was faced with a really bad situation and was having difficulty figuring out how I could manage, I would say to myself, “Hey, I can do this. This is not half as difficult as surviving Charlie Baldree.”
Written by PJ Rice at www.ricequips.com