How Much Does a Light Bulb Cost the Army?

I  spent  most of my formative years in the Army.  I was a JAG Officer for about 28 years.  When I mention JAG, peoples’ eyes light up and I know they have seen the JAG TV program.  So, I have to explain to them that I never flew a jet, captured terrorists, nor disarmed a nuclear weapon.  And, if the TV show had followed the highlights of my career, it would have been cancelled after the second week.

I had two tours in Germany and my second tour was in Frankfurt.  My family was with me and we were assigned to military family quarters outside of Frankfurt in the little town of Bad Vibel.  Little US conclaves like ours were quite common throughout Germany.  All of the family quarters in Germany had a lot in common.  For example, every light had the same type of globe covering it.  I can still see them and I am sure you can too.  The globe screwed into the fixture.  When a light burned out, it took me 30 minutes to unscrew the globe.  Paint had run down into the threads and I had to scrape the paint out with a knife.  It took a lot of pressure to unscrew the globe.  The second time it happened, I went through the same drill.  I scraped and then wrapped the globe in a dish towel.  As I applied pressure, I heard the globe cracking.

Time to call housing maintenance.  I don’t do cracked globes.  I had visions of three hours in an emergency room, a large portion of which I would be spending explaining how it happened.  One call later and a German maintenance man showed up with a brown paper sack and a hammer.  He put the sack over the globe and smashed it with the hammer.  A new light and a new globe and we were back in business.

The next time a light burned out, I went through the same drill.  It probably only lasted 20 minutes this time.  I didn’t feel the need to hear glass cracking to call for help.  This time, a different German maintenance man, but it looked like the same sack and hammer.  I couldn’t believe it.  Every time a light burned out in family quarters, it cost Uncle Sam a new light and a new globe!

As a general rule, it is not good to be the hero of something you are writing, but I broke the rule here.  I concluded that each time the family quarters were painted (about every three to four years), all the globes were sealed.  If the painting contract required the painters to remove the globes before they painted, the globes would not be sealed by the fresh paint.

At that time the Army had what was called the Suggestion Awards Program where they would actually pay a soldier money for coming up with a suggestion that would save the Army money.  I figured out the number of family quarters in Germany and multiplied it by the number of globes in each unit and then multiplied that figure by the number of German maintenance men walking around with brown paper sacks and hammers.  I multiplied that by the cost of a globe and determined that we could save enough money to put another brigade in Europe.

The moral of this story is that you will never get rich submitting suggestions to the Army.  My suggestion was approved and I received a check for $83.72.  Why such a strange amount?  Because the Army withheld taxes from my hundred dollar prize.  The only thing I regret is not framing the check.

2 thoughts on “How Much Does a Light Bulb Cost the Army?”

  1. Dear Dad, This is a story I had not heard, or I had forgotten. One thing that I do know is that you would have never been able to keep that check. Having an uncashed check around the house would have driven Mom crazy. Love you Mom and Dad!

  2. I had you at 0 for 2. After reading your latest, you are now 1 for 3. I voted that I liked your blog article. You now have a 100% approval rating.


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