Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Civilians with rank?

Well, again, Wednesday has come, and as the sun goes down, the presses at the Elizabethtown News-Enterprise will be busily running another edition of the post newspaper off its rollers.

One issue that's become a bone of contention in the office is the ongoing military-to-civilian conversion going on. Here's a quick global breakdown of the idea:

Since, due to the ongoing war in Iraq, the demand for troops in troop-type slots is high, and recruiting numbers are less than inspiring, a program to replace garrison-type jobs once held by soldiers with Department of the Army civilians is in place across the Army.

Sensible, sure. Soldiers are trained and meant to do soldier-type jobs, which, if I can infer anything from the bucket of plastic green army men I had when I was a kid, usually involve carrying a rifle around.

However, practically speaking, it creates a few difficulties, since the process can't happen overnight. For our newspaper, that means gradually phasing out soldiers and replacing them - on a less-than one-to-one basis - with civilians.

In the newspaper business, these civilians are coming in at at least the grade of GS-7, which, I'm told, is "equivalent" to the rank of a second lieutenant in the military rank structure.

Perhaps you can see where the trouble is starting. There is a critical difference between a GS-7 and an O-1. See if you can guess what it is. Take your time, but show your work.

Ready? The difference is that a civilian, being a civilian, is not a soldier, and certainly not a lieutenant. Here at Fort Knox, we have - at least for the time being - the Armor School, where countless new lieutenants, fresh out of ROTC, OCS, and the Academy are studying to become tank platoon commanders. I see them at the shoppettes near the school whenever I go there to buy a fresh pack of Camels, and even though I know they know next to nothing about the Army, save for what they learned in the hallowed classrooms of West Point, I still render proper military courtesy to them, i.e., snapping to attention, rendering the hand salute, and giving the "greeting of the day," which, on Fort Knox, is "Good morning, sir."

For DA civilians, the system's slightly different. Suffice it to say, I've never been required to salute someone who doesn't have four pairs of BDUs hanging in his or her closet.

But someone's decided that there's a certain point in the civilian pay scale where civilians holding that pay grade take on the "rank" of an active-duty officer. How they arrived at that pay grade doesn't matter, but it should, since civilians can be hired at that level, including a couple of the ones who have started working in my office.

Working at a newspaper has never, to my knowledge, been a nine-to-five sort of gig, depending on your beat, and this creates problems as well. Since DA civilians cannot work more than 80 hours a week without incurring overtime, and since department heads are usually not allowed to authorize overtime - at least not for newspapers - that means that anything that happens after 1700 (5 p.m. for you non-military types) or on weekends is pretty much out of the question for civilians to cover.

Since we still have soldiers in the office, that doesn't mean the event isn't going to be covered.

What I'm getting at with this lengthy and self-indulgent rant is that the end result of replacing soldier newspaper staffers with civilian newspaper staffers is that the remaining soldiers get screwed, if I may use a technical term.

It's also a bit of a slap in the face to me, since to get this job, I not only earned a bachelor's degree in journalism, but also attended several months of additional Army training to qualify for my military occupational specialty - 46Q, Journalist. None of the civilians in the office I work in have a BA in journalism, and the associate editor I work for has about the closest thing - a BA in photojournalism. Not quite the same thing. Anyone who knows why the word is spelled "adviser" can tell you about that.

I'm not exactly sure what to do in this situation other than to suck it up and drive on. However, if any salty, long-termers have information, regulation numbers, or advice as to what to do in this situation, or if this business of civilians being treated like Army officers is bullshit or not, let me know. It's hurt the morale in the office, and I think the product - the newspaper - suffers for it.


And here's my shameless bid to get traffic from the Mudville Gazette. Open Post.