Sunday, February 15, 2009

Unfortunately, however, we will have to sell the boat

As I listen to the robber barons of Wall Street moan and groan about salary and bonus limitations that accepting a taxpayer bailout involves, I am reminded of an incident some 38 years ago, when I was stationed at Ft Wolters,TX instructing helicopter flying.

Officer students attending flight school at Ft Wolters encountered new found wealth. It was a TDY assignment, and they drew flight pay. Thus, they were drawing full pay and allowances, PLUS $24 in per diem (Tax free), PLUS $150/month flight skins (taxable), and would do so for 11 months, or about $9,500 more than "usual" while in training. I the late 60's/early 70's that was significant bucks.

So, our dauntless students looked at this new found wealth and began to elevate their lifestyles with, most typically, new cars. Being able to easily make 11 monthly payments of $870 or more could buy a couple of cars back then, and they did. Our local auto dealers were more than qualified to explain how it was done. And, since flight school was normally followed by a year in RVN, where even more $$$ could be saved, some extended the plan to include the financial windfall of that.

But then, shock of shocks, DOD did its periodic review of per diem rates and found that they should only be receiving $21/day! Talk about gloom, doom and mayhem! LTs and CPTs scrambling to figure out how to stay afloat with $120/month less. We actually had to set up financial management classes to help them avoid defaulting. So, a number of us permanent party were given training on how to conduct small group ( 5 or 6 students) counseling sessions and we went for it. The sessions began by having each student express their plight and what they thought they must do.

At the first session I conducted, I was amazed at how shattered these guys were, and how stumped some were as to how to handle it. Some were outright hostile toward DOD over the change. The last one, however, seemed quite calm, and sure of a solution. He said that he and his wife had been quite prudent. Rather than buying a Corvette, like so many others, they stuck to the Ford Mustang. One for each of them, along with a Ford station wagon for "family use." They had only bought an amount of furniture that could fit in a U-Haul trailer(TDY moves don't cover household goods), another reason for the station wagon. They would pay a car-less student to drive one of the Mustangs to Ft Rucker for the second half of training.

In closing, he said, "So, you see, with a bit of prudent planning, and a willingness to sacrifice a bit, it need not be a crisis. Unfortunately, however, we will have to sell the boat."

I shared that story with my colleagues, and the student's final words became an oft quoted quip when one of us was expressing mock sympathy.