Shoeclerk:  Incompetent Bureaucrat.  (Term may be redundant.)

I do not suffer fools or ‘shoeclerks’ very well, at all.  I always have felt these individuals did not exist to assist me in my primary mission, but explicitly to hinder it.  And not only that, I felt they took some perverse, obscene delight in doing just that.

In his book, “To the Last Man,” Jeff Shaara writes about the transition of the US aviators from under the control of the French, to the American army once we decided to enter the war.  One fo the aviators, and aces, Raoul Lufberry, is particularly upset.  He observes, “Most of the officers who are taking charge of the Air Service have never flown an aeroplane.  They are no more than clerks with too much power.”  I suspect Lufberry was the first to recognize this, and call it for what it is.

When I was in Munitions school, we spent an entire week learning how to properly read, and interpret manuals, regulations and technical orders (tech orders).  One of the most boring weeks of my life; yet, on of the most instructive.  Little did I know that the torture I was enduring at the time would serve me well in later years!

As a young 2nd Lt. I was called into my Commander’s (Lt. Col. Bob Crouch) office one day and told me that I couldn’t tell a Base Personnel captain (shoeclerk) to write an airman’s proficiency report, then walk out on him…

I had this ‘dirtbag’ in my section, and I had to write an annual Aiman Performance Report (APR) on him.  So, I wrote it to reflect his poor attitude and job performance.  It got “bounced” from personnel 5 or 6 times; because “I couldn’t say this or that.”  The last time I went back to Personnel I had had it.  When my latest effort was rejected I told the smug captain to write  the damn thing himself – and I walked out.

Col. Crouch then handed my last rejected effort to me, and told me to rewrite it, again.  I think I may have asked him if I couldn’t just shove the APR up the Personnel captain’s ass, and be done with it?  That’s when I got thrown out of Col. Crouch’s office…

Although I knew I could never “win” against a shoeclerk hiding behind a reg, it didn’t keep me from trying.  Then I “broke the code.”  I discovered that each squadron had a ‘publications library;’ with all USAF manuals and regulations.  From then on, any time I had a “shoeclerk issue,” I would study the applicable manual or regulation covering the subject, then go in loaded for bear!  Often I would learn why I wasn’t able to do this, or that, and the point became moot.  But on occasion, some shoeclerk would attempt to stonewall me, or baffle me with BS, and I would eat his lunch like a grape!  Good fun.

In a letter to me after retiring, Rick Lanier said it very succinctly.  He was talking about the things in me that ‘inspired’ him, when he noted, “…and finally your ‘attitude’ — the inventor of the ‘never let them see you sweat’ – the gumshoe bureaucrat’s (shoeclerk’s) worse nightmare.”

All things considered with respect to shoeclerks, I think the one thing that both satisfied me, and frustrated me at the same time was the knowledge that, at any time, I could do their job, if I wanted to… however, I doubted that any of them could ever do mine.

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