It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my 30 years in the Florida National Guard.
A sergeant first class came into my office — actually, just a cubicle — in which I held court as S-1 of the 53rd Infantry Brigade.
The S-1 of a military organization is responsible for personnel and administrative matters. That is what is known in military circles as the “approved school solution.”
Actually, the S-1 is in charge of troubleshooting any of the plethora of problems that do not come specifically under the jurisdiction of the S-2 (intelligence and security), the S-3 (operations and training), or the S-4 (logistics, primarily supply and maintenance).
The office of my boss, the executive officer, Lt. Col. Bob Taaffe, was right next to my cubicle. Whenever a problem arose, he would shout, “S-1!”
It was the best Guard job I had.
At any rate, one day, this SFC, clearly frustrated, came into my office and said, “Major, I know this probably is not your responsibility, but everybody I go to says it’s not their job, either.
“Somebody told me that if I came to you, you would solve my problem.”
Folks, this NCO was a master of the art of getting things done. Senior NCOs are like that. And they have my unlimited respect.
“We have a disabled Vietnam veteran who is now a member of the Florida Legislature who will be the keynote speaker at our brigade review on Saturday, and we need a wheelchair ramp built to the reviewing stand so we can push his wheelchair to the stage. I can’t find anybody who can build a wheelchair ramp.”
“Sergeant,” I said, “you are right in your belief that I do not have the resources to build a wheelchair ramp. But before you leave my office, you will have the name, phone number, and building number of someone who can build your ramp.”
It took only one call, to the post engineer’s office. It helps to know who has the capabilities to get a simple job done.
“Sir, send your sergeant to my office and we will have the ramp built by tomorrow afternoon,” the post engineer’s senior NCO told me.
Bartow has a gazebo in a park. The park is not owned by the city, and the gazebo was not built with city funds. Some people don’t realize that.
The city has been told that the gazebo needs to be made ADA compliant, government jargon for a wheelchair ramp.
City commissioners, told by the city administration that it would take $6,000 to build a wheelchair ramp, decided it was not worth the money. Not a bad decision.
Little note has been made that the gazebo is on private property, or that it was built many years ago without city funds by two city commissioners, Bill Goddard and Bill Simpson.
It was Goddard’s idea, and he pulled Simpson into the project. It is, in my opinion, a masterpiece of engineering.
How much did it cost the city?
Not a dime.
Bill and Bill bought the materials, and provided all the labor for free.
And what did the materials cost?
$400, Bill Simpson told me a few days ago.
That’s four hundred, not four thousand.
And a wheelchair ramp would cost $6,000? Nobody asked for a breakdown of the costs.
I am 71 years old, and my wheelchair ramp concerns are behind me, except that I may need one some day.
But I cannot understand why it would cost $6,000 to build a wheelchair ramp to a $400 gazebo.
I don’t know that much about construction costs, but I doubt that my contact in the Camp Blanding post engineer’s office blew $6,000 on a four-hour wheelchair ramp project.
Happy ending: one city commissioner has assured me that the city is not going to tear down the gazebo. It just is not going to build a wheelchair ramp. That works for me.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. He particularly enjoys this military management exercise: A class of young second lieutenants is given a problem. You have a flagpole 50 feet long, a hole 10 feet deep, and a rope 15 feet long. How do you get the pole into the hole? Each young officer gives his solution, saying where to tie the rope and such, and the instructor tells each he is wrong. The correct response: “You say, ‘Sergeant, we need this flagpole in this hole, please,’ and you walk away and let him get the job done.” It works. Not all officers say “Please.” S. L. did.)