I'm really hoping this will be my final installment on The Passport Lady. Honestly, I kind of feel like this blog has been one big whine-fest about her, and I am quite tired of dealing with her. I'm tired of talking about her. I'm tired of even thinking about her. But I have had a couple dozen people ask for an update so here we go.
First, I wanted to let some time lapse between when I had had enough and when I wrote about it on here. My fuse is long; I can put up with a lot of nonsense. But when things get absolutely stupid, I can't take it anymore. And things got that stupid.
On Day 28, I was running through my PCS checklist as usual. I couldn't shake the nagging feeling that the no-fee passports simply were not going to make it back to me in time, so I emailed Passport Lady. I explained to her that the 6-8 week process time happened right when we were going to leave our current duty station for a short vacation. I asked her what would happen to our original documents that I needed to submit in the application process, and our no-fee passports, should we need to leave before the passports arrive. I informed her that I had already applied for our tourist passports, and we were authorized to travel on them.
She wrote me back the next day telling me that we couldn't leave the country before the passports arrive. She also told me to not worry; I would simply have to change my flights to accommodate the situation. Seriously. She said that. I asked her several times, over several email interactions, why I couldn't leave. She would never answer my question. Instead I was told several times, over several email interactions, that she couldn't tell me when I could expect the passports to arrive.
At one point, she asked me for a copy of my power of attorney from Sweet Baboo. I told her that I had already submitted that, and let her know that I knew it wouldn't suffice for our purposes. I also explained to her that I had a digital copy of the 3053, but that the State Department wouldn't take it for a permanent passport. As a result, I got a tourist passport on a temporary basis with a strict deadline. I need to file the proper paperwork when we get to Korea because of our extenuating circumstances. She responded by asking if I could get Sweet Baboo to send over an original power of attorney that authorized me to get passports for the girls. Frustrated at the stupidity of that question (the 3053 is essentially just that... and I had told her several times that we were not able to get original documents from Sweet Baboo in enough time), I wrote to the Post Commander.
Now before you get all judgmental on me, I don't run to the CO every time I have an issue. I literally waited until an Active Duty Major, a Retired CWO-4, a Retired LTC, an Active Duty CWO-2, the wife of a Retired COL, and the wife of a CSM told me that the CO needed to hear my story before I ever considered going to him.
The Colonel is a lovely man. I never felt foolish or whiny for bringing this situation to his attention. I didn't feel like his brain was elsewhere when I was speaking to him. I felt like he was listening with both ears, and considering all avenues to help me with my problem. Mine was a 20-minute appointment on his schedule, so when I left his office 75 minutes after we started talking I felt bad. He asked two gentlemen to accompany me to the Passport Office to clear up any miscommunication and get things moving. The two gentlemen were very supportive of my plight, and they assured me that I was not the first to have problems with Passport Lady. When I asked if I was the first to bring it to the CO's attention, they couldn't answer that question. I dropped it.
When we arrived at her office, Passport Lady was especially colorful in her attitude. Luckily for me, she made my stories to the COL and my two new buddies seem like I was under describing the situation. Had I not had my two new buds with me, I'm quite sure a few f-bombs would have been dropped... along with a few throat-punches. But I had two people who were there to support me, and who spoke for the COL, so I just needed to look at one of them and ask for help when she got foolish. And foolish she got!
At one point, she asked me where my common sense was (as she was literally waving her head in my face). She all but shouted to me that she would forward my documents directly to my apartment in Korea if they arrived after we left. When I asked if she had our forwarding address she said no (with no further response). I asked her if she would prefer that I email the address, or write it down... she stared at me. My buddies had to remind her several times that she had to answer my questions. She continued to dodge my questions outwardly by asking about the shirt I was wearing, “That is a really pretty shirt! Why are your thumbs poking out of holes in the end?” and telling me that I was her top priority. Again, she told me that she didn’t know when everything would be finalized. Buddy #1 firmly stated that she needed to stop dodging my questions and do things to be helpful. She slammed down the paper for me to write down our forwarding address, stormed around her office, and continued to outwardly refuse to be helpful unless we forced her.
As Buddy #1 started talking to her, she got up and walked out of the office without saying a word to him. She returned with a gentleman who waved at us to follow him. We all crammed into his little office and he asked that we fill him in on what was going on. Buddy #1 started describing what he had just witnessed and Passport Lady cut him off. New Fellah asked her to not interrupt so Buddy #1 could finish his story. She literally told him, "No. I won't. I could lose my job over this, and I want to make sure the right story is told." They went back and forth for several moments before New Fellah finally asked Passport Lady to leave his office. Shockingly, she refused to leave. Another few moments of going back and forth passed before she reluctantly exited the office.
I was confused as to who the heck New Fellah was, and why we were in his office. I didn’t dare ask because Passport Lady was doing a fantastic job of proving my points to everybody in the room. But New Fellah obviously had no authority over Passport Lady (otherwise she wouldn’t have been so outwardly rude to him, and she would not have refused his requests). But we were in his office, discussing Passport Lady at her request, so he had to be somebody… right? To this day I’m still confused.
Even after Passport Lady insulted me by asking where my common sense was, she still proceeded to prove her lack of competencies at her job. New Fellah told me that according to law, they could not forward my documents directly to my apartment in Korea when they came back from the State Department. I had two options, though:
1. The Passport Office can forward all documents and the no-fee passports to the Passport Office in Korea when they arrive.
2. Have a friend pick up the documents and ship them to my apartment.
Never mind the logic in this. A friend can send everything to me directly, but the Passport Office can’t? But I suddenly had to decide which of my friends I wanted to subject to the abuse and blatant disrespect of the Passport Lady. One person came to mind… she is still on Active Duty and takes crap from nobody. But the idea of subjecting any friend of mine (regardless of how strong-minded, and full of authority they are) to this unnecessary step just seemed like superfluous abuse. And after some thought, I really didn’t think Passport Lady needed to have anything to do with my application or personal documents any more. So on Day 45 I wrote another letter to the COL.
Y’all, it was 17 pages. Single spaced. In 10 point font. I had a lot to say, and I wanted to make sure he had the opportunity to know the entire story. I copied emails, gave details of in-person communications, and offered my opinions. Because of the length of the letter, and the knowledge that the COL is a very busy man with many things on his plate, I gave a BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front). I’ll copy it and paste it for you here:
I have zero trust in [Passport Lady’s] capabilities to perform her job as it pertains to our situation. She has told me several times that she is not a Subject Matter Expert, and her knowledge of how to perform the duties within the scope of her job proves this to be true. I would like to request that another qualified employee follows up and finalizes the paperwork needed to obtain no-fee passports for my children and myself. If the need arises, I would be happy to work with the passport office in [our next duty station in Korea] (or any surrounding passport office in that area). I would also encourage you to evaluate [Passport Lady’s] behavior in her job, along with her reputation on Redstone Arsenal, and decide if she is the best fit for the position she fills.
Truly, if Passport Lady’s attitude and lack of effectiveness in her job can be fixed with some training, I would be pleased if her superiors would simply train her. I know that payroll is an expensive line in the budget, and having a high employee turnover means you spend more time searching for qualified employees than you do letting them do their job. So if I hear that Passport Lady is in the same job in 2 years, but is doing a much better job because of proper training and counseling, I’ll be happy. I wasn’t out to get her fired (unless her superiors had done everything they could before I had my experiences with her)… I was simply trying to ensure the Leadership knew how difficult the task of getting no-fee passports was, and I wanted to allow them the opportunity to fix the situation.
After sending the 17-page email (with not one single f-bomb… I’m seriously proud of that) I realized how much I just wanted to get to Korea and finish this process there. I did not want to have Passport Lady’s office handle our no-fee applications at all, regardless of whether she was involved or not. So when the COL emailed me back to inform me that Passport Lady’s supervisor was briefed on the situation, and to expect an email from him, I had made up my mind.
The gentleman who emailed me back was not New Fellah, though New Fellah was assigned my case. It doesn’t fall into his current job description, but he is qualified to assist me with my application because he was trained in the process by the State Department. When I gave him a very brief backstory on where I thought we were in the process, I neglected to put anything in about Passport Lady except to say that she is to have absolutely nothing to do with our applications. I asked a few questions and got very prompt and helpful answers.
One of my questions was this: Can I just put the process on hold for a week and pick everything up where we left off when we get to Korea? I’m more than happy to head over to the Embassy with my husband in tow so that he can personally sign all documents and we can get past this catastrophe. (For the record, I did not refer to the situation as a catastrophe to New Fellah… though I was thinking about it as I typed my letter).
His initial response to this idea was to tell me that we would have to start the process all over if we were to do that. In all honesty, I was perfectly happy to follow that path! I just needed to know one thing: would the State Department send our applications and original documents to us in Korea so we could start all over, or could we just put in a reference number somewhere so they knew which employee was holding our originals when they got our documents.
The day after I asked about the documents as they pertained to starting over in Korea, I got a call from New Fellah. He was shocked to hear that the State Department wouldn’t make us start all over in Korea. They saw in our file that we had extenuating circumstances for our tourist passports, and connected the dots that those were the same extenuating circumstances for our no-fees. But rather than trying to rush to get us temporary no-fee passports before we were supposed to leave, they said to just head to the Embassy and use the reference numbers. They would be happy to receive a digital copy of the 3053 if it came from the Embassy directly. We would simply have to make sure the applicable reference numbers were attached. New Fellah kept saying over and over again that he had never heard of this type of exception to policy happening.
When I asked him for the reference numbers, he told me that he didn’t know them. He would have to seek out Passport Lady to find out what they were. He mentioned that if she didn’t have them in her files, she would have to call the State Department to get them. I apologized to New Fellah as I cut him off, then firmly (yet kindly) reminded him that Passport Lady does not have the authority to speak on our behalf to the State Department, nor is she to have any further access to our applications. If she has the appropriate reference numbers in an email from the State Department, New Fellah could ask that she give them to her. But if she says she doesn’t have anything, New Fellah would have to make the call. He respected my stance on the situation and we hung up. Thirty minutes later, I received an email with the reference numbers.
New Fellah was a pleasure to work with; his professionalism shined through as he was asked to step away from his typical duties to fill in for Passport Lady. He was thorough in his responses, and he listened to me when I had questions or comments. I hope my request to finish everything in Korea didn’t come off as mistrust for his abilities; I had other things that I was dealing with (pack out, kids in Florida, etc.) that needed my attention more.