As I neared my departure date from the Army, I had several weeks of leave remaining, and the Army offers soldiers two options for what to do with any leftover leave: soldiers can sell their unused leave back to the military, which makes for a nicer final paycheck, or they can take "Terminal Leave," which means that soldiers can continue to draw pay while essentially being out of the military. The extra money would have been nice, but I wanted out of the Army so badly that I opted for terminal leave.
In the days before I was to begin my final leave, several family members drove to Fort Huachuca to help my wife and me pack all our things into a moving van and drive to Tucson (where we stayed with family for a few weeks until we found a place to live). After my wife and I cleaned our former house from top to bottom and it passed inspection, we turned in the keys, and we were officially moved out.
When I was filling out my transition paperwork, the Army presented me with two options for receiving my final paycheck: they could mail it to me, or I could drop by the transition center on my last official day of service to pick up my paycheck in person. I had spent 8 years, 1 month, and 18 days in the military, and the one lesson that I learned throughout all my experiences was: if provided the opportunity, the Army will always screw something up. With that in mind, I knew that the Army would probably lose my paycheck if I had them send it to me, so I elected to pick it up in person.
As soon as my transition paperwork was taken care of, I finished clearing the required offices on post and turned in the last of my out-processing items. As far as the Army was concerned, I was gone. I began my terminal leave with nothing left to do except to wait for my honorable discharge to arrive in the mail and pick up my final paycheck.
However, the Army decided that they were making my transition far too easy for me, so they played their last card.
In the early dawn of a sunny day in May of 1994, I donned my Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) for the last time, and I made the 90-minute drive from Tucson to Fort Huachuca to pick up my final paycheck. When I arrived at the transition center, there was a long line of soldiers waiting to see the handful of clerks behind a series of fenced windows. (Imagine waiting in a single-file queue at the DMV, with no seats, and the apathetic or disgruntled civil servants are kept in cages.)
Most of the soldiers waiting in line were fresh out of Basic Training, and they were arriving at Fort Huachuca to begin their Advanced Individual Training (AIT). Because most of these recruits were Privates and I was an NCO, they would snap to attention or parade rest whenever I would walk by. This was endlessly amusing for me, although I had no desire for them to observe such formalities since I was essentially a civilian.
After a 20 to 30-minute wait, I was finally standing at one of the pay windows, and after handing over my ID Card I told the clerk that I was there to pick up my final paycheck. The clerk left to take care of that as I glanced around the tiny room where the service windows were located. There were perhaps a dozen or so new recruits in the queue, and a captain who might have been waiting on his final paycheck.
After a few minutes, the clerk returned and said apologetically, "I'm really sorry, SGT McMurray, but we mailed you your final paycheck." My voice rose significantly as I retorted, "But I told you that I wanted to pick it up in person!" The clerk replied, "I know - it was a mistake, and I'm really sorry." (You'd think I would have seen this coming, right?)
I knew that it wasn't the clerk's fault, but I couldn't resist having the last word. I turned around and faced the room of new recruits as I loudly exclaimed, "This stupid @#$% Army!!! They'll screw you until the last minute!!!" The recruits were visibly terrified by my outburst, and despite being the only person who outranked me, the captain didn't say a word. Having said my peace, I grabbed my BDU cap and ID Card and stormed out of the building.
As I descended the stairs in front of the transition center, I threw my BDU cap like a frisbee to my car (my aim was quite good that day), and I began taking off my BDU top as I walked through the parking lot. Somewhere in the back of my mind I was hoping that someone would attempt to challenge me for being out of uniform on post, but perhaps something in my demeanor let everyone else know that I wasn't in a mood to be trifled with.
As expected, it took nearly a week for my final paycheck to find me, although I’m surprised that the idiots at the Fort Huachuca transition center didn’t try to mail the check to my former address on post (which would have had different occupants by then). However, sometime within the following weeks the following certificate arrived by mail, which meant far more to me than my final paycheck.