A Marriage of Words

Somewhere along the way, I might have mentioned that I was in the Air Force. Eleven years of my life were dedicated to Arabic and then Azerbaijani. Six of those years, I was also a supervisor. I can’t say that I was a good supervisor, but I tried.

The most amusing and uncomfortable moment happened when I told a guy that he was finally getting a supervisor in his section. He asked me out on a date. Definitely awkward.

One of the most challenging aspects was writing evaluations. Two of my airmen won quarterly awards, both going up for Airman of the Year. One lost by one point, the other, while being outstanding, could not compete with other career fields. They made my job easy. Their evaluations could be written off of their award write-ups. The others, not so easy.

The Air Force was using a bloated method of eval. Everyone got fives across the board, unless they were dirt bags. Heaven forbid you give a mediocre airman a four. You were saying that they weren’t ready for promotion. You were holding them back. Even if you were playing by the rules. The unwritten rules would bite you in your bottom. They did mine.

In the eval, you had to take a brag sheet of all their duties, volunteer work and whatever else you could fit in, to turn a mouse into a lion. I was a used car salesman, selling a Ford as a Cadillac. It was inflation on a grand scale. But, I learned to write. I became a very good bullshit artist, studying under some of the best. The bs was a great mask of poetry, covering up whatever needed to be hidden.

My husband, although his research skills are great, he can’t lie or exaggerate very well. So after many moans and groans, as he wrote evals and awards, we found that together, we make a good team. With the boys in their beds, we’d stay up all night to write. My career was gone, but I still had the magic. He’d do the layout, and then we’d match wits to do the write ups.

While Navy and Air Force evals are completely different, their goals are the same- to accurately proclaim the good deeds and job performance of the sheep in our flock, within a word limit and preset stylized writing. As linguists, we value the use of words. We are exacting in our meanings. We portray a picture of an individual.

Every year, I help my husband on his brag sheet and eval. Not only to help him, but get an idea of what he’s doing at work. A big picture, if you will. I’ve learned to pull out the details and polish them into shining jewels. After all, he brings home the money. It’s one of my favorite times a year. We stay up late, reread sentences over and over, tweaking each word, getting the exact meaning that we want to convey. We’ll bandy synonyms from room to room. We test meanings, so that a stranger could understand what we are saying. Not too long, not too short. We’re Goldilocks on the quest for perfection.

My hubby is a wall flower. He doesn’t brag or boast. Really, he’s quite self-effacing. But that doesn’t get you promoted. These days, it might not get you retained. New policies require a supervisor’s recommendation to reenlist. We have four years left. I’ll bullshit with the best, I love it. I love working with my hubby, even more.

After the finished product is submitted, his supervisor makes changes, then his supervisor makes changes. Eventually, the final product goes into his file. Last year, only superficial changes were made. This year, we’ll see.

But it was fun. I look forward to next year.


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