To the fictional exploits of Beetle Bailey and "The Good Soldier Schweik," we can now add the true story of Brian Sauer and his star-crossed attempt to find a career in the U.S. Naval Reserve.
After more than two years' entanglement with the Navy bureaucracy, Seaman Sauer just wants out. But the Navy has informed him that any discharge at this point would be "other than honorable." Sauer doesn't want that black mark on his bizarre Navy career, and he maintains that such a discharge would be unfair because so much of his official record has been lost, altered or otherwise fouled up that it can never be accurately reconstructed.
The Navy's position is that Sauer is exaggerating the problem so he can duck the obligation he took on when he joined the reserve.
Last fall, Sauer sought help from Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.). In a letter to Upton, Navy Capt. G. Bair of the Great Lakes (Ill.) Naval Reserve Center suggested the best solution to Sauer's case would be a transfer and a "clean slate start over."
The captain admitted "definite errors in documentation of training and service record maintenance." Sauer's record should be "expunged of any possibly deleterious information," Bair added.
Commodore Catherine Sperry, the Great Lakes chief of staff, told our reporter Gary Clouser that all errors have been corrected -- and would have been corrected sooner if Sauer had gone through proper channels instead of asking for congressional intervention. She acknowledged "improper documentation" of his Indianapolis training records.
Sauer and confusion were shipmates from the start. He first tried to join the Navy in September 1984, but his test scores were too low. He asked for a waiver; the Navy refused. So in April 1985, he joined the less demanding Naval Reserve. He reported to Indianapolis and requested training as a seaman apprentice.
At Great Lakes boot camp, Sauer was told to choose a specialty; he picked gunner's mate and completed the first of three training phases, but was dropped when his math scores didn't measure up. He then tried for basic electrician, but flunked out. In October 1985, Sauer was transferred back to Indianapolis. In July 1986, he requested and was granted a transfer to Grand Rapids, Mich. But when he got there, he was told there was no record of his time in Indianapolis, and officials didn't know where to place him. Sauer decided he wanted to be a Seabee and started training for this -- without authorization.
In November 1986, he received only half his salary and was told he had been training with the wrong unit. He was later informed that he had missed too many scheduled drills -- but the letter was sent to the wrong address. Because of missed drills, Sauer was ordered to 18 months' active duty. He contested the order. When the Navy discovered an alteration in his service record, it canceled Sauer's order to active duty.
Early last month, Sauer was told he'd be transferred to a reserve unit in Muskegon. Then, he was told by telephone that a notification of his transfer had been sent -- to the wrong address.