Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Got to Talk to the Bot

You may remember that nice bot I mentioned after describing our family’s petition to receive the military personnel file of Frank Stevens. Frank, son of Agnes Tully Stevens, served in the Navy during World War II, and then in the United States Air Force subsequent to its official formation. We had sent for Frank’s Navy personnel file on Wednesday, February 1, and then had applied separately for his Air Force records on the following Monday, February 6.

A cordial reply was emailed immediately after receipt of each of those requests, explaining the overworked conditions at the National Personnel Records Center—a place that receives upwards of twenty thousand such requests each week. Though hoping to process our request within two weeks, the message indicated that we should anticipate a wait of three to four weeks. It did warn us, however, that the wait might be longer.

I braced myself.

After said “three to four weeks” I grew weary of staring at our mail box each afternoon. I pulled out the papers I had so carefully filed, entitled “Copy of Signature Verification,” looking for some way to trace our request. Yes! There was a phone number. I called.

The phone call produced nothing more than a recorded message warning me of the amount of time I’d be sitting with a phone glued to my ear, subjected to muzak. By the time my endurance was worn down, I took up their offer to inquire via email, wrote down the address, and gave up.

It was then that my eyes lighted upon that inserted statement on the page:
Please allow at least 90 days after you return the signature page before following up on the status of your request. During that time, please do not resubmit your request as doing so will add further delay.
Wait…ninety days?!?! Nobody had told me about that before!

Feeling like I was submitting to a jail sentence for a crime I had not committed, I resigned myself to my doom—and wondered what had become of that very nice bot who had sent me that wonderfully encouraging (and did I mention polite) message at the first.

But yesterday—first thing in the morning, too—my husband got to speak with that very nice bot, or at least its human replica. Since my husband is actually the direct relative of Frank Stevens, all our paperwork had to be done under his name. For the Navy request, the military records would have been old enough to be publicly accessed, but the newer Air Force records did not fall within that date range, thus requiring demonstration that we were entitled to receive copies of those private records.

When the call came in just after 8:00 yesterday morning, the voice on the other end of the line was indeed courteous, helpful, yet efficient. The voice belonged not to a bot, of course, but a well-prepared employee of the center who told us that he had both of Frank Stevens’ files—plus a file of reserve duty—right there on his desk. His purpose in calling was to confirm that what he was about to photocopy was indeed what we were requesting. The files are thick with information, and we had asked for all of it!

In memory of the uncle who had always wished that my husband could have, during his growing-up years, known his father, my husband intends to honor his uncle's desire and create a shadow box to frame some of the mementos we’ll assemble from what we glean out of these files.

Of course, we will still have to wait a couple more weeks for the packages to arrive from Saint Louis, but we are looking forward to whatever discoveries await us.

By the point that we receive all that material, it will indeed have taken that full ninety days that I first missed in the fine print. However, I can still say that that was a very nice bot. And so are the real people who are behind it.


  1. Goodness. The government with their fine print! Not something you want to hear during the April taz season either! :)

    I'm glad the material is (hopefully) now on its way!

  2. Wonderful that you actually talked to someone and that the info is headed your way:)


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