The Empty Office                                               
Slice Of Life
By Sheri de Grom

Three decades ago I hired into the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate at Fort Ord, CA. I didn’t know it at the time, but my career had just started. I’d accidentally fallen into a position with the federal government that allowed me to have a fulfilling professional life.

That first day on the new job was unlike any I’d ever experienced. The senior non-commissioned officer in-charge (NCOIC) introduced me around and showed me to my new office. It was nearly empty!

The NCOIC’s parting words were, “If you need anything, let me know.”

What was this? A nightmare or a bad joke? My office consisted of a desk chair, the regulation black army telephone and a familiar thick black binder. This particular binder held the federal regulations I would use each and every day.

This had to be a joke, but I wasn’t amused. I went in search of the NCOIC but he was no-where to be found and as far as I could tell, no one knew when he’d return. Standard protocol required the NCOIC to have my office ready for occupancy before I arrived.

I’d worked at three other large organizations on Fort Ord before arriving at the Staff Judge Advocate and had seen and heard tales regarding the acquisition of items and how they could be obtained without going through regulatory channels. I immediately set to work by phoning a number of individuals for whom I’d previously done favors. I called in markers and created new ones by the dozens.

By the end of my second day in my new office, it was completely furnished and it was beautiful. No one would recognize it as a standard issue regulation military office. I even exchanged the original office chair for a plush executive chair from a former boss.

It became a standing joke that I had nicer digs than the colonel for whom I now worked. I offered to barter a newly-decorated office for him but he always laughed and said, “The price would be too high!”


I miss those days at Fort Ord, CA, at the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate. Our building is gone now, but when it was there, I liked to say, “Mine is the corner office, the one right next to the back door.”

About Sheri de Grom

Retired Fed/JAG, 5 yrs. on Capitol Hill. Former book buyer for B and N. Concerned citizen of military drawdown. Currently involved in mental healthcare reform, health care strategist and actively pursuing legislative change wherein dual retirees are exempt from enrolling in Medicare at their own discretion without losing tertiary healthcare benefits. Monitor and comment on Federal Register proposed legislation involving Mental Health, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Medicare and rural libraries. Licensed OSHA Inspector to include Super Fund sites. Full time caregive to Vietnam era veteran. Conceptualized, investigated possible alternatives, authored, lobbied for, and successfully implemented Title X, Section 1095 (known as the Third Party Collection Program of Federal Insurance).
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49 Responses to THE EMPTY OFFICE

  1. FlaHam says:

    Sheri, what a wonderful story, reminded me of a similar story during my own career in the Navy. Barter was a way of survival, and I managed it will LOL. I can see now that I am going to have to dig into yor archives to get the good stuff LOL. Take care, Bill

  2. likeitiz says:

    This is a little window you have opened for me to see what your world was. Wow.

    Your account of this job reminds me of a story my daughter came across when she was in middle school. She even used it when she campaigned for president of the student council:

    Which one are we? The carrot, the egg or the coffee bean? The carrot, although it stands firm and tall, when placed in boiling water, turns to mush. The egg with its hard shell seems impervious but when placed in the boiling water, the inside changes forever to a solid unyielding piece. The coffee bean, however, when placed in the boiling water will remain the same. And, it changes the water to a fragrant brown liquid.

    It appears that you, my dear, are a coffee bean.

  3. I’m thankful for years of fond memories from different locations around the world.

  4. Sheryl says:

    What a fun memory! It’s interesting to think back to some of my early jobs.

  5. Lynn says:

    Sheri! decorating? the benefits of being a master negotiator. lynn

    • Lynn – You know me to well. I’d rather negotiate than decorate any day of the week. Negotating really became fun on this project when I no could trade something fpr an item I truly didn’t want but it would do in a pinch – and then – later on, I’d find something that was just perfect and I’d trade up for just what I wanted. I did some of my best work in that office, once I finally had it all put togheter.

  6. bryskates says:

    When I moved into my office at the university, I had to clean and furnished it myself. 😉 I do have a question about the remodeled pic of your office…where’s all the paper scattered aimlessly all over the desk? or…is that just my office? ha

  7. gpcox says:

    Last line of the post is cute. (mine was near the elevator when I was still working) You must have many stories of the base locked up in that brain of yours.

  8. Denise Hisey says:

    You are a woman of wonders, Sheri!
    I would have loved to see your boss’ face after your renovation! 😉

  9. Sheri, isn’t it grand that you are like an old horse trader … an Arab in the who pitches his tent and sells and barters and then slips into the night his tents under his arm, your money in his pocket 🙂 Love the thought of you … like Radar on MASH … who during his tenor in Korea mailed himself a jeep … one part at a time 🙂

  10. Robyn Lee says:

    Ahhh – Sheri i knew you were a woman who can “make things happen” – your gorgeous office transformation is a testament to this!! So lovely!!! 🙂 x RL

    • Robyn – Indeed it was great fun. I’m not much on waiting to see what will happen if I do nothing. The best part is that I met Tom during the time I worked on Fort Ord and when I accepted the position with JAG, his office was just down the street a bit from mine. We had the opportunity for many a wonderful lunch together–the memories live on in my mind. Everyone at JAG came to love Tom and we were all family long before Fort Ord, closed.

  11. I’m fairly certain there is nothing you can’t do. You are wonder woman! I love that you took control and called in markers for your office. It needs to be a space where you can work to your most efficient and you certainly showed you know how to make that happen. When there is a zombie apocalypse, I want you on my team.

  12. How depressing to start a new job with an almost-empty office, Sheri! Good for you for taking matters into your own hands and decorating your space so beautifully.

    • Patti – The empty office presented a challenge but when I look back on the experience, if I hadn’t the opportunity to decorate my own office – it would have had dreary military style furniture in it. I was able to do it my way and bargain for what I wanted. I got a lot of mileage out of that office in terms of favors I owed others and markers I called in. It’s been over three decades and I’m still friends with people I made ‘deals’ with. Life presents us with interesting moments in time.

  13. Lovely office God bless you my friend have a beautiful week:)

  14. Terry says:

    Being plush and close to the back door could provide extra comfort as you could make a silent and quick escape for a breath of fresh air, or spew out your thoughts to the winds and re-enter feeling refreshed and ready to go forward

  15. Jane Sadek says:

    But did you work with Harm and Mac? JAG continues to be one of my favorite TV shows even though I think I’ve seen all the episodes at least three times.

  16. Patty B says:

    When I volunteered at Fort Gordon GA I had literally had nothing, soon the Capt noticed I enjoyed what I did there and worked hard often taking work home with me, so although a volunteer one day I came in I had a desk and all the supplies I needed in my little corner….now I know how I got those things so fast!! 😉

    • Patty – It’s so good to see you again, my friend. I knew you would understand the workings of ‘military acquisition.’ If our government worked on the same principle as how most military bases really operate, our national debt would be in a lot better place. My guess is that your Capt procurred your desk and supplies in much the same way as I put my office together.

      • Patty B says:

        Probably, I have not thought of him in years. He said too bad he could not “transfer” me to stay at Gordon! He also threatened to keep Tom there – ha ha Actually after 3 yrs at MacDill AFB, I would have liked it better keeping him at one place and not flying all over the world. 😉

  17. NotDownOrOut says:

    This posting explains so much about the strong person you are today. It says you have always been a professional problem solver, always been resilient, always overcome obstacles. I hope our little online community is a place where you can unburden and take a rest now and then. I hope we offer you opportunities to renew and recharge the way you offer them to us. Thanks for the interesting “read”!

  18. Deb says:

    Your office turned out beautiful, Sherri! I can really tell you miss it, even more that what you say in your post!…thank you for sharing!

    • Deb – Yes, I loved Fort Ord and everyone I worked with at JAG. We were a team and I never experienced that again in my entiree career. When Fort Ord closed my world changed forever but it didn’t stop. It was so much more than just an office and a place for me. I will always think of it as ‘home.’ Thank you for reading with me.

  19. Kavita Joshi says:

    Lovely blog you have here Sheridegrom 🙂

  20. A post from you is the perfect way to end my night. As always, I loved it. Love these insightful and interesting posts that you share.

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