Staff Sergeant (SSgt) "Maple" works in the Tool Issue Section of the Base Services Store. Mapleís job is to "sell" equipment to authorized customers by deducting the cost of each item from the customerís unit budget.

The budget is established at the beginning of the fiscal year based on the unitís mission and past tool consumption rates. A shopping authorization letter must be signed by the unit commander and on file in the Base Services Store before a person can be allowed to make a "purchase." But this isnít the end of the story. The customerís commander must specify by category what a person is authorized to buy. Some are authorized to buy tools only; some just can buy general (office) supplies; and some can buy both.

One particular day two customers from the same unit walk in and start selecting several tools. Maple knows both of them well because they are regular customers. One of these customers is a technical sergeant (TSgt) who is constantly buying tools for his work center, which has a heavy maintenance mission. The other person is a senior master sergeant (SMSgt) who is the First Sergeant for the same unit, where he works in the command administrative section. The SMSgt announces that he is buying a small assortment of tools because he doesnít want to call the civil engineers every time the commander complains about a leaky faucet.

Maple takes care of the TSgt first, and then proceeds to ring up the SMSgtís purchases. The check out system is automated, and it gives Maple a negative response when the SMSgtís name, unit, and social security number are typed in. The computer tells Maple that the SMSgt is authorized to purchase general office supplies, but not tools.

The SMSgt tells Maple there must be some kind of mistake because he purchased tools the previous week. Maple has a vague recollection of that purchase, but no matter what he does (such as checking files, looking for supplemented letters, etc.) he cannot confirm the SMSgt has ever had authorization to buy tools.

To hurry things along, the TSgt offers to buy the tools for the SMSgt.

"Great idea," says the SMSgt to Maple, "just ring me up on his account. Itís for the same squadron."