Saturday, April 20, 2013

Bad Checks

By Julie Rahm
My husband, John is a storyteller. One of my favorites takes place on the island of Okinawa. In 1990, John was a Marine Major and his squadron was deployed to the western Pacific. The squadron was operating from Kadena Airbase. Kadena was owned and operated by the U.S. Air Force. The Air Force on Kadena Airbase was not enthused about hosting John’s Marine Corps squadron. The cultures clashed. The Air Force culture is structured and rigid. Marine aviators push the rules envelope. And, the Air Force understands the Marines are under resourced. So, the Air Force personnel guarded their supplies with vigor! Consequently, tension filled the air at Kadena.
One afternoon, the Kadena Base Commander contacted the squadron to report the bad conduct of a Marine. This Marine had written three or four bad checks at the Air Force Exchange. The bad checks provided the Base Commander an opportunity to give the Marines a “black eye”. For the Air Force, it was yet another example of Marines running amuck on their base. After all, writing bad checks is a felony offense. Eventually, the situation made its way downhill and John was directed to correct this Marine’s behavior. The investigation revealed the fraudulent checks were cashed in very small amounts. Each of the checks was written for less than ten dollars. With all the information in hand, John questioned the young Marine. This “hard charger” grew up in the hills of West Virginia and had just turned eighteen years old.  His life in the Marine Corps consisted of washing and fueling aircraft. Amazingly, this West Virginian enjoyed his life at the bottom of the Marine Corps food chain. He received three hot meals a day, clothes and shoes. Compared to home, life was good for this bad check villain. John was surprised to learn this Marine had no idea he was in trouble. When John asked the Marine why he bounced checks all over Kadena Airbase, the Marine replied, “Sir, when I opened the checking account, they said I get five free checks.” Wow! (This incident occurred when banks charged a small fee for each check written.)  The unworldly young West Virginian did not have a complete understanding of what “free” meant. In the end, John did not discipline the Marine. Instead, the Marine received some personal finance training. And, his leaders were directed to keep a little closer eye on him. It is hard to know what others don’t know! John smoothed things over with the Air Force and everyone moved on.
So, my point this week is this. Avoid writing relationship checks you can’t cash. Your relationships have checking accounts that contain accumulated capital. Once in a while, a mistake can be forgiven by cashing a check from that account. However, if your personal account with someone else is empty, forgiveness may be denied due to “insufficient funds”.
Learn how to put more capital in your relationship accounts by visiting me online at 

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