How Sprint Supports The Troops

As a Petty Officer in the Navy for ten years, I’ve seen my fair share of how businesses deal with military personnel.  Outside of military towns, people look at you kind of funny when you ask them about a military discounts, and otherwise have a hard time attaching you to the kind of people they see on the evening news or to the war movies they’ve seen.

In military towns it’s so much worse.

I’m currently living in one of the largest military areas, Hampton Roads Virginia, and let me tell you, it is a veritable minefield for young military personnel seeking to spend their well earned paycheck.  Car dealerships willingly advertise easy financing for military service members ranks E-1 and up, neglecting to tell you that interest rates alone are ridiculous.  Credit discount stores selling everything from couches to tire rims run commercials nonstop showing men and women in uniform buying their wares with a smile on their face.

Everyone here has a military discount for everything, and there’s quite a bit more than a few who are running scams at the same time.  From the point of view of an unscrupulous business man, military members, particularly young military members, are a perfect mark. 

For one, they’re often seen as gullible.  This has some grounding in truth when you take into account a lot of these young men and women are actually just starting out there adult life, and unlike many folks who get to do so with their parents not far away to help them break into their adult life, these kids are often hundres or thousands of miles away from where any family members lay.

Adding to this is the idea that for many of these military members, this is also the first stable wage they have been able to get down, particularly those people who before joining the military have had only after school jobs.

Part two of what makes military men and women the perfect mark is that they do have a very stable source of income.  Believe it or not, it is incredibly difficult to get fired from the military, and further, it’s not likely that the Armed Forces are going to go bankrupt or fold any time soon.

On top of this, if the target does default on payment, it is incredibly easy to contact his or her command and ensure that you do get your money, even if it means having their wages garnished.

Are these members truly gullible?  No, I don’t think they are any more or less gullible than any nineteen or twenty year old is.  We all have to start somewhere.  But because of the unique circumstances of their military lifestyle, they are vulnerable.

In military towns like the one I live in, you have hordes of businesses like spiders on webs, attracting new arrivals with promises of fancy equipment with easy financing, and then bilking them out of their E-1 or E-2 paychecks.  And they do this without remorse.

But this isn’t the only problem either.  Due to the nature of military service, any longterm business agreement with military members requires some measure of flexibility.  As members of all branches of the Armed Forces are frequently transferred or go out on extended deployments, it must be understood between the business and the military member that there will have to be specificities to any contract, one that allows for prolongued periods of non-payment (If need be without service as I suppose is fair if you really want to split hairs), or even with clauses that allow for termination of the agreement based on the influences of the military organization such as permanent transfers.

That does seem to be one of the things this area tends to be pretty good about.  Most landlords have a quick lease termination clause if orders transfer you elsewhere, and even local colleges and universities, make consessions for duty days where you might have to miss a class here and there.

But even in this arena, business has a tendancy to fall short of our soldiers and sailors.  Tracey-Kay Caldwell, who graced us with her presence during our liveblogging of the debates last night, tells a particularly disturbing story about her son in Iraq and the troubles both of them have had to deal with Spring while he was away:

When he went back to Iraq, he called Sprint and placed his phone back on deployment status. Then he sent them a check for two thousand dollars, telling me that even if they didn’t switch him back to deployment status, that would cover the bill until he came home. He didn’t want to have to worry about it in Iraq, and he didn’t want me to have to bother with it if something went wrong. It was worth two thousand dollars to him to just not have to deal with it.

A few weeks after he left, the bill came. Everything looked ok; they had gotten his two thousand dollar payment and had actually put him back on deployment status. Then the next month the bill came with an early termination fee of one hundred and fifty dollars. I called customer service to find out why his service had been terminated and why he was being charged the one hundred fifty dollar fee. The young girl could tell me nothing. There were no notes in their system. She attempted to transfer me to a manger and lost the call in the process, of course.

I called back in, waiting twenty minutes before Jason, in Canada, took my call. Jason also could not tell me why my son service had been terminated. When asked if we could get the service restored, he said no, the phone number could not be recovered. When asked why my son was charged one hundred and fifty dollars for their unexplained decision to terminate his account, Jason had no answer. He also was not authorized to refund the hundred and fifty dollars, so I asked if he could at least arrange to refund the balance of my son’s account. No, he was not authorized to do that either, so I asked for a manager.

After waiting five minutes, he told me he had a manger available and transferred me to a line that went unanswered. At this point I had no more patience for their customer service, and tracked down a number at their corporate office.

The nice woman at headquarters expressed what sounded like sincere surprise that I was having such problems. A week ago, she asked me to give her a day to look into the problem. I have heard nothing from her since.

I suggest you read the whole thing as the situation is even more complex than this.

On one hand, I want to give Sprint kudos for having a deployment plan, but I think that any kudos awarded should also pretty quickly get taken away for not actually honoring it.

And here’s the thing.  Tracey is a columnist for two websites, one partisan and one non partisan.  She does interviews based on policy and politics, as well as hops in on conference calls.  The point is, she has a habit of being proactive and involved.  In this context, I find it hard to believe that this is a single erroneous incident, and am left to wonder how many members without mothers or wives or husbands or fathers willing to act on their behalf are undergoing the same thing that Tracey and her son have undergone but aren’t speaking up about it.

Ah well, it’s nice to see how Sprint supports the troops.

 (Note: Thanks to memeorandum on showing this as a featured post)

2 Responses to “How Sprint Supports The Troops”

  1. Not sure actually. Mr. Tedesco does all the techy stuff.

  2. Click on the digg icon at the bottom of the post, the first one under “Share and Enjoy.” Once this is done you will need to fill out the story description and fire away. I tried to make it as easy as possible by putting those little icons. They are in order left to right; Digg, Technorati, Slashdot, Sphere, StumbledUpon, Reddit, Newsvine and del.icio.us.

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