It was the sort of thing that could only really happen in a fantasy or in the real life of someone who has my kind of luck. It sounds like something out of a Bill Mauldin cartoon during World War II.

I was sitting behind a rock out of the shooting. But the bullets were pinging behind me. There sat another fake merc beside me. We were both trying to unjam M-16s that, as far as I know, must have come from a weapons purchase of early Vietnam M-16s that were famous for jamming.

As we both sweated and cursed, I said to him, "We're GS, right?"

He was too busy to do anything but answer my dumb ass irrelevant question.

I said," That means we're CIVILIANS, right?"

He actually laughed.

GS, as in GS-5 or GS-15, is the civilian ranking. Since the civilians and the guys in the costumes work for the same government, their ranks HAD - I've been out of the game a LONG time - HAD an equivalency.

So in the military, pay grades have different titles. A second lieutenant is as an O-1. An O-2 is a first lieutenant. O-2. An O-7 is a brigadier general.

When I was a GS-15 and had to be an unwelcome visitor to a military base - they don't LIKE OPM - I was entitled to the accommodations afforded an O-6, a colonel.

So I was a colonel. A GS-14 is equivalent to a Lt. Col. GS-13 is a Major, and so forth.

If you were promoted from GS-15, you became part of the Senior Executive Service, SES I.

If you are a colonel and get promoted, you are a Brigadier General. If you are GS-15 and get promoted, you are SES-1. I have said in some detail that anybody with a star on his costume today is just one more bureaucrat. The doers are considered unreliable and are cut off at colonel.

In the critical and secret matter of aid to the contras, all of the high-powered presidential staff said they didn't have anything to do with it. It was ALL this Colonel North's doing.

They were right. It went straight from Reagan to North.

Ollie North had recently made LIEUTENANT Colonel. He was in the White House handling matters President Reagan could not entrust to any general. He became famous before anyone in the media knew who he was.

Ollie North appeared before a Joint Congressional Committee that expected to GET him. They ended up wishing they hadn't. It was nationally televised and he cut them to pieces.

Congress then kicked him out of the marines and took away his pension. He made a fortune he could never have made in uniform (on Ollie North I'll call it a uniform and not a costume) and laughed all the way to the bank.

The point is this: LT. Col. North held a pay grade below ME. Colonel is GS-15 and Lt. Col. is GS-14. In his obscure office in the White House, he had assignments Reagan could not trust any GENERAL with.

Way back I wrote an article in the old WOL about the fact that anybody who makes general today is just another bureaucrat. The only difference is that wears a costume. Honestly, it only occurred to me recently that the same rule applied to ME.

Senior Executive Service (SES) is the equivalent of general.

When I was a colonel, GS-15, as Special Assistant to the Director in OPM, the Director didn't like me. He liked and promoted the guys who sat and laughed with him in his conference room. I was a wet blanket and warned him off of childish schemes.

When I went over to Voice of America, his childish scheme cost him his job.

I never made general. In a way that put me in with Ollie North. I just never realized until now that I was a perfect illustration of my own point.