I met a soldier the other night on my walk home. It was late, well after the usual time I hike home. He was walking along, shoulders slumped, head down, weapon sling dragging in the dust. I am wearing PTs, which means that I am not wearing rank, just looking older than the average soldier.
You all know me by now? Right?
Hi! I say – are you doing alright?
He looks up, takes a deep breath and says – no, I’m not doing well at all.
And with that we start a conservations that lasts, in the dark and cold, walking along the flight line transfer yarn fence. To summarize: he has just over 11 years in the military and is on his fifth deployment. He loves his MOS (military occupational specialty) but is assigned to do something else. His job field is stagnating, with promotion points at the point where he doesn’t think he will see a change in years and he is maxed on his points. This is in a system where PT test performance and marksmanship count more than education and on the job skills. Two credits short of his A.A. – his education has been usurped again by deployment.
He feels powerless to improve things (to include schools which will take him away from his family immediately after he returns from deployment), make a positive impact. Since he hates his job, obviously there is little support in the workplace. Sharing a Bhut with 7 other guys means no personal space or time alone. The only two positives right now, he mentions, are his wife and being on the evening shift (which gives him some alone time because everyone is asleep when he comes in from duty).
No – he is neither homicidal or suicidal – he is just discouraged, down. When his enlistment is up he will have 12 years invested. How can he walk, he asks? At the same time, he is not sure that he can tolerate another 8 years of the same thing over and over again. Putting off his life, his education, his choices, till age 40.
We chat on. he might just go talk to a couple of the NG units on post. It might be an alternative. Taking a break for a year might also work – less than 24 months lets you keep your rank, but that is risky since his MOS is over strength. Green to Gold is not all that appealing since he is already past 10 years and officers might just be the source of problems which means becoming one of them is not a solution.
We say good night – he is feeling a bit better for venting and is off to Skype with his wife. He will be ok, nothing to do with me – he is an NCO.
There is so much strength of character and bravery exhibited by the average soldier who just does their job regardless of the chain of command, their personnel desires or the particular duty. All those, like this young man who just suck it up and drive on, knowing that others are depending on them.
Selfless service is easy when you have privileges. When you are a cog without recognition, which is a whole ‘nother world. Quality of life and the challenges of being somewhere and someone who has no control over even some of life’s basics.
I wander off to my Bhut where I have the privacy to sleep, change, read without anyone else looking at me or sharing the space.