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.
There is also a ‘life lesson’ for all of us in this story. Sometimes out of the ordinary comes the extraordinary.
What a story–I think this is happening more than we think these days.
I’ve had a real spate of people out-processing who are ETSing–they’ve
just had it, many of the reasons being several of those described during
You helped that soldier more than you can imagine on your way home in the dark. I am sure he returned to his hut in brighter spirits and with more hope. It must be awful to be stuck like that and at a point where it really would be absurd to retire….so close to a pension and yet so far when one considers continuing in a job one abhors.
Tough road for him. Sounds as though you were helpful. Definitely not easy.
Two credits short of an AA??? Or two courses short of an AA?? In either case there should be some opportunities for on-line instruction that could transfer into and complete the AA at the “home” institution. I worked enough with vets and members of the sevice returning from active duty to know that many if not most colleges and universities would be eager and flexible in arranging for degree completion.
If you see him again, please tell him I said thank you for serving. And
ask him to thank you for me for serving, too.
Holly, you would make a great Chief
Nope, never in a million years. I have no interest in uniform standards, and the amount of bs that soldiers NCOs and Chief put up with is beyond any form of rationality IMHO.
Dear good-hearted Holly! I’m sure you made a difference. Seems like a sad mis-use of talent and education.
I hope your young stranger in the night will have a better day tomorrow, maybe see some reason for optimism. There’s a ton of tension and anxiety out here in civilianland, too, along with disappointment and loss. Kids coming out of college when there are no jobs, older unemployed wondering what’s going to become of them. People staying in jobs they hate or where they are being taken advantage of because they are afraid there’s nowhere else to go.
You make me want to help. Oh, hell, I want to help anyway, and I spend so much of my time doing just what you did – listening and letting people let some of their inner turmoil out to a listening ear and a caring heart.
I ask myself, is there not a career counselor to whom he could go with his concerns who might be able to find him a new path that might allow his family to go with, and that would allow him to have a fresh outlook on those eight more years? Is there not a program that would allow him to attend the balance of college to complete a degree on Uncle in exchange for a few more years of service, ideally in a field aligned with a college major he cares about?
We have no real insite into the lives of people and service men and women who are ‘living’ and working in this harsh but beautiful land.
You words are encouraging – you care. I hope that you are permitted to write a full diary for the world to read so that we can support these men & women when they come home. We don’t need another reaction like that of Vietnam.
Love this. Tweeted it.