Monday, February 11, 2013

Out on your ass

The March edition of Esquire magazine will feature an interview that is supposedly with the SEAL that shot Bin Laden and there were a few eye raising moments in the article.  Perhaps the most important moment to my mind is the part he talks about getting out (actually forced out) following a 17 year career.  While I can't verify this article, I would point out that this actually highlights some of the pitfalls of the coming reductions in the force that will cause incredible pain in the military community. 

It's known as getting "RIF'd" the process where in numbers are looked at and Officers and NCO's with little warning are given notice that they are in an MOS that is over strength and thus will be cut from the force.  There is no appeals process, and there is little time with which to plan the drastic change in your life and lifestyle.  Some are lucky to get three months.  Some get considerably less.  One day you're showing up to PT and conducting business as normal, the next you're scrambling to build a resume, look for a job, and a place to move, while also trying to clear post.  Very few are able to land on their feet right away. 

Anything short of 20 years, even if it's only short by one or two years, is a total loss, and the only hope you have is to hope that somehow you can get VA disability that might pay some of the bills in the interim.  While there are jobs for certain MOS' namely those that work in Commo, or Medical fields, there are some jobs like Calvary Scout, Artillery Crew Member, Tank Mechanic, or Special forces to name a few that have no real civilian equivalent.  Even MPs who one might think might have an automatic in with federal state or local law enforcement fare little better, and that is when the economy is going well.  After six years as an Army medic, the only job I could find was at a Walmart. 

My story also highlights another problem with the coming RIF.  See when I got out I was still young enough that I could bounce back, and going to college would not have been overly stressful change in lifestyle.  I also luckily had the Post 9-11 GI Bill, even if it is plagued with systemic problems.  I had no wife, no children, and could get an apartment.  Imagine if I had lived in base housing had a wife two kids, and a dog, with 2 cars.  There is almost no way I could have gone from that to living in an apartment complex with other students, working a job and going to school.  Sadly that's just the reality that faces many service members.  This is not getting laid off from a manufacturing job, or a job that I can just find another even if far removed, it is a complete change in lifestyle.  

When the force is looking to cut numbers anything can be an excuse to let someone go.  Failed a hearing test (common in artillery crews), bad OER/NCOER, or sometimes there is no given reason at all, your number was just called.  The real shame of it is that the leadership that the Army desperately needs, are often lost in these draw downs, the mid level officers and NCOs usually the first to get cut, are also the ones with experience vital to the smooth function of a military.  After over a decade at war these are the most combat experienced Soldiers and Marines.  Sadly it doesn't matter how many deployments, how many medals, or how much you've invested in your career, when they pull your number that's it. 

I would like to say that there is some hope, that perhaps this draw down will be taken with lessons learned from earlier draw downs, but signals from Washington seem to negate any real hope of that.  When the Secretary of Defense and the Service Chiefs of Staff are warning of a hallow force, I tend to think that "Draconian" is the only way to describe the coming RIF.  What lessons learned will be forgotten, only to have to be relearned later on down the road in the cost of lives.  The painful and even cruel lessons Afghanistan and Iraq taught the military may be lost entirely only to have to be repeated later. 

Perhaps the most disappointing thing of all is that for anyone that has put in over 10 years, getting RIF'd is the ultimate let down.  At that point you are almost certainly committed to doing your full career, short of injury.  Regardless of the reason you are discharged, short of medical retirement, that investment of years of your life, and quite literally blood sweat and tears is just gone.  No one who has not served will appreciate your shadow box full of medals badges and memories, even if you tell them of the multiple deployments it will only come as a curiosity, not any real interest.  You are suddenly left to the mercy of people who neither know, nor care what you've done on their behalf.

Being RIF'd is something that the military has learned to live with.  We don't like it, and it bothers us intensely that we live with a code of honor only to have that code betrayed by numbers that have nothing to do with us.  It's cold, its harsh and it's the polar opposite of the values we're taught since day 1 of basic.  It's a dark thought in the back of every service member's mind that one day we might be forced out on our ass.  Whatever happens with the looming sequester, Service Members must be ready, and have a back up plan in place should their number come up.

No comments: