If the home we never write to, and the oaths we never keep, And all we know most distant and most dear,Across the snoring barrack-room return to break our sleep, Can you blame us if we soak ourselves in beer? ~Gentleman Ranker, Rudyard Kipling
For the first time in my Army career, and really for the first time in my professional career, I wish I were making more money. The time I’ve been away from home for the last 4 years has taken a toll. Things that I’ve needed to do at home have fallen by the wayside during deployments, Permanent Change of Station moves, and long schools. I just returned from 8 weeks of Army education, only to be reminded that one of my cars is in massive need of maintenance. This car sat for 3 years while I was in Germany, then endured the ridiculous winters of Fort Drum, assaulted by ice and copious amounts of road salt. Then there was the pernicious effects of amoral auto-parts dealers who take advantage of the wives of deployed Army husbands by intentionally damaging parts of the car during routine oil changes in order to garner more business. Yes, that last part happened.
My weeks at work are too long, and too inflexible. I cannot simply take a day off as most can at jobs in which they’ve earned days off. I have to go through the military leave process, a process in which a supervisor of commander has ultimate authority. There is no right to a day off in the Army. because of the extreme operational tempo and lack of manpower, things like doctor appointments, car maintenance, and simply enjoying life often go by the wayside. Sometimes I find myself so busy multitasking, that I wake up at 0300 a.m. thinking about these things, unable to fall back asleep. There are a million things to be done at work and at home.
This morning I jumped in my wife’s car and found the battery dead. Either that or the starter’s gone. I tried charging the battery from my other car, but this failed. It did however drain my other car’s battery. Yesterday I tried to bring my car in for a brake job and an oil change and was told I’d have to bring it to the dealership on Friday. On the way back the engine began overheating. Pretty sure the coolant evaporated from the car sitting in the Hawaii sun for 8 weeks while I was gone. Guess I should have checked. A black comedy of failure.
And for the first time, I wanted more money than what a full-time job was providing me. I wake up at 0430 every workday. I’m doing physical training at 0600. I get home at 1730. I get home earlier than many others do. I do this 5 days a week, and if I go to the field, I may work 30 or more consecutive 12 hour shifts, all without the luxury of returning to my own bed after shift or even sipping a simple beer. I’ve spent months and years away from home and things deteriorated while I was gone. Frankly, I’m tired of it. One young Lieutenant in my office is worked to the bone. I actually feel the scope of my responsibilities and performance outstrip what I am paid. But that’s not really why I want more money. I want to make more money so I don’t have to worry everyday. I want to make more money so I can concentrate on my job. Plus I’d like to have some energy to enjoy my off-time. Right now my time off is spent just as a starving man spends his time when he finds a pile of food: He gorges himself on what he’s lacked for so long. For me, I’ve lacked significant decompression time. So I do none of the things I used to do. When I first arrived at my unit, I experienced severe burnout, the likes of which I have never felt in my life. I lost all interest in reading the news, in politics, in anything to do with the Army. I’d just returned from Afghanistan a few months prior, and moving to Hawaii added a huge amount of stress. A person is expected to perform flawlessly when they show up to a new unit. I’ve never seen it work that way, though. And I work at one of the busiest units I have ever seen. So many of the people around me are burned out. Many officers want to leave the Army, an unusual phenomena as from my experience officers are usually happy-go-lucky, All Army types. Lifers, so to speak.
I get my first look at E7 in June of next year. But the centralized board promotion system for senior NCOs often seems like a crap shoot. E7 would be a significant pay increase. I hope I make it, though maybe that rank is too much for me based on my time in the Army. In any case, some say that the minute money is the reason for being a Soldier, it’s time to leave. Not sure I agree, but I understand the point.
At this point, the military is taking more from me than I feel I’m getting. I need for freedom and flexibility, not only more money. At the 8 week school from where I just returned, I need to do “risk assessment” paperwork and send it up through the chain of command, just so I could go hiking on the mountain trails a few miles away from my barracks. Supervisors everywhere in the Army need to inspect Soldiers’ cars before every long weekend, filling out paperwork to document the inspection. I need to do online training and fill out paperwork just to drive beyond a certain distance from my post. That’s not freedom to me.
Military discipline is enforced first and foremost by the employment of fear. This, too, takes a toll. One grows weary of worrying about walking on the grass, having his hair touching his ears, or being one minute late to a formation. And in the Army, these things take precedence over many important skills that a Soldier may have.