“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose ones attitude in any given circumstance.”~Victor Frankl, Holocaust survivor, world renown psychotherapist
2009 has been a tough year for many reasons. In addition to the tremendous changes that the military life imposes, I’ve had to face down my own demons and admit that I’m not good at everything. I am of course, good at almost everything.
It took me about seven or eight months to acclimate to the military life after I graduated from AIT. The Army has its own culture. In some ways, it’s like being in an alien world and I think my experience outside the Army actually hindered my development as a soldier in some ways. Many of the leaders in the Army are not used to having life experienced people under them and their thinking is calcified. And unfortunately, the Army has its portion of unscrupulous individuals who will use their authority to further their own agendas, even when those agendas are downright illegal.
I found myself faced with several of those situations over the last years, and frankly I find myself exhausted and jaded. In one instance I had to go to the JAG (Judge Advocate General–military legal services) to have an order of no-contact placed on an E7 who was stalking Donna. I’d tried everything up to that point, even going face to face with the guy on two occasions, which is just not something that someone of my rank does but it’s how I do things and I can only survive in this environment if I hold on to some vestiges of myself. The situation had become so incredibly seedy, that this E7 had even conspired with my NCOIC at the time to make some bad things happen to me–like counselings and threatened article 15s. I was not allowed a copy of my counseling statement, which by regulation I must be allowed to have. Why? Because it was all to scare me. It went into the trash because what was on it as a lie. The former E7 has had two DUI arrests since I’ve been here and the NCOIC had been removed as 1St Sergeant of one of the battalions because of a domestic violence charge, and he’d been sent home from Iraq after only two months because of rage issues. He’s also an admitted steroid user.
I believe much of this problem stems from the termination, in 2002, of a program called the “Qualitative Management Program.” The QMP evaluated potential problem senior NCOs and made recommendations for dismissal from service based on unacceptable conduct. The Army ended the program because it needed more NCOs at the beginning of the Iraq War. However, it has since reinstituted QMP. Other programs, such as allowing some convicted felons to enlist, are also being terminated.
As the retired Sergeant Major, Gerald Purcell, and the author states in the above linked article:
Asked how senior NCOs could have accrued such demerits as letters of reprimand, Article 15s or, especially, courts-martial, and not already have been discharged, Purcell said that sometimes deference to rank provided an undue protection or leniency.
“A lot of what happens is – ‘move this guy, get him out of here,’ ” Purcell said. “All we’re doing is transferring problems,” he said.
That’s exactly what happened in my case. The Army has it right when it comes to its manuals. Its NCOs recite a creed that’s supposed to remind them of their duties and expected behavior. At the ground level, though, it doesn’t seem to be working. The two NCOs that I mentioned above obviously believed they could get away with what they were doing. They have been taught by Army culture that it was something that people of their rank could get away with. And I thought they could get away with it, too, for a while. Then I got angry.
See, I have this nifty little skill that many NCOs don’t have; an ability to write clearly and convincingly. I wrote a long letter about my NCOIC’s actions (many of which I’m leaving out of this posting) explaining all of the problems. I presented the letter to the 1st Sergeant. I really didn’t want to get the NCO in trouble, just to make him change his actions. I had legitimate Equal Opportunity complaints but I didn’t want it to go to that level yet.
The problems did end, and then of course I won the Soldier of the Year award. The Sergeant First Class figured out I was probably the wrong E3 to mess with and that there were plenty of 19 year olds that he could vent his rage on.
Letting the problem NCOs remain, as well as allowing felons in the Army has had a deleterious effect on Army culture. The problems with senior NCOs has a trickle down effect on the whole Army. Some may say that there are problem people everywhere. But I don’t think it’s to this level. The problems I had as a cop were never with the people I worked with. It was with the populace who didn’t get it. When I went to work as a police officer, I knew these guys I worked with were on my side. Not getting drunk then driving went without saying. There are senior NCOs walking around base who’ve been accused of sexual assault and are being investigated, guys with DUIs. I didn’t work with those types of people. I understand that the vetting process for the Army cannot reach the level of the police department, but the Army should get rid of problems and clean up its messes.
All this being said, I understand why the Army allowed these people to remain during the war years. I just don’t want to work with them.
So I learned a lot. I learned I can be crushed if I’m led to believe I can’t make things better. See: Learned Helplessness. I actually became quite despondent over my situation. Most people who know me would probably agree that it’s not like me to lay down and take stuff like a beaten puppy, but I did. My self-respect and confidence suffered greatly. Before, I’d always been a very confident person.
I learned that psychological state is inherently linked to physical well being. I learned that if I maintain a purpose in my mind, I can get through anything, that I always control my response to any situation, and that response will determine my own worth and dignity. That very tough times usually pass and the feeling when you come though it all is euphoric.