2009–A self Odyssee

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“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.

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5 thoughts on “2009–A self Odyssee

    Lou said:
    December 26, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    I don’t begin to understand all that has gone on in your military career, but I do know that every workforce has its share of yuck. Even as a teacher, I wondered how some of those people were able to stay employed much less work with children. In the meantime, I hope you have a better year 2010. May you be blessed with God’s peace which passes all understanding.

    And you are very capable of writing – literacy pays.

    Amos Volante said:
    December 27, 2009 at 3:10 am

    Good point, Lou, but when teachers sexually assaulted my students, we signed warrants and took them to jail. By the time they made bond, their job was already listed as vacant on the county website.

    The problem with the army is that when a drill sergeant has sex with a trainee, he still has a job. If I can’t trust a 30 year old staff sergeant to not use his position to get sex from zit faced 19 year old girls from trailer parks, instead of teaching them how to survive in combat, then I also wouldn’t trust them to dole out pencils at the Finance Corps’ office. Eventually they will steal the pencils, then soldiers’ pay…

    Magus is too polite to say that any man who can’t get sex from some young girl who just joined the army, and has to rely on his drill sergeant hat, you have to wonder what level of man you’re dealing with.

    Among refined gentlemen and blue collar schmoes alike we all refer to these men as pussies.

    For years I have heard colleagues whine about guys like us who talk a good talk, and write a good piece getting promoted just because we like to hear ourselves talk, BUT…

    If people cannot explain their actions, as many of these criminally stupid NCOs, they need to get punished. And ejected from the taxpayers’ dime.

    T. J. Babson said:
    December 27, 2009 at 11:12 am

    Where are the Comissioned Officers? Sounds like a “Lord of the Flies” situation.

    magus71 responded:
    December 28, 2009 at 9:18 am

    TJ,

    Actually this situation became worse when I went to my Officer in charge–a 1LT who is younger than me. I told him about the treatment and the obvious rage issues of my E7, but the LT himself was afraid of the guy. So what’s he do?

    Instead of talking to the E7 face to face, he goes to the company 1st Sergeant, who later talks to the E7 at a training meeting. I didn’t know this happened until I’m at my work desk and my phopne rings. I answer and it’s the E7.

    His words: “Since you brought this outside the office (I didn’t) I’m coming down hard on you. You’re gonna be looking at a court martial.”

    That’s EO and OIC stuff right there, but that’s also the Army for lower enlisted. Yes, there are mechanisms to correct it, but most times lower enlisted have a learned helplessness or they simply don’t know that have rights.

    kernunos said:
    December 28, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    This guy needs to seriously be put in his place before his sociopathic behavior becomes full blown psychotic.

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