2010-2015: The Road to Burnout

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I just returned from yet another deployment, albeit a shorter one than usual. I was in South Korea for a month, and the Philippines for the same.

Well, I’m done. Those two months were two of the longest of my life, and I simply can’t do it anymore. Since mid-2010, I’ve been away from home for almost 900 days; I did the math. And this says nothing of the insane windup that comes before a unit even deploys. The operational tempo in our modern army is out of control, and no one’s tamping it back, because senior leaders are still fighting for those positive evaluation reports. They do not understand that the tempo at which the military moved for over a decade has never been matched. And it can’t be sustained.

Finally, someone noticed. 

Many people on my recent deployment told me they were getting out. The military had changed so much in such a short period of time, they’ve had enough. One airman said that in almost 20 years of service, he’d never seen worse living conditions than what we had. And we have absolutely no freedom anymore. We are locked inside small compounds, unable to explore, see a movie, or simply see sights. Today’s Army has much less freedom than it did just 20 years ago, a fact that goes unnoticed.

Our numbers have been drastically cut, and we are asked to do more and more.

My symptoms of burnout appeared shortly after arriving at my new unit in Hawaii. I’d recently returned from an 8 month tour in Afghanistan in which I did more work than i’d ever done in that span of time. Little did I know that my new unit was the busiest aviation regiment in the Army, according to the Pentagon.  I felt my work slowly grinding away at my reserves, until I reached a point where I hated the idea of getting up to go to work.  But the unit pushed people hard, and I saw how people get a prison mentality, each person for themselves, and a lack of any empathy at all. I lost interest in almost everything. I stopped reading, stopped writing, avoided volunteering for any extra work, and indeed tried to game the system to relieve pressure on myself.  The prison mentality had infected me, too.

My cynicism about the Army is something to behold. I simply do not trust it as an organization that will look out for me, but only an organization that checks the box, and says all the right things. So much of what we do, including my recent deployment, is for publicity. One of the most important jobs my section had was ensuring the unit’s Facebook page was updated with photo and that half-truths were used to paint a glowing picture of what we were really accomplishing with millions upon millions of taxpayer’s dollars. All the while America has accumulated more debt than any nation in history.  I find that disgusting. Once on this last deployment, I listened to another Staff Sergeant brag about how he kicked in the door to the room of a subordinate soldier whom he suspected was sleeping. When the soldier complained that the Sergeant’s boot struck him in the chest, the Staff Sergeant told him: “You’re lucky I didn’t cave your fucking skull in.” He made these statements to another Staff and a Sergeant First Class. So much a part of the culture is abuse of subordinates, that bragging to superiors does not pose a risk of punitive action.. That’s the fine organization I work for.

With my previous deployments, I experienced a rebound of energy upon my return. That has not happened after this last one. A central board will look at my promotion packet for E7 next month. I’ve barely had enough time to get ready, and I’m considering blowing off the whole thing, because I really don’t want to be promoted. I want to leave the Army, and have some stability in my life. I’ve given them 7 years, in wartime. They’ve gotten every last ounce of energy from me.

4 thoughts on “2010-2015: The Road to Burnout

    Bill said:
    May 11, 2015 at 2:59 am

    While it’s great to see you back (and yes, you were missed), it’s a bummer to hear you’re down but honestly, with all your talent, there’s no need to waste it where you’re not appreciated. That story of the Sgt is truly disgusting, that’s got to be a terrible situation to be in – can’t do anything about it but sitting there listening to it is infuriating. In any case, glad you’re back.

    ajmacdonaldjr said:
    May 11, 2015 at 5:59 am

    You’ve put in four years more than I did. I couldn’t wait to get out after three years. FTA.

    Lou said:
    May 11, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    I remember having very similar thoughts about teaching. I won’t go into details, since this is your blog and not mine 🙂 But when everything in public school was focused on meeting requirements, paperwork, checking the boxes, covering your butt, dealing with kids who did not want to be there, standardized tests, etc, I decided that I had done enough with other people’s kids and I would focus on my own. Sometimes I miss the teaching and the kids, but I’m so glad I gave the time to my own kids and made a difference in their lives. Time spent with family is never wrong.

    Susan Gooch said:
    May 12, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    Glad to hear you are safely back in the States.

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