One of the most heartbreaking things troops must do is say goodbye to their loved ones before they deploy. If they’ve found a good one, they know their love will be waiting for them back home. Those troops will look cling on to that bittersweet silver-lining while their beloved waits, always dreading, on some level, the realities of war.
It falls on the shoulders of the troops to let their love know that things will be okay. Even if the worst happens, they will always love their spouse, fiance, girlfriend/boyfriend, children, and family. No matter how long they’ve been together or how many times the troop has deployed, it never gets easier — even if they say it does.
1. Right before they leave
Logically, troops should be spending every waking moment getting ready for war — training, making sure their gear is right. And yet, troops always spend every last second they can with the ones they love.
It’s the kiss that no one ever wants to end, but it must. Duty calls.
It doesn’t have to be as expensive as a diamond necklace and it doesn’t have to be as elaborate as a diary full of love notes.
Troops can leave behind something even as simple as an old sweatshirt for their loved ones and they’ll never let it out of their sight. But they probably won’t complain if it’s something nicer than the junk they forgot to clean before shipping out.
Loved ones will always send out care packages filled with sweet cards, treats, and whatever else troops asked for.
Troops don’t usually send care packages back — there’s not much to send back from Afghanistan. But it’s always nice when troops return the favor by writing letters.
I don’t want to get anyone in trouble with their loved ones, but the mail system does work both ways. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Smith)
4. Phone and video calls
While deployed, it feels like life returns to normal for just a few moments when troops get their hands on a phone just to hear those three words: “I love you.”
Because technology is amazing, troops can now call home on video. This is a perfect chance for dads to read their kids a goodnight story (even if it’s morning time for them).
5. That first kiss upon return
It’s finally over. The plane landed. The formation is over. They’ve been trying their hardest to stand at attention while also trying to find their loved ones among the waiting crowd.
You’ll never see a truer and more passionate kiss like the one a troop’s waited an entire deployment to give.
The Marine Corps is investing in a next-generation water purification system that will allow individual Marines to get safe, drinkable water straight from the source.
The Individual Water Purification System Block II is an upgrade to the current version issued to all Marines.
“With IWPS II, Marines are able to quickly purify fresh bodies of water on the go,” said Jonathan York, team lead for Expeditionary Energy Systems at Marine Corps Systems Command. “This allows them to travel farther to do their mission.”
Finding ways to make small units more sustainable to allow for distributed operations across the battlefield is a key enabler to the Marine Corps becoming more expeditionary. Developing water purification systems that can be easily carried while still purifying substantial amounts of water is part of that focus.
The current system filters bacteria and cysts, but Marines still have to use purification tablets to remove viruses. That takes time – as long as 15 minutes for the chemical process to work before it is safe to drink. IWPS II uses an internal cartridge that effectively filters micro pathogens, providing better protection from bacterial and viral waterborne diseases.
“IWPS II will remove all three pathogens, filtering all the way down to the smallest virus that can be found,” said Capt. Jeremy Walker, project officer for Water Systems. “We have removed the chemical treatment process, so they can drink directly from the fresh water source.”
IWPS II can also connect to Marines’ man-packable hydration packs.
“The system is quite simple and easy to use,” said Walker. “The small filter connects directly with the existing Marine Corps Hydration System/Pouch or can be used like a straw directly from the source water. The system has a means to backflush and clean the filter membrane, extending the service life. The system does not require power, just suction.”
The current system was fielded in 2004 and used by small raids and reconnaissance units in remote environments where routine distilled water was unavailable. Since then, the system has been used in combat and disaster relief missions.
Trying to emerge from scandals that shook the agency to its core, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is attempting to overhaul what officials admit was sometimes pretty bad customer service.
Quietly, since 2015, the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs has built a national Veterans Experience Office.
The office’s first steps have been rolling out over 100 community veterans committees nationwide and retraining employees to be less rigid and more customer-focused.
The VA even hired professional writers to redraft the language of 1,200 official letter templates to make them more reader friendly.
“(We) had somehow gotten away from the primary mission of organizing the enterprise through the eyes of the customer,” said Joy White, who leads the office’s Pacific district, which includes California and the West Coast.
“(We did) things that made sense to us, made it easy for us as the VA,” White said. “But, in all of that, we lost the voice of the customer.”
The task at hand: How to change the culture of a massive federal agency that provides everything from medical care to monthly disability checks to funerals.
Some might wonder if — with what’s a famously dense bureaucracy — it can be done. Even new VA Secretary David Shulkin has said it’s a struggle to fire bad apples, including employees who watch porn on the job.
The new Veterans Experience Office’s budget this fiscal year is $55.4 million, up from $49 million last year, “to lead the My VA transformation,” according to a budget document. About 150 jobs now fall under this office’s umbrella.
Two years in, the nation’s veterans organizations are still taking a wait-and-see position.
“We’re not sure how much the VEO has improved the VA to date, but we are encouraged by this initiative and hope to see it succeed,” said Joe Plenzler, American Legion spokesman. “Any effort to improve dialogue between veterans and VA employees and administrators is time and money well spent.”
One vocal critic of the VA said the office has potential but not if it tries to just “paper over” structural issues facing the veterans agency.
“Doing things that are more feel-good measures, but actually don’t address some of the core problems of the VA, could distract from what’s needed to be done,” said Dan Caldwell, policy director at Concerned Veterans for America.
“That’s the danger I see, potentially, with this office. But I want to say there’s a lot of opportunity here. If this office is managed well and insists that they are here to improve the outcomes for veterans — and not just ‘the experience’ — they could be successful.”
The “veterans experience” campaign started under former VA Secretary Bob McDonald, the retired Proctor Gamble chief executive brought in by President Barack Obama in mid-2014 following a national scandal over wait times for VA medical care.
McDonald installed a “chief veterans experience officer” in early 2015.
The office reports directly to the VA secretary — now Shulkin, a doctor and health-care executive who is the first non-veteran to lead the agency.
Whether he will continue the “experience” campaign is an open question.
However, in April he named Lynda Davis, a former Army officer and Pentagon civilian executive with experience in personnel and suicide prevention, to head the office. She replaces a former McDonald’s executive, Tom Allin, who held the job for about two years.
Some of the hiring was for “human-centered design” teams. These teams, which include people from Stanford’s prestigious D School, are supposed to re-engineer VA routines that aren’t working.
They produced a “journey map” showing what VA patients experience.
It identifies “pain points” along the way, such as cancelled appointments. It also calls out “moments that matter,” such as the check-in process and whether it’s hard or easy to park.
Two early goals were to establish one consumer-oriented website and one toll-free telephone number for all VA divisions. The result was vets.gov and 1 (844) My-VA311.
The VA is now looking for inspiration from national brands famous for good service. Starbucks, Marriott, and Walgreens are on the list.
“We get the experience that we design. Historically, we haven’t put an emphasis as an organization on customer service. There was no program of record that said ‘this how we do customer service,'” White told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
One change the Veterans Experience Office has led: hiring for customer-service skills, instead of just looking for people qualified for a position.
“We weren’t hiring for attitude,” said White, who said her office identified questions to insert in the VA’s interview process to draw out whether an applicant had customer service aptitude.
In a changing health-care industry, this is a bandwagon that the VA is belatedly jumping on.
Other hospital organizations have rebooted their customer experience in the past decade in response to a shift in Medicare reimbursement policy that now rewards for patient satisfaction, experts said. The power of social media is also a factor.
The Cleveland Clinic was the first major academic medical center to appoint a chief experience officer in 2007. Across the country, hospitals have built grand entrances, opened restaurants intended to draw non-patients and put flowers by bedsides.
“My sense of it is that we live in the age of the empowered consumer,” said John Romley, an economist at the University of Southern California’s Schaeffer center for health policy.
“VA customers maybe have less choice in the matter, but at the same time, there’s a great deal of sensitivity in the broader population about how we treat these people in the VA system.”
The VA’s new customer service motto — Own the Moment — sounds a bit like a commercial TV jingle.
Training is rolling out across the country, including at the La Jolla VA hospital.
The premise: Each VA employee should “own” their time with a customer, the veteran, and do their best to ensure the person gets the help he or she needs.
That contrasts to the like-it-or-lump-it experience that veterans have sometimes complained about in the past.
“We’re moving away from a rules-based organization to a more of what we call a values, principle-based organization,” said Allan Castellanos, the VA employee teaching the La Jolla seminar.
“I call it more like integrated ethics, like doing the right thing for the right reason,” he said.
The employees were shown a video of VA workers going the extra mile to welcome an uncertain new veteran into a clinic.
In another, VA workers allowed the family of a dying veteran to bring his horse onto hospital grounds.
The VA is trying to emerge from bunker mentality after back-to-back national embarrassments.
First, in 2013, the backlog of disability claims rose to mountainous proportions, bringing down the wrath of Congress and the public.
Then, in 2014, news reports revealed that VA medical workers were keeping secret lists of patients waiting for appointments to make wait-time data appear satisfactory.
All of this occurred as the VA struggled to handle a flood of new veterans coming home from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
A few of the ideas being pursued by the Veterans Experience Office have origins in San Diego.
Officials acknowledge that what they are calling Community Veterans Experience Boards — the 152 community boards they eventually want to create nationally — came from San Diego’s longstanding example.
San Diego veterans leaders meet monthly with VA officials here in both closed-door and public sessions.
Additionally, the tragic suicide of 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran Jeremy Sears appears to have helped spur a campaign to redraft VA correspondence to make it more user friendly.
Sears shot himself at an Oceanside gun range in 2014 after being rejected for VA disability benefits despite the cumulative effects of several combat tours.
Veterans advocates suggested that the VA rejection letter could have offered advice on where to go for counseling and other assistance, instead of just a “no.”
“That was one of the ‘pain points’ that was identified,” White said, referring to the veteran’s “journey mapping” that her office did. “There was a lot of legalese, when in fact we just want it to be simple and clean.”
They started with the Veterans Benefit Administration’s correspondence and are working their way toward the Veterans Health Administration’s appointment cards.
Veterans Experience Office officials first told the Union-Tribune that they could provide examples of the rewritten letter formats, but later said they weren’t ready yet.
The Veterans Experience Office, headquartered in Washington, now has split the country into five districts and dispatched “relationship managers” to each.
The Veterans Experience Office is now trying to finesse those moments that matter to veterans. In 2017, officials expect to roll out a veterans real-time feedback tool in 10 locations. They also plan to release a patient experience “program of record.”
“Our goal is to build trust with veterans, their family members, and survivors,” White said. “How do we do that? By bringing their voices to everything we do.”
It’s a bitter-sweet day when troops leave the service. It’s fantastic because one book closes and another opens. Yet saying goodbye to the gang you served with is hard. Vets always keep in contact with their guys, but it’s not the same when they’re half way around the country.
Instead, vets have to make new friends in the civilian world. Sure, we make friends with people who’ve never met a veteran before, but we will almost always spot another vet and spark some sort of friendship.
There’s also years of inside jokes that are service wide that civilians just wouldn’t get.
They can relate to our pain
No one leaves the service without having their body aged rapidly. Your “fresh out the dealership” body now has a few dings in it before heading to college.
Civilian classmates just don’t get how lucky they are to have pristine knees and lower back.
They side-eye weakness with us
Military service has taught us to depend on one another in a life or death situation. If you can’t lift something like a sandbag on your own, your weakness will endanger others. If you can’t run a minimum of two miles without tiring, your weakness will endanger others.
The people we meet in the civilian world never got that memo. Together, we’ll cull the herd the best way we know how as veterans — through ridicule. Something only other vets appreciate.
They can keep partying at our level
If there is one constant across all branches, it’s that we all know how to spend our weekends doing crazy, over-the-top things with little to no repercussion.
Civilians just can’t hang with us after we’ve downed a bottle of Jack and they’re sipping shots.
They share our “ride or die” mentality
Veterans don’t really care about pesky things like “norms” if one of our own gets slighted in any way. Some civilian starts talking trash at a bar? Vets are the first to thrown down. Some piece of garbage lays a hand on one of our own? Vets’ fists will be bloodier.
All jokes aside about scuffing up some tool, this doesn’t just lend itself as an outlet for unbridled rage. Back in the service, we all swore to watch each other’s backs on an emotional level too. Your vet friend will always answer the call at three AM if you just can’t sleep.
We all know them quite well considering we screamed them from the top of our lungs while wearing full PT gear and running through our respective bases.
We’re talking about our beloved military cadences.
The same ones that sound incredibly catchy but are used to keep service member tactfully in line during a run formation. Sometimes they’re even hilarious and surprisingly helpful for morale.
After we collected our DD-214s, we practically sprinted off base with every intention of never looking back, but once you hear one of those motivating songs, the military mindset kicks in, taking you right back in time to the good ol’ days of group PT.
The Air Force gets a lot of flak (see what I did there?) from all the other branches for its somewhat lax persona. Yes, sometimes, the USAF seems more like a corporation than a branch of the Armed Forces. But despite decent food and living quarters, Air Force, Inc. is still very much a military branch.
There’s more to the U.S. Air Force than the classic stereotypes of high ASVAB scores, delicious food, nice living quarters, and beautiful women. The Air Force deploys. They do see combat. They just have their own unique way about it.
1. We salute our officers before sending them into a fight.
Our pilots — all officers — are the ones putting their asses in the line of fire supporting troops on the ground (troops from other branches, most likely), but the airmen who maintain and marshal those planes are enlisted.
The video above demonstrates something known as “Freestyle Friday” marshaling and, while it may be funny, those crazy marshaling dances still always end with a sharp salute — no matter what. Those pilots may very well not come back from a combat sortie, so respect is always due.
2. We don’t know if we should salute a warrant officer.
The reason for that is the Air Force doesn’t have warrant officers and hasn’t had them since 1992 when the last warrant officer, CWO4 Bob Barrow, retired. The last airman to become a warrant officer did it in 1959.
Does your branch salute warrant officers? How will the Air Force know if no one ever tells us? Do we care? Does it matter? I know airmen who went ten years without ever encountering a warrant.
3. Enlisting in the Air Force gets you halfway to a 2-year degree.
It has its own accredited community college, one that accepts basic training as physical education credits and puts your Tech School training towards an Associate’s Degree. Once at your permanent duty station, you can either take general courses at the base education office or take free, unlimited CLEP tests to finish it off.
Getting a degree from the Community College of the Air Force is so easy that it’s now one of those unwritten rules: Airmen need to have one to get promoted.
4. We don’t have ground combat troops.
The Air Force has its Security Forces, its special operations troops, combat arms instructors, and it even lends airmen of all careers to other branches. Airmen see combat all the time. But the USAF’s regular combat force is aircraft. We don’t have an infantry or anything like it.
5. The Air Force trains hard… just not always to kill.
When you flip a light switch, the lights go on. It seems simple, but a lot of preparation, training, and work went into what happened behind your wall. A JDAM works the same way. Aircraft maintainers, ammo troops, and pilots train relentlessly for years to make sure that kind of support is there when a Marine calls for it.
Just because an airman’s deployed location is a little plush doesn’t mean they didn’t spend eight years of their life training. Watch how fast a flightline can get a squadron of F-22s in the air and tell me airmen didn’t train hard for that.
Marines Security Forces provide guard services for nearly 125 embassies throughout the world. They consistently monitor their assigned grounds and are well-trained to react to any emergency situation that may arise.
The Marines must have a top-secret security clearance, no visible tattoos in uniform, and are required to have a clean disciplinary service record.
White House duty can come with an amount of danger, and the Marines need to constantly be at their best — especially the selected few who guard the West Wing at the White House.
For those Marines interested in guarding the POTUS, check what it takes to stand watch at the most famous doors in the world.
1. Your schedule can be insane
If the POTUS is working long office hours, they’ll be guarding the entryway the entire time. Typically, the Marines rotate guard shifts every 30-minutes and remain on post until he’s concluded his work day.
Whenever the president flies in-or-out on “Marine One,” a Marine will be at the bottom of the steps to greet him.
2. You’re constantly being watched
The White House is consistently being filmed and/or photographed by various people. Marines are required to stand as still as possible, maintaining their discipline while in the public eye. There’s no laughing, smiling, or talking while manning the distinguish post.
“If you have an itch on the nose just suck it up,” Sgt. J.D. Hodges humorously explains.
3. Passing out isn’t an option
Marines are known for their solid statue, but they need to keep the blood flowing by wiggling their toes surreptitiously — and they make sure not to lock out their knees.
Passing out isn’t an option.
4. Only break your bearing in a real emergency
Discipline is hugely important when it comes to guarding our nation’s leader. The Marine should only react to specific situations and not overreact to minimal ones.
Reportedly, thousands of Marines apply to be White House sentries, but only four stand guard at one time. This working detail is considered an honor as the sentries represent themselves, their country, and their president.
Fighting fires is hungry work. And since firefighters spend long hours, even days, at the fire station, it naturally falls to some schlub rookie to lace up an apron and put food on the table. That’s normally how it goes.
But Meals Ready To Eat doesn’t profile normal.
In South Philadelphia, there’s a fire station where things go down a bit differently. That’s because the members of Philly’s Fire Engine 60, Ladder 19 are lucky enough to count a gourmet chef among their ranks. In fact, he outranks most of them. He’s Lieutenant Bill Joerger, he’s a former Marine and this kitchen is his by right of mastery.
It is a little weird for a ranking officer to spend hours rustling the chow. It’s a little strange that he goes to such lengths to source ingredients for his culinary art. It’s a bit outlandish when those meals are complex enough to necessitate a demo plate.
But Bill Joerger doesn’t care about any of that. When not actively saving lives, he cares about honing his cooking skills, eating well, and creating — in the midst of a chaotic work environment — some small sacred space where everyone can relax and just be people together.
“You have the brotherhood in the Marine Corps, and it’s the same as being in the firehouse…it’s some satisfaction for me to know that I’m producing a good meal for these guys after the things that we deal with on a daily basis.”
Meals Ready to Eat host August Dannehl spent a day with Joerger at the firehouse, experiencing the often violent stop-and-start nature of a firefighter’s day and, in the down moments, sous-cheffing for the Lieutenant. The story of how Joerger found his way from the Marine Corps to a cookbook and then to the firehouse kitchen is a lesson in utilizing one’s passion to impose some order in the midst of life’s disarray.
Starbucks Armed Forces Network, a private group within the company of Starbucks, released a statement yesterday asking that those calling for Starbucks to hire 10,000 veterans instead of refugees check their facts.
Recently, Starbucks came under fire for announcing that they would hire 10,000 refugees. The general reaction was anger and calls for boycotts of Starbucks until they vowed to also hire 10,000 veterans.
The problem with that? Starbucks vowed to hire 10,000 veterans in 5 years way back in 2013. And they’re ahead of schedule.
One of the many internal groups at the coffee giant, Starbucks Armed Forces Network, penned a note to their customers to explain why the anger at the refugee program was misdirected.
The note, simply signed by The Men and Women of Starbucks Armed Forces Network (AFN), began, “We write to you today as representatives of the thousands of veterans and spouses who currently work for Starbucks Coffee Company.”
The writers went on to express their gratitude to their customers and then they moved right into addressing the refugee and veteran initiatives.
“The false and inaccurate statements [about the veteran hiring initiative were] deeply troubling to those of us who’ve served,” the group wrote.
The statement described how the CEO and his wife, Howard and Sheri Schultz, had visited military installations around the country to learn more about how they could advocate better for veterans and military spouses after announcing the veteran hiring initiative in November 2013. The couple invested their own personal funds into “plans for transitioning service members,” according to the group.
“We respect honest debate and freedom of expression,” the statement read. “But to those who would suggest Starbucks is not committed to hiring veterans, we are here to say: check your facts. Starbucks is already there.”
The 5 year initiative has only used about 60 percent of its time, but has met 88 percent of its goal. This means that, if they continue at this rate, Starbucks will surpass their initial goal of hiring 10,000 veterans by 2018 by 4,600 veterans.
The company also offers Military Service Pay to employees who have to report for National Guard or Reserve assignments. Eligible partners can receive up to 80 hours of paid time to fulfill their reserve service obligations yearly.
Starbucks provides a Military Allowance to eligible employees that are called to active duty, as well.
Starbucks has made a name for themselves as a veteran friendly company, even being awarded Gold status by G.I. Jobs in this year’s annual “Military Friendly” list.
Keeping your head on a swivel, eyes always on alert, and being prepared for anything are just a few of ways Marines serving in the infantry stay vigilant while forward deployed.
With the constant threat of danger lurking around every corner, many veterans use music as a way to relax and recenter; some, like John Preston, take it one step further and use music to tell their stories and encourage others not to give up hope.
During a tour in Iraq, Preston began his music career by writing the song “Good Good America,” which propelled John into the industry and landed him a record deal upon his return home.
For the next few years, John slowly veered away from music and became a firefighter — but his passion for music didn’t die out.
Luckily, he managed to return to music signing with Pacific Records and quickly released his first single “This Is War” in the fall of 2014. The song became a national media topic after a Marine veteran made a call-to-action to veterans across the nation to make a stand against ISIS.
John’s musical momentum began taking shape once again as his record label released several of his songs in the following months.
“We are taking our message to the public, and today we tell the mainstream that we are here and we are loud. The perception of the broken veteran is a myth that we refuse to buy into,” Preston tells WATM. “My music is about our lives and the real battles we have and continue to fight: on and off the battlefield. We are here to show our community and the general public our talent, work ethic, and our drive to push forward through all adversity.”
Sadly, in January of 2016, John’s brother ended his own life after a hard battle with post-traumatic stress. The action almost convinced Preston to end his music career once again but has instead fueled his passion and his new single “Superman Falls.”
Preston is an executive producer on the album, which climbed to #21 on the iTunes rock charts. The song continues to spread throughout the veteran community as well as the mainstream music scene. To check out the John Preston’s music on iTunes click here.
Currently signed with Concore Entertainment/Universal Music Group, his newest single “Before I am Gone” was released on September 5, 2017. To check out the John plans on donating 100 percent of his profits to Stop Soldier Suicide.
John plans on donating 100 percent of his profits to Stop Soldier Suicide.
Check out John Preston’s video below to watch his behind the scenes footage.
Taking off the uniform and retiring is fraught with fear and uncertainty. Luckily, you’ll live. It might not seem like it sometimes after spending so much of your life in the military, but with a little persistence and patience, everything will be fine.
First, 10 things you can look forward to:
1. Higher pay
This is what everyone gets excited for and it’s a good deal after you get through the searching, preparing, and interviewing processes. It takes time and can cause night sweats wondering where you’ll end up after retirement, but if you play your cards right and land a decent job then your net pay can increase by about 50 percent. It’s not Easy Street, but it’s Easier Than Before Street.
This is a double-edged sword. Some people like the nomadic lifestyle the military gives us and actually struggle with sitting still in one place. We enjoyed seeing new places and wondering where we’ll be sent next. So when that train stops, it’s hard for some people to deal with. Others can’t wait to put down roots in a community and never move again. It’s nice to finally have an address that doesn’t change and no chance of another deployment order.
3. PT on your time
If you hated early morning PT then good news … you can hit the gym at whatever time you like. Leave work early and go for an afternoon run? Why, yes, I will thanks.
This can be fun or a pain depending on how you look at it. Networking is always a good idea, especially if you’re a professional. If a post-military job doesn’t work out and you want to try something else, you have to know people who can help. So now you have a valid excuse to get out there and mingle.
5. Health insurance
While your co-workers at your new job are complaining about co-pay, premiums, and Obamacare, you’ll be comfortable in knowing Tricare and/or the VA system is cheap and effective … okay, now that I read that back it sounds kinda ridiculous. However, if you happen to be in an area that has a good military hospital and your family doesn’t have any major medical issues, the money you save on healthcare can be significant. I’m probably one of the few people who has nothing bad to say about the Army healthcare system, but I live outside Ft Belvoir (huge hospital) and have not had anything significant to deal with.
Never had time for one before? You do now. And if your hobby is hanging out with family, even better. Build a drone, write a novel, or hike the Grand Canyon finally.
7. Joining the “old farts” organizations
The American Legion, VFW, IAVA, and everyone else will try to get you to join their club. These groups do good things for the collective good of the military but they’re honestly not for everyone. As soon as I retired I joined my local outpost but just never really connected with them on a personal level. But I continue to pay my dues and support them because those organizations are great advocates for the veteran community.
8. Running into old friends again
The American military is the biggest fraternity in the world. I live in DC and during any given month an old friend has to come here for one reason or another and we invariably get together, have a few drinks and enjoy Reason Number 9 to look forward to retirement …
9. Reliving old tales
Over and over and over again. And history seems to change with each telling of the tale.
10. Facial hair
Come on … you know you want to grow that sweet goatee.
Now, five things not to look forward to:
1. Loss of camaraderie
You take the uniform off the soldier, but not the soldier out of the uniform…or something like that. The people you served with are what makes the life special. They had your back and you had theirs and it’s hard to find that camaraderie in the civilian world.
2. Lack of respect from young bucks
Get it through your head that your former rank doesn’t mean anything when you get out. Even if you were a general officer, you’re Mister Jones now, so when some brazen E4 cuts in front of you in line at the PX because he’s in uniform, get over it.
3. Not being able to do what you did on active duty
This is more of an age thing, but the days of running 5 miles in body armor or going on a drinking binge the night before a Company run are over. Long walks through the neighborhood are the routine now. And naps.
4. Going to the bottom of the list of priorities
Whether you’re picking up a prescription or trying to get on a MAC flight, retirees are the last priority for everything. In an instant, you go from priority one to priority none.
5. Dental insurance
For some strange voodoo reason, Delta Dental is 4 times more expensive than any of the dental insurance plans of the civilian companies I’ve worked for since retiring. Weird.
Look. We all had a choice to make when we signed up for the military: we could defend freedom and democracy in high-pressure missions with global ramifications using elite skillsets… or we could be officers.
I’m joking, except… not really.
In a loose summary, officers are there to lead units and oversee the (enlisted) personnel that execute the mission. There are, of course, many careers fields that require officers to get their hands dirty, but overall, the officer force is trained to ensure the mission is complete and the enlisted force is trained to get the work done.
As a result, there are a few ways that officers are set apart from the rest of the military (and I’m not just talking about the bachelor’s degree required for commissioning):
1. You’re kind of a snob
I commissioned through Air Force ROTC at a liberal arts university in Southern California, so the only officers who are even bigger snobs than I were Ivy League graduates, and that’s saying something. I spent four years being taught to lead men and women toward a noble purpose. I was set up for success and given tests that I passed with aplomb and then I was praised spectacularly, increasing my confidence and morale to holy levels.
Then I went to MEPS and I saw a glimpse of what enlisted endure throughout their training. Holy sh*t, you guys. I’m sorry that happened to you.
But you were trained to follow orders. We were trained to give them.
2. You drink liquor or craft beer
I mean, we had enough disposable income to afford the good stuff, so why wouldn’t we? You can keep your PBR and hangover — I’ll be over here sipping whatever the mixologist alchemized during happy hour.
3. You know what “crud” is
I don’t care what you heathens do at your barracks parties or whatever. Crud is for dignified folk and it’s effing fun and you’ll never change my mind about that.
I’m willing to acknowledge that playing with hot pilots may have influenced my opinion about this matter.
Anyway, crud is a sophisticated game involving the corner pockets of the pool table and a lot of body-checking. The details are complicated — but trust me, they’re worth it.
4. You know all your enlisted people’s darkest secrets
The trick is to not let your chain of command know them. Now go be a good little sh*t shield.
5. Everyone stops laughing and talking when you approach
It’s lonely at the top, and, as we’ve established, you’re a snob and probably also a nerd, and there are fewer of your kind, so, yeah, they’re all talking about you. But if you’ve done your job right, they’re doing it in a good-natured way?
6. You utilize an exorbitant passel of buzzwords
Phrases like “force multiplier” and “interoperability” belong in your powerpoint presentation for the 2-star. Stop using them around your friends, or you won’t have anyone left to love.
7. When you’re the first to arrive and the last to leave but still accused of doing nothing
When I signed up for the military, I did it because I wanted to kick down doors and be a super hero. I had no idea that’s not what the Air Force an officer does. Then on active duty I found out that I basically put in four years of training to become a souped-up babysitter responsible for a sh*t ton of paperwork who everyone makes fun of in perpetuity.
When you first enlist, there isn’t much room in the process for you to get what you want. Yeah, you can choose your MOS and you’ll probably get lucky with an enlistment bonus and some school options, but there’s only so much a recruiter can get you. Once you’re in for a few years and your reenlistment window opens, however, the retention NCO is the person you really want to sweet talk. Retention NCOs hold the real power — they’ll move heaven and earth to keep troops in the unit and the military.
Keep in mind, the retention NCO isn’t a wizard who can fix all your problems with a whisk of a pen. Whatever you do, don’t ever confuse their willingness to work with you as an invitation to make demands. If you start holding your enlistment for ransom, you will get laughed out of the office.
Think of these more as poker chips for retention to ante up in exchange for you putting up more time in the military. The more valuable you are and the more time you are willing to give to the unit, the more “chips” they’ll put down. If you’re just Joe Schmoe hiding in the back of the platoon, don’t expect more than a few of these.
6. Get into a school
An easy win you can score is the option to get into a school whenever the slot opens up. This is a pretty simple request since it doesn’t involve HRC.
When a commander is notified that there’s room in a school opening up, the retention NCO can shuffle your name up to the top of that list.
Just a tip: If you go to The Sabalauski Air Assault School, don’t wear an 82nd patch. Just throwing that out there — but it will be hilarious for every 101st guy there. (U.S. Army Photo by Army Spc. Brian Smith-Dutton)
A key goal of the retention NCO is to keep the good troops in the unit, but if you request a change of duty station, they’ll understand the bigger picture here is keeping you in the military.
A change of scenery might also give you a new perspective on the military as a whole.
4. Have fun with the ceremony
There are very few moments in anyone’s military career where they have the power to dictate what they want and have it happen. Troops can have fun with where the reenlistment takes place, invite friends and family, and, for a brief period during the ceremony, you’re technically “honorably discharged,” so the enlistment period timer is set back to zero.
Of course, you can’t do anything stupid because the ceremony isn’t done yet and the command and retention will hem your ass up if you make a fool of yourself, but briefly “discharged” troops can laugh at the fact that they can finally put their hands in the pockets of their uniform for a whole ten seconds.
3. Help with promotion
This one is especially helpful for lower enlisted troops looking for a way to prove to the commander that they’re ready to take the next step in the military.
Reenlisting indefinitely won’t make your name appear on the Sergeant First Class List, but it can help an Army Specialist or Corporal get into the Sergeant board.
2. Change of MOS
Recruiters (usually) don’t lie, but they don’t shine a light on the reality of certain MOS. If you enlisted hoping for a fun and exciting time in that obscure MOS and now you’re feeling some buyer’s remorse, you can finally reclass.
I mean, you can finally learn that everyone has to embrace the suck: just some more than others.
1. The money
Nothing sounds better than pure, hard-earned cash. The amount you can earn is dependent on a lot of factors, including available funds, time during the fiscal year, your MOS (or what MOS you want), and your time in service. But you can at least squeeze something out of Uncle Sam if you know how and when to push for a reenlistment bonus.
If you don’t want to haggle for anything else on this list, at least get yourself some zeroes on that paperwork. Just be sure to reenlist while you’re deployed in a combat zone so you can get that money tax-free.