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Monday, March 22, 2010

Why I Didn't Re-enlist

While in Iraq, I wrote a letter that I had planned on giving to my chain-of-command were I ever sat down and given a speech about why I should re-enlist. This story a friend just clued me in to reminded me of that letter.

CPT Myer -- the soldier mentioned in the story -- may very well have done wrong; I was not there and cannot be the judge of whether he did or not. My argument is not whether he did or did not deserve a reprimand, but rather that there are incredible disregards for soldiering nearly every day in the Army in other forms that continue to be allowed while guys like this receive severe disciplinary action.

So in that vain, I post here for public viewing my letter entitled "Why I Will Not Re-enlist."

Why I will not Re-enlist: A statement of integrity

To whom it may concern;

First, please allow me to say that it has been an honor to serve in the United States Army. I have learned a great deal about life, myself, and my country in the time that I have worn this uniform. And I feel that it must be noted here that I in no way consider our actions as a military “unjust” in regards to our efforts in the current fight, or in those past.

Second, let me assure you that I am not a whiny PFC (or lower enlisted at all, for that matter) who thinks that the Army “has it out for me.” I have worn three different colors of beret for this Army; I made E-5 in 2 ½ years as an infantryman with a tan beret on my head; I’ve consistently scored above 90% on APFTs (even when rousted out of bed at 0330 to take them without prior knowledge); as I did not join the Army until the age of 28 – and spent more time in the civilian sector after my active duty time – I bring a very diverse amount of knowledge regarding different occupational specialties; I have had zero negative counseling, nor have I ever been reprimanded in any way; I have received nothing but praise from superiors my entire time in uniform. My only “failures” in the military were when I went above and beyond the normal call (e.g. R.I.P. and SFAS), and one of those failures was due to a serious injury. Does this sound arrogant? Possibly, but it is all 100% true, and it is meant to prove a point – that I have the background, experience, and intelligence needed to make a valid argument not tainted by emotion or thoughts that the Army has “screwed me over.”

Simply put, I know what right looks like. And this, my fellow soldiers, is not it.
In my time with Psychological Operations – starting in January of 2008 – and since deploying to Iraq, I have seen what can only be described as a blatant disregard for standards and an egregious abuse of integrity; not only in my unit, but everywhere around me.

Consider if you will what is at the base of every soldier’s personal skill-set – their physical fitness. This is a standard the Army has adopted for very specific – as well as logical – reasons. And while the standards certainly need updating, they need to be made harder; not what we are currently seeing. Yet my experience in Iraq has shown more pencil-whipped scores and “adjusted” stop-watch times than I can count.

The truly sad part of this abuse of the standards is that, generally speaking, it is not done to prevent a soldier from being pushed out of the Army, but rather to promote them to a higher rank. In my own company, there are way too many cases of this occurring. We have soldiers who consistently fail at common tasks (APFT being but a single example) and then, through much struggle, finally bring themselves to within a hair’s breadth of the standard, receive praise for their “improvement,” and are subsequently pushed through for promotion. By what I have seen at the chow halls here on COB Speicher, I could wager a very large sum of my paycheck on mine not being the only company like this.

To say that this is an insult to those soldiers who excel at these tasks is a vast understatement; it is undermining the exact values which exist in those who do well and praising complacency and mediocrity in its place. This is a methodology of leadership which I can no longer turn my head from and ignore. I see too many good soldiers suffer because they have always been good at what they do; they have responsibility heaped upon them as those who are sub-standard enjoy praise for their “improvements” while being coddled and led by the hand in every task they attempt to complete. Please do not misunderstand me, I fully realize and appreciate that there will always be under-achievers in the ranks; my frustration lies in the simple fact that these people are not only treated well, but are generally promoted as fast or faster than their peers.

We operate in an Army with Sergeants Major who believe it is more important to have soldiers wear glow-belts than it is for them to have situational awareness and watch out for cars; that it is better to correct soldiers for having sunglasses on their head than it is to tell a soldier they are too fat for their uniform; where drinking alcohol in theater is most likely punished by losing rank and money, yet negligent discharges are swept under the rug; a place where a private can be trusted to go outside the wire driving an $800,00 MRAP with a .50 cal mounted on top, but, heaven forbid we allow him to have a Playboy magazine.

The inconsistencies are obvious to anyone but the most oblivious. Some – such as the growing obesity problem and negligent discharges – are downright dangerous to all those in close proximity of the soldier in question. And yet, these offenses continue to go largely unpunished.

What is truly unsettling is that, although I could provide specific examples of these analogies, none are needed because we all know it is true. Everyone reading this can think of numerous cases like these, and may even know the specific ones to which I refer. And that is the problem; the NCO and Officer Corps have largely ignored the issue in favor of not hurting anyone’s feelings, not rocking the boat, or simply wanting more promotions to put on their NCOER or OER. I stood less than an arm’s length away from my Company 1SG when he stated that he would consider himself a “failure” if every one of his soldiers did not come back from the deployment at least one rank higher. Ensuring his soldiers were capable of doing their job was not part of his pass/fail criteria, apparently.

This is an attitude and leadership philosophy I can neither be a part of nor endorse; it breeds contempt, complacency, and sucks the motivation away from even the best soldiers. It does so because it places more importance on increasing rank than it does on meeting or surpassing the standards of good soldiering. It does so because, simply put – and as mentioned above – it rewards complacency and mediocrity. It tells the soldiers who are doing the right thing that their efforts are in vein because they are not needed to succeed or advance in rank. I will not stand by and watch another kid who can’t run, can’t do pushups, can’t shoot, can’t communicate effectively either by radio or face to face, and has spent a whopping one year of actual time wearing the uniform get promoted into the ranks of the Non Commissioned Officer.

So, it is with this statement that I respectfully decline all reenlistment options, and hope that better men than I can influence the Army in the right way for future generations. There are a number of good soldiers out there. They need to be treated accordingly, because if they’re not, they will leave for the same reasons that this one is: I’m tired of every single day being a slap in the face to those who should be valued higher than all other things. Good soldiers are like limited resources; treat them as such and you will benefit.

Thank you for your time,