Yes, I know Thanksgiving is first, and you holiday purists out there just suffered a nervous tick. I apologize for that. And, if you continue reading, you will see this post is not really about White Christmas (the movie or the thing.)
This post is about me, definitely not a General mind you, but a Soldier nonetheless. It is about me and my future. The future of my family. A future of nervousness, impatience, and if a can be so frank, fear.
There is a rather misapplied descriptor for Soldiers (a loose term used to categorize all servicemen and women) that says we are fearless. I can assure you, we are not. Any of them who say they are not or have never been are either lying or they have yet to face their actual job—to fight or support others who do.
For those of you who do not watch the news, you may have heard elsewhere that most of us are coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Partially true, but more than the statutory 2% that goes into most reporting. Many are coming home. But, now that there is no longer a two-front “war” happening, there are too many of us. The government is letting people go. Several thousand right now. Several tens of thousands within a year or so—several hundreds of thousands by the timeline, tentatively around 2016.
The way these things work is that they go for certain categories first:
- Those with past or present disciplinary issues
- Those who struggle or have failed to keep up with physical standards (not able to pass a physical fitness test or weight-wise according to their height)
- Those who have been passed over for promotions
- Those over the mark or very close to retirement
As you can see, you get rid of the problem folks first, then those who do not show as high of potential, then people who are hanging around, so on and so on. Well, what do you think happens when these Soldiers are all gone? They “cut into the white meat” as they say in our terms. They will get rid of good Soldiers—you can safely bet on it.
That’s where my fear comes in. I passed the initial round of cuts, and I have an impeccable service record. In 11.5 years, I have never been in trouble, I have always gotten far-better-than-average if not excellent performance ratings, I have deployed five times to successfully, if not historically, accomplish logistics and “consulting” (training foreign logisticians) missions in some extremely harsh areas of the world. But, alas, I am not the model “stellar” Soldier. Like anyone who has been put through the rigors of war and military training, I’m a little broken. Not disabled—I would never try to pull that card when I know there are some very broken folks out there who need that assistance. I’m just wearing down. I meet the standards, but my days of far-exceeding them are over. At 37 and after more than half of that using my physical attributes to move mountains when asked, I’m just not a finely tuned sports car. (I am, however, a very reliable farm truck if that puts it into perspective.)
And I’m scared.
I’ve been doing this for a long time and doing it at an age greater than most do. Thankfully, I took full advantage of opportunities to get further educated. I was able to go back and finish college. I have an undergraduate degree in Business Administration (Management) and come April, I will have my Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. Nothing to sneer at, and coupled with my background in Logistics, supply chain and fleet management (plus everything I do online), I have skills that can be put to use somewhere. I’m still scared.
- What is there to be scared of? Here’s a short list:
- Starting over
- The thought that 11.5 years (or more if it happens) towards retirement has been lost
- Making significantly less than what we are used to
- Not being able to afford a home
- Having to go back to belt-tightening
- Not having the safety net the military provides
- Becoming a “civilian” again
- Feeling like I wasted opportunities to be that model “Stellar” Soldier—and always wondering if it would have even helped
- Not finding a great job where I want to take my family “home” to
I do not mean to sound like I am bragging—I am not, but through all of the economic downturns and all of the stressful scenarios that people have been through this last decade (plus), my family and I weren’t as concerned as most. Things didn’t change much for us. We had a house provided. We had a grocery store that only supports itself, not a bottom line for profit. We knew that no matter how bad things got, Uncle Sam had our backs. Now, I fear it’s coming to an end. I had a job that isn’t so easy to get fired from or laid off from…at least it used to be. And now, I don’t know how long I will have it.
It’s not knowing that hurts the worst. I’m a planner. It’s what I get paid for. To plan and ensure my people execute. I train people to be leaders—to plan themselves, to execute plans, to make quick, sound decisions when guidance is not available—but it’s hard to lead into the unknown. Very hard.
Maybe my fear will turn out to be unfounded. Maybe I will be safe once again. And no matter what, I know that my family and I will be “ok” even if it does happen and I don’t make the cut. I just don’t like that looming fear over my head. It’s like a cloud you just don’t know whether it’s going to pass by or produce a Category 5 shit storm in your life.
At any rate, Christmas (and Thanksgiving) is just around the corner. Some of my favorite times of year. I’ll take my few months of safety and comfort in knowing that I made the first round of cuts. I will, however, have all new thoughts in my head and feelings in my heart when I hear this song from White Christmas playing melodically through my tv.
What Can You Do With a General
(Irving Berlin; 1954, White Christmas soundtrack)
When the war was over, why, there were jobs galore
For the G.I. Josephs who were in the war
But for generals things were not so grand
And it’s not so hard to understand
What can you do with a general
When he stops being a general?
Oh, what can you do with a general who retires?
Who’s got a job for a general
When he stops being a general?
They all get a job but a general no one hires
They fill his chest with medals while he’s across the foam
And they spread the crimson carpet when he comes marching home
The next day someone hollers when he comes into view
“Here comes the general” and they all say “General who?”
They’re delighted that he came
But they can’t recall his name
Nobody thinks of assigning him
When they stop wining and dining him
It seems this country never has enjoyed
So many one and two and three and four star generals