COMMENTARY: Single Soldiers do not live life of Riley
March 2, 2011
FORT STEWART, Ga. - When they hear the term "single Soldier," most people probably think about Pvt. Snuffy living in the barracks.
While "single" may be a category, the reality is that single Soldiers are not limited to rank, title, or where they hang their hat.
There's a grave misconception that single Soldiers have it all-too easy. We allegedly live happy-go-lucky without any cares or concerns, devoid of any real responsibilities.
This misconception is a dangerously erroneous one, perhaps crafted by someone who doesn't know what it's like being a single Soldier.
So, who is this Riley'
According to sources, the earliest Riley reference appeared in a letter written by an Irish-American Soldier, Pvt. Walter J. Kennedy, during WWI: "This is surely one great life," Pvt. Kennedy wrote. "We call it the life of Riley. We are having fine eats, are in a great detachment and the experience one gets is fine."
We're a nation at war. Many Soldiers feel uncertainty, depression, hopelessness. It would be arrogant and dismissive to assume that they go through life without a care in the world.
I used to think it was easy for Pvt. Snuffy in the barracks to make friends. They're many in number and live in close proximity to each other.
It's been many years since I was among them, but I remember that, contrary to popular opinion, not all barracks dwellers are interested in drinking, partying and club hopping.
So, what's a troop to do'
Unfortunately, some of them are unaware of the many other activities available to them.
So, who's not telling them'
Leaders frequently stress that we check on our Soldiers in the barracks - not to spy, but to make sure they're living right and to know they have our unyielding support.
That support comes in different forms: support from your unit, support from your peers, your subordinates, your superiors. But it also helps to maintain some kind of support channel outside the gate.
There's a certain element of freedom that comes along with living on the economy. At the end of the day, it's nice to get far away from all things work-related. But it's hard to find someone who can relate when you're an army of one surrounded by Families.
It becomes all the more difficult when your peer group is slowly dwindling. Many of my peers are married. They have junior-high or high school-age children. They're dropping their retirement paperwork.
Gone are the days when someone shows up to your door, pie in hand, talking about "Welcome to the neighborhood!" Perhaps some fear the gesture will be ill-received. Maybe some will think of it as an intrusion. Others may think it's a waste of time - they'll probably never engage their next-door neighbor at any point while they live there.
Farfetched' Maybe. But in the age of social media where people talk at each other rather than to one another, it doesn't seem too far off the mark.
Deployments are another bone of contention. Does single mean more expendable - more expendable meaning less valued'
That spurred some heated debates prior to my first deployment in Feb. 2003.
The consensus was that it was easier for single Soldiers to pack up and roll out because we didn't have Families (read: responsibilities) waiting for us back home. We do: It just so happens our loved ones don't live under the same roof. Everyone's life is interrupted as the result of a deployment. Everyone sacrifices something.
Following every welcome-home ceremony, the emcee will normally direct all the single Soldiers to wade through the balloons, cheering spouses and "I Love Daddy" signs to nearby buses, where they're transported ... back to the barracks.
Where is their welcome home'
I grew up in one of the largest, busiest cities in the world, so I'm used to running on automatic. As a result, I sometimes forget that I need to be accountable for someone other than myself.
Being "single" isn't synonymous with throwing all our cares to the wind. And it shouldn't mean standing alone. I challenge anyone (including myself) to check ourselves when we start to think that single Soldiers have it so easy.
Let's also check on Riley while we're at it.