Readers of headlines on Army force reduction measures would agree with the
assessment by University of Maryland sociologist Mady Segal that the US
military is a greedy institution. It makes "great demands on individuals in
terms of commitment, loyalty, time, and energy. The demands that American
armed forces make on members and their families include the risk of injury
or death, geographic mobility, family separations, [and] residence in
foreign countries." We must acknowledge that its members are all volunteers
and joined to receive some benefits, including altruistic, from their
service. Its members knew what they signed up for when they donned the
uniform of our Armed Forces.
However, the most recent accounts of Army soldiers receiving pink slips as
they are moving to new duty stations (PCS-ing) or deployed in still
dangerous operational environments are uncomfortable. While we understand
the need to draw down the force, especially with our current budget woes, it
is perplexing and somewhat distressing to read an Army senior official
comment that "we can't do the right thing" when it comes to policy decisions
on how the separations are executed.
I find myself asking, "What did we learn from the drawdowns post-Vietnam and
post-Desert Shield/Desert Storm?" In many cases this is the continuing
challenge of managing excess inventory of people (in either specialty areas
or grades) based on force structure decisions.
Appropriately in this drawdown from nearly 570,000, the Army sought to first
identify and target relatively poor performers in the officer and
noncommissioned officer ranks for separation through respective Selective
Early Retirement Boards and Qualitative Service Programs for its more senior
members. We are at the point where the Army is now separating good
people-officers and enlisted-who have served faithfully and well.
I am reasonably confident that the trappings of farewell, retirement, and
award ceremonies are happening in keeping with the traditions of a strong
Army culture. With the recent focus on transitioning veterans back into
society, the Army and Department of Defense have emplaced programs to assist
with and mitigate challenges of separations.
My concern is how people within operational and functional Army units are
treating their separating comrades from the time of notification to release
from active duty. Are leaders conveying appreciation for their service? Or
is there an unspoken, "it sucks to be you" or an offering of the trite
saying, "Well, the needs of the ARMY."? I know from personal experience the
discomfort of interacting with colleagues who have received notice. What
should I say? How should I act?
One can imagine the thoughts of the separating service members as something
like, "Well I joined the Army during our War on Terrorism, deployed X times,
and my evaluation reports said I was a good soldier/officer...but the Army
doesn't need me anymore. I did what was asked of me and now am being told
to leave." For each, we hope there is a personal reflection of individual
experiences with great training, great teams and esprit, and important
missions. The reflections would include what they learned about themselves,
about other people and cultures, and about life.
Our unit leaders should engage with empathy and compassion with their
soldiers-they are part of our team. We want separating members to be strong
advocates for the Army and to recommend service as an option for the other
99 percent of our society. While a full career of 20 or 30 years is not
possible for all, the quality of their experience should be high for the
tenure of their service, regardless of the length.
The Army is a greedy institution, but it is made up of people who should
care for each other. Accordingly, we should live "Mission First, People
Always"-this a part of the Army Strong culture.