Today I was accosted by the retention NCO.
“Hey Salmons, when are you going to come see me?”
“About what?” I heard that statement about four times a day, with the response ‘To come take my picture’ being the favorite. I honestly didn’t know what needed, but as he began, my mind kicked up its turbo and began preparing its debate mode. He was about to mention retention.
“To come re-enlist.”
There are two groups of people in the Army – groups that echo back to the hallowed days of armed warfare: commissioned officers and enlisted personnel.
In the days of yesteryear officers came from rich or well-connected families and were commissioned by the government to fill a certain post or command. Now, candidates must have attended college, a sort of modern ‘rich enough?’ litmus test.
The term ‘enlisted’ used to be synonymous with ‘conscripted,’ meaning forced into service. Nowadays the Army procures its enlisted ranks through a volunteer process. Subject A goes in and wants to join. A contract is formed up, laying out a specific period of time the Army will expect Subject A to serve in uniform. With all parties satisfied, Subject A signs and things go on from there.
To ‘re-enlist’ means to negotiate another contract as you near the end of your present term of service. To keep people in the Army, certain senior enlisted personnel are picked here and there to serve as ‘retention NCOs’ or people in charge of keeping soldiers in the Army.
Armed with the power to hand out cash bonuses as allowed by the Army, it’s a retention NCO’s job to push and push until a soldier gives in, pledging another so many years fighting the fight.
“No thanks,” I said. This was not the first time I had talked to this guy.
“Oh come on,” he began his plea. “What the hell are you going to do on the outside? The Army is a wonderful place to…” and on went his pitch.
He had chosen the ‘you’re a loser and only the Army is gonna take you’ approach. Ouch, I thought I was more of the ‘the Army really needs guys like you’ sort of fella. Hrmmph.
“…and no other job lets you retire after just 20 years. Say, how long have you been in?”
There are two facets to judging whether or not to remain in the enlisted ranks: personal and professional. The same two facets apply to the credibility of the individual pitching the sale.
First, with him, professionally, this guy only has about six months left when we return to the states. His retirement paperwork has been filled out, his retirement home has been purchased. He has picked out the car he wants and the patio furniture…all that stuff. And he deserves it. After 20 years in the Army, he’s almost ready to cash in. Good for him.
Problem with me is – I’ve only been in for three years. That means 17 more go ‘rounds on the calendar. That’s a lot of time, and a lot of deployments. I can’t tell you how often the seniors in my office (I’m the youngest guy by 10 years) talk about how they couldn’t stay in with as much as soldiers are deploying now. They’re constantly talking about how they’re glad they’re almost done and how they can’t wait to get out so they can stop coming to Iraq.
Why then would I want to listen to this guy who’s almost done, and, professionally, who has only deployed once in those 20 years? Once!
Next comes him, personally. Typical used-car salesman type. A part from the fact that he is always dropping hints about how cute he thinks my boss is (sort of creepy) despite being married, which is a peeve of mine, he also is a bit of a sleaze.
A few weeks back…
“Hey Salmons, when you going to come see me?”
“Hooking up my Internet. I just got my laptop.”
“Did you pay the Hajji guys to hook you up?”
“Naw, I’m just going to break into the box and plug in.”
“No, that’s saving $50.”
Thanks dude, I was one of the first guys to pay to have them hook our living area up at all. And I was one of the guys who escorted them for a few days while they worked, back when it was hot. And I was one of the guys who actually already paid the $50.
I digress, where were we –
“How long have you been in?”
“Three years? Wow…”
That ‘wow’ meant there went his whole, ‘Well hell, if you’ve been in that long, you might as well keep going’ angle. The silence gap began to widen as we stood outside and looked toward the chow hall, trying to pick out anyone I knew.
“Have you thought about what you’ll do if you get out?”
Waiting for the normal ‘not really’ to continue his ‘You’re not ready for the outside’ spiel, I launched a flanking attack.
“Actually there is a company in Michigan that I’ve been involved with for some time. When I get out – if I get out [polite chuckle], I’ll head up there and join up with them.”
His turn, “What sort of business is it?” He was preparing for a ‘No better place to get experience than in the Army’ uppercut.
“It’s a film business.” Blocked. No ‘film makers’ in the Army. Left hook. Ooof.
“Heh, what sort of experience do you have for them to hire you with film?” he snidely asked, reeling. Don’t attack aspirations, friend. It’s petty.
“A bachelor’s degree and a few years of freelance.” Right hook and jab.
Thinking of staying in personally and professionally, I’m cold on both counts. Professionally, the aspects of my job that I enjoyed have been civilianized. Newspapers in the states are almost all contracted out or staffed by government service civilians.
No more working for newspapers, which sort of puts a damper on the whole ‘print journalist’ gig.
And then personally. I’m in a modular unit, the Army’s new brand of organization. I won’t go anywhere else or be assigned any place else for the foreseeable future. Fort Hood, the colonel, going to the field, and getting ready to deploy is all there is to look forward to. I’ve dealt with spammers more accommodating than this unit.
“You single?” Now with the ‘How will you provide for your family?’ gig. Sorry, bro, you don’t have me pegged at all.
“Oh.. Ha! Don’t worry, I’ll get you to sign up. You’ll see. Say hi to your boss for me,” he winked.