Free to go anywhere, as long as it’s Iraq
We’ve had a series of briefings over the past several days. They’ve been split up by rank bracket—officers with the colonel, senior enlisted with the sergeant major, and so on.
Mine is tomorrow, the junior soldiers have theirs the day after.
It’s one of the “welcome to the rest of your life” sorts of briefings. In it, the head honcho of the group, be it colonel, sergeant major, or other delegate, lays out the next year or two of the unit, deployment schedules and the like.
It’s a chance to take stock in the goings on of the unit we’re currently assigned to, as well as see how the other units of the division will fare, deployment wise.
At the end of these briefings, all are given a choice: stay with the unit, move to another unit within division, or offer your life up to the Army as a sacrifice, to be placed wherever they wish. Every choice is underscored with the understanding that the Army can override said selection, so it’s really only for show. As our retention NCO puts it:
“You have wants. The Army has wants. If you want what the Army wants, then you get what you want.”
Meaning, if you are eager to get deployed again, the Army can accommodate.
Not that there is much difference in the choices we do have. Although my briefing hasn’t happened yet, I already know my entrees. Everyone is deploying again—and damn soon. It doesn’t really matter where you go; you’re going to war again. It’s just a matter of months, sometimes less.
These sorts of briefings are commonplace as deployments wrap up, I’m told. They like to get you as you’re on your high after a year is almost complete. It would cause suicides if they forced you to think about your next deployment just a few days into the current one, I suppose.
Still, it’s pretty damn depressing regardless, seeing nothing but “not at home” in your future. No wonder the military has such severe divorce rates. I just couldn’t see holding a marriage together by doing this every other year, sometimes more.
For a good chunk of guys, this is their second tour. If I’m here for this next rotation, we’ll start to get the third-timers.
Three years in either Afghanistan or Iraq since 2001? Wow.
When I first got to Fort Hood, they put you in the “reception company” where you’re given a stack of checklists, naming all the stations around post where you have to register. It’s a common pool where everybody comes together, before we’re all separated into our respective units—tankers, mechanics, network techs, admin, etc. I remember how vacant a lot of the faces were, and how sad the attending spouses were.
“We knew as soon as we were told “Hood,” he was deploying again,” said one of the wives to a group of spouses. Holding an infant while a toddler played at her feet, she tersely said, “We’ve been married three years and he’s been gone longer than he’s been home. He comes back, I get pregnant, and he leaves.”
A few months earlier I was still at Fort Knox, a haven and refuge where a lot of guys hide out—lost in the system at a training post. Some guys make a career out of hiding in the back channels of personnel shuffles, never rotating to a constantly-deploying post like Fort Hood.
I was attending sergeant’s school (Primary Leadership Development Course for the initiated); already having received orders for Fort Hood, I remember talking to the school’s first sergeant.
“Where you from soldier?” he asked, going through the few small-talk questions he did with each troop before hitting the one that stuck with me. “What are your plans, troop?”
“Well, first sergeant, I just received orders to Fort Hood.” I said.
“You mean Iraq,” he said, a smile creeping up. A lot of the older gents, combat veterans or no, loved to scare the bejeezus out of first-termers like me with the threat of going “down range,” as a way of terrifying us into paying attention to advice and lessons.
“Ummm, yes, first sergeant, I suppose Iraq will come.”
“You’ll see,” he said, and moved to the next soldier in line.
Was he one of the “hiding out” guys? I don’t know. I’ll never see him again. So many seniors are getting out. I can’t speak for the whole Army, by any means, but you can just rattle down the list of the ones in my unit.
“If anyone has less than 10 years in, I recommend they get the hell out,” my admin E7 told me. “Cause I sure as hell ain’t putting up with this sh** anymore! Deploying every other year? No thanks.”
I see some of the same vacant stares from my reception briefs at Hood as troops come in to sign their “choices” in the personnel office. Sure, some are optimistic—more deployments mean more promotions and more chances to serve in various leadership positions, yadda yadda yadda—but it’s still more deployments.
I’m paraphrasing, but I remember a bit from Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”, the book that is on every businessperson and Army officer’s desk. It said: “when you do battle, even if you are winning, if you continue for a long time it will dull your forces and blunt your edge.”
Indeed. God give us strength.