Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Soldier

This was sent to me - I don't know its origin...but in the din after memorial day...a reflection that remains poignant. I updated it a little bit and added the last line.

Cell phone is in your pocket.
The soldier clutches the cross hanging on his chain next to his dog tags.

You talk trash about your 'buddies' that aren't with you.
The soldier knows he may not see some of his buddies again.

You walk down the beach, staring at all the pretty girls.
The soldier patrols the streets, searching for insurgents and terrorists.

You complain about how hot it is.
The soldier wears his heavy gear, not daring to take off his helmet to wipe his brow.

You go out to lunch, and complain because the restaurant got your order wrong.
The soldier's meal comes out of an MRE bag with a bottle of water.

You go to the mall and get your hair redone.
The soldier hopes to have time and energy to brush his teeth today.

You're angry because your class ran 5 minutes over.
The soldier is told he will be held over an extra 2 months.

You call your girlfriend and set a date for tonight.
The soldier waits for the mail to see if there is a letter from home.

You hug and kiss your girlfriend, like you do everyday.
The soldier holds his letter close and smells his love's perfume.

You roll your eyes as a baby cries.
The soldier gets a letter with pictures of his new child, and wonders if they'll ever meet.

You criticize your government, and say that war never solves anything.
The soldier sees the innocent tortured and killed by their own people and remembers why he is fighting.

You hear the jokes about the war, and make fun of men and women like them.
The soldier hears the gunfire, bombs and screams of the wounded.

You see only what the media wants you to see.
The soldier sees the broken bodies lying around him.

You are asked to do a task you don't like and You don't.
The soldier does exactly what he is told even if it puts his life in danger.

You stay at home and watch TV.
The soldier takes whatever time he is given to call, write home, sleep, and eat.

You crawl into your soft bed, with down pillows, and get comfortable.
The soldier tries to sleep but gets woken by mortars and helicopters all night long.

You believe that the world does not need the actions of the soldier
The Soldier knows your world exists because of his actions.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Are we losing with stop loss?

Stop Loss has always been an interesting concept to me. I was subjected to stop loss at different points of my career with the Army Reserve. The stop loss was sometimes formalized by a message send out by DA that covered entire career fields or functional areas or specific units. More often, however there was a stop loss policy imposed by local commands to hold soldiers that may be needed on a wholesale basis. These stop loss programs involve the delay of outprocessing documents, created red tape for transfers from the reserves for unsatisfactory participants and generally held soldiers as long as possible.

Frankly the fact that I served more than 20 years and was deployed to Iraq was due to my own delayed departure in part as a result of decisions made related to timing when I could leave the Army without a lot of hassle. Ask any soldier that has trasferred to the IRR, between Guard and Reserve or other transfer and you will get stories of a process that is designed to slow down your exit, even when you are no longer obligated to serve.

Based on that I read some of the statistics on the Army’s current Stop loss rates and see they are again increasing (the formal stop loss that is) The number of soldiers held in the Army under the stop-loss program reached a high in March 2005 of 15,758. That number steadily declined through May 2007, when it hit 8,540. But since then, the number of soldiers subjected to stop-loss orders began to increase again, reaching 12,235 in March 2008.

The Secretary of the Army said

"They don't like it any better than I do. But it has proven necessary in order to maintain the force," Gates said. … use of the policy is an issue. It troubles me." "When somebody expects to leave at a given time, and you tell them they can't do that, it's got to have an impact on them. And that's the part that troubles me"

While I understand the necessity of retaining soldiers at critical times, I would echo the sentiment that we still break contracts with soldiers in terms of requirements. The carte-blache approach to applying stop loss both formal and informally shoud stop and we should examine each individual case – all 15,758 of them to determine if we must disrupt that soldier’s life. I would bet there are both volunteers and other soldiers that have not been deployed that can fulfill many of the requirements. We cannot allow leaders to apply organization wide policies that void contracts with soldiers… if it must be done it should be a highy deliberate face to face decision. Any leader worth his salt that cares about soldiers would insist upon a process that does so.

Continued organizational disregard for the shared committment to service contract which is expected and delivered only by the soldier will not serve the Army in the future.