I officially became a soldier in May of 1995. With one very minor break in service I was on some sort of status, either active duty, active reserves or inactive reserves for almost 17 years. During that time I deployed 3 times to combat theatres of operations, in support of humanitarian service missions and on training missions around the world. Whenever and wherever the country decided it needed me, I went. Sometimes I grumbled a little but once I held my little pity party I did my job and took care of my soldiers. They weren’t all glamorous missions. Sometimes they just needed someone to get certified to conduct urinalysis tests and make sure all procedures were properly followed for legal purposes. Sometimes it was someone to go get certified as an equal opportunity representative. And sometimes it was fun, like going to Korea for a couple weeks or going to Ft. Bragg for a Special Operations communications refresher course.
One thing that was weird about my service though, was that because of the jobs I took, sometimes there were gaps in my career progression and OJT/mentorship in comparison to a normal soldier. I started on active duty, then jumped to this weird reserve slot with an active duty unit and deployed. Then I jumped into the special operations community through PSYOP when they were originally attached to active duty USASOC. So even though I rose through the ranks, I didn’t have the usual jobs associated with each rank that teaches and exposes the soldier to more and more of the bureaucracy side of the house so in terms of a lot of the paperwork, I was still just a dumb private. Especially when it came to my personal interests, I always assumed that I had a reputation as a get-things-done soldier and that the Army would take care of me. No idea why I’d think that, my whole career I heard how the “big green machine just chewed you up and spit you out”. Mentally I heard that, emotionally apparently I didn’t. So when I got hurt along the way I didn’t always do the best job documenting things.
In 2010 word started circulating about budget cuts. Sergeants Major and First Sergeants started telling their soldiers that they needed to make themselves as versatile as possible. Switch units instead of staying in the same reserve unit their whole career, volunteer for all extra duties and trainings, reclass and pick up an extra military specialty, etc. People started to get more stern warnings about failing P.T. tests, etc. I knew at this time there was probably a target on my chest because of some of my medical issues and started getting smart on how to handle things. First step was starting a line of duty investigation. This was pretty much as it sounds, an investigation to determine whether or not my injuries were in the line of duty or not. I got that underway and then at some point a bunch of us with medical issues were called into an office and given paperwork to fill out. The paperwork basically said that we were medically unfit for service and we had options. We could just be discharged from the military because the problems weren’t related to military service or we could request to appear before a medical evaluation board which would determine if we could be retrained and serve in other capacities or go before a medical review board which would exit us from the military and determine whether or not the it would be a medical discharge, retirement, what benefits would be granted, etc. (I may have some of that a little wrong, but that’s the gist). I filled out the paperwork to state that I felt all my issues were a direct result of military service and that I had an LOD in process and that I wanted to go through the MEB/MRB process.
All was fine the rest of 2010 but early summer 2011 I got an email from the regional support command that my reserve unit fell under. This RSC handled the admin tasks associated with all the units in that geographic section of the country. The email was another notification of medical unfitness for service and a blank copy of the same paperwork I’d filled out the year before. I completed it in the same manner, had several phone calls with the representative who’d sent the paperwork to me, informed my leadership at my unit that I’d received the paperwork, again expressed my desire to stay in the military and got about my business. This popped up multiple times over the following weeks and months and every time I was clear in my intent. At some point towards the end of the summer I received honorable discharge orders with an email that said that because I hadn’t responded with my intent, it was assumed that I wanted to be discharged from the military. I called and left multiple messages with the rep. Dirty secret about the Army? They love their 3 and 4 day weekends and they vacate the office as early as possible on Fridays. I finally got a hold of this guy four or five days before my orders were supposed to take effect. “Well, I never check my voice mail” and “Why didn’t you call me earlier in the day”. This jackass who had full control of my military career was trying to place the blame back on me because he was lazy and unprofessional. I again stated my intent and informed him that the LOD was in process, that I’d completed the paperwork on multiple occasions and had told him and anyone in my chain of command who would listen that I wanted to undergo the MEB/MRB process and stay in the military. “Well, you’d never be able to prove that those were a result of military service, but I’ll ask my boss if we can get the orders revoked.” Even though I tried to contact him multiple times over the next four days, through multiple channels, I never heard from him again. In the mean time I started a congressional investigation which got convoluted because the congressman’s military advisor left and the position went unfilled for months.
So officially I was honorably discharged from military service in August of 2011. Although I’ve been advised to get a lawyer and sue the Army for being released without due process I’ve resisted this for multiple reasons. It’s not just about the money, although if medically retired I could be eligible for a significant amount over the course of my life. If I’d been allowed to go my full 20+ that would’ve been a significant amount of money as well. And there are retiree benefits, whether fully retired or medically retired early. All of those are serious considerations, but at it’s core, it’s really a pride/ego thing. I wanted to do my full 20 years. I want to be listed as retired from the military. I want people to know that I did my time, did the hard things, was willing to wake up every day and go wherever needed on a moment’s notice and the only reason why I quit was because the Army decided it was time to quit. I want to be able to put (retired) after my name, still be able to legally wear the dress uniform for certain occasions and have the little blue ID card. For some reason in my mind, discharged doesn’t have the same connotation, and honestly people look at it differently. “You quit after 17 years? Why didn’t you just go the last three to retirement?”
I made a couple of really, really good friends during my time in service. And we still call one another for favors all the time. One of them is now working for an RSC and I asked him if he’d keep an ear out for me. Try to find someone that I could talk to in order to try to get the orders revoked. In the meantime I talked to whoever, whenever I could. At the Army Ten-Miler this year I bumped into the Sergeant Major of the Army Reserve. He asked me to send him an email with the 5 Ws. I did that then a couple weeks ago my friend came through and put me in touch with a highly energetic woman who just loves helping soldiers. I’ve got a small mountain of paperwork on my desk to fill out and a bunch of documentation that I have to pull together but I think there’s a strong chance she’ll make this happen. Hopefully I’m not jinxing anything by talking about this so soon, but it’s looking good. Will I get my perfect end-state? No. I’m probably not gonna be allowed to come back, complete the required schools, get promoted and do good things for the Army for years to come. There’s probably no more deployments for me. Probably very little soldier mentoring in my future. If this gets approved I’ll probably come back, start the MEB/MRB process and end up spit out on the other end, hopefully with a military retirement. Keep your fingers crossed.