Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Knowing When to Say When

One of the hardest decisions that I ever made was to get off active duty. You loose a big part of your identity and self-image when you go from ass-kicking member of the 101st to being a PFC--private fucking civilian. I felt withdrawal pains from the Army for a long time and wondered if I had made the right decision. The reserves has mitigated some of those feelings, but I still wonder if I'd be happier back on active duty. Probably not, but you wonder sometimes.

So yesterday when I had a conversation with one of my young officers who has told me that he wants to resign his commission, I started thinking how hard my own decision had been. My officer is a brand new 2LT, and OCS grad. He was enlisted in the Navy, and is a pretty sharp kid. I like him, and I think he's got potential.

He's in a fairly demanding job in the public service field, and he's a new father. He shows up to drill exhausted, and the only weekends he gets off from his job are taken up by military duty. He never gets a weekend off, and his wife is not very thrilled about it. One demanding career is tough enough on families, but two can strain even the best marriages. On top of that he has elder parents and family to take care of. He's got a lot on his plate, and it shows. He's weary and worn out in his twenties.

We talked for a long time about whether or not he needed to stay in. It was a hard conversation. I don't think this guy has every quit anything in his life, and I could hear it in his voice. Technically he still owes time to the military from his enlisted stint in Navy, but that could have been straight IRR time. Instead, he choose to go to OCS, but its not working out for him.

So I had to make a decision. What did I tell him? I could have used my Jedi mind tricks and convinced him to stay. At a certain point in your career you get good at those "son you need to suck it up for god and country" speeches. But, I didn't give him one. I weighed what was best for him and what was best for the Army.

I told him that I thought he was making the right choice by getting out. He told me that he felt like a dirtbag for doing it, that he was shirking his commitments. I told him that he would be a dirtbag if he didn't feel that way. I've met plenty of officers who didn't take their commitment seriously, and it showed in their units.

Why did I tell this kid he was doing the right thing? I think being an officer in a tremendous commitment, and if you're heart is not in it, then you should leave. This is especially true in the reserves. I spend several hours a week doing Army stuff. It adds up. I'd rather not spend my evenings locked away in the study knocking out training schedules and evaluations, but I do it because I am committed. I also have a tolerant wife.

But, if my heart wasn't in it, I would leave. That's what I told my young officer. I told him that he would end up being a bad officer if he didn't want to be there. I also told him that a distracted officer was a dangerous one. This guy doesn't need to be sent to war if his head is not in the game.

I'm not sure if I did the right thing or not. Hell, I'm not even sure if I should be blogging this or not. But, I want to share some of what being an officer and commander is all about.

Some might argue that I'm being soft. The guy made a commitment, and he should stick to it. I might agree if he was a private. But, officers are different. There is too much unacceptable risk in forcing someone to stay in a leadership position who doesn't belong in it. Would I want this kid leading my soldiers in war?

I told him that I would support whatever decision he made, and he dropped his resignation paperwork today. Now the fun begins. The Army Reserves is going to make this kid jump through all kinds of hoops to get out. This statement will probably get me in trouble, but I wonder if its less about commitment and more about numbers? If me and my BN commander agree that he should be in the Army, shouldn't it be good enough? Nope. We're going to have to put together this huge packet to prove that he shouldn't be here. Maybe that's for the better.

The hell of it is that he could just quit showing up to drill, and he probably get out of the Army faster. He'd probably get an honorable discharge.

Oh well, I'm tired and probably whining. This is going to be one of those things that makes your earn your money as a commander. But, I'm committed to stay in the fight.


At May 04, 2005, Anonymous Bill Badger said...

Kris -

I became the S-2 of 1-7 Cav (1CD) the same week that the battalion changed command. The new battalion commander commander gave us (primary staff and company commanders) his very short command philosophy.

He said that each of us probably had the time and energy for three big things in our lives. In his life those things were his family, his faith, and his work. In that order.

I spent 18 months under his command. He was incredibly well-balanced. He wasn't a know-it-all, but he found his own stride. He had fun in command. He had faith in God and attended church regularly, but he didn't make a big deal of it. He lived life with relish.

I found out later that he had lost his first wife to a long, agonizing battle with cancer. He raised his two kids alone for a while, pretty well climbing inside the bottle when he wasn't at work. Somehow he pulled himself out of the hole he'd dug for himself. I think his second wife had something to do with it.

I'm telling you this because he was my model for finding balance in command. I left 1-7 Cav a month before they went to NTC. Fought their first engagement to a draw. Wona all of their subsequent engagements. First time any unit had ever done that. Maxed the live fire, too. All under the command of this most balanced of commanders.

I think you did the right thing, Kris. Vaya con Dios, amigo.

At May 06, 2005, Blogger Andrew said...

I'd say there's almost no doubt it's about the numbers. The reserves are still operating under peacetime rules where units were graded almost entirely on their manpower. It would be nice to believe that things might change now that we're at war, but bureaucracies are remarkably resistant to change. Best of luck helping the guy through.


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