In light of recent cuts to our military, I’d like to share a couple angles that people outside (or even inside) the military might not otherwise consider. Not too long ago my Army Reserve unit was told by a Pentagon General that the government was “cutting almost 20% of the Army”—meaning, get ready because at any point your commander may be told something along the lines of, “you need to get rid of 2 of your Soldiers today.” While I hear much in debates and the news of unemployment rates, I don’t hear much about how military cuts are affecting our Troops and Families. Remember, a Veteran who is “fired” becomes unemployed too.
I know it sounds peachy and nice on the surface—“Bring our Soldiers home to their families!” But have you ever stopped to think about what that actually means to the Troops? I hate to be the one to shatter that nice picture, but many of Troops enjoy the deployments. Many of us volunteer for them and look forward to going—despite what some may tell their family members. Many Troops choose their careers because they enjoy the work and the lifestyle—just like a fireman or policeman or a surgeon chooses his career. So taking their work away from them is not always as wonderfully appreciated as you might think.
Have you seen the ending to the movie, “Hurt Locker” where the Soldier is standing in the grocery store back home, staring blankly at the cereal aisle? Producer Kathryn Bigelow and crew did an excellent job of showcasing how many Veterans feel upon return—how I too have felt at times and how I’ve heard many friends talk about “civilian life.” Sometimes coming home and not getting to do that military job makes Troops feel…out of place. Unappreciated by loved ones or society. Without a true purpose. Without a challenge. Without zest of life. Without…income? With draw-downs and downsizing, where do Troops go when their jobs are taken away?
U.S. Troops are currently experiencing and/or facing downsizing. Imagine a major U.S. corporation laying off almost 20% of its people. Now imagine some of those employees having invested almost 20 years with that same company, counting on their retirement, and then being fired. That’s what’s going on in our military. Talk about adding to the unemployment rates.
What is a 40-year-old man expected to do in the U.S. job market right now when he’s spent 18 years as an Active Duty Army Soldier? He just got fired with no notice and lost most of the benefits he’d been counting on, so it’s not like he can simply run back to school real quickly to get a Bachelor’s degree and compete in a brand new career field. Hopefully he will be able to get an immediate job as a security guard or something like that in interim. This is a real-life scenario of someone I met a month ago at my Army Reserve unit.
Many of the “cut” Active Duty Troops are scrambling to secure a spot in the Reserves and National Guard units. For some, they feel they have nowhere else to go work-wise because military life is all they know. Sure, they have skills but those are often difficult to translate into non-military work, especially when involving licensing and credentialing. Others hope to find an open deployment spot to fill to make money. But if those who can’t find an open slot? Talk about adding to unemployment rates.
And the empty places the “fired” Active Duty Troops are they are leaving? Who’s picking up that slack? Sometimes no one—which decreases effectiveness and the ability to handle everything still going on. And lately I’ve known of Army Reservists who are being called up for 2-week to 2-month short-term tours to fill in for the missing Soldier’s jobs. Explain that to your employer—“Sorry, Sir, but instead of 2 weeks a year you now have to let me leave my job for 2 months and 2 weeks.”
In theory, Troops are protected from losing their job position due to being called up for military service. But let me tell you, most Reservists or National Guardsmen have experienced or known someone who experienced losing their job, being downgraded, or were at least treated differently due to their required military service. If not, then some have experienced things like no vacation time—due to having to use it for their annual military service—or no compensation for the pay cut they endure during that military service.
And remember when our government was threatening not to pay Troops at all? When that little political stand-off was going on last year, I looked at my paycheck online that was about to be dispersed to me. It was cut in half in anticipation of the politicians cutting off our pay. At work, we were asking things like, “What’s going to happen?” “Is this for real?” “Do we still have to show up to work even if we aren’t getting a paycheck?” “How am I going to pay my bills?” “How long might they refuse to pay me?”
My fellow Veterans who were overseas in combat zones at the time saw the same thing—half a paycheck and the threat of nothing after that. We were emailing and Facebook-ing each other about it. They were literally in a combat zone and the mighty U.S. government was threatening not to pay them. I had one friend who was a new mother and was married to a deployed Soldier—she was literally in tears because they were scared they would not have money to pay their bills that month. Sure, some of us with higher rank had saving accounts and would be ok short-term. But you have to remember, a large percentage of our military is low-ranking, new Troops between the ages of 18-25 with young families to support. Their paycheck is visible online, and you can see how the threat of no paycheck would be scary to a young military family.
Luckily for us, at the last minute the government decided to stop using our paychecks to play political games and we received our pay. But the damage was done for many of us—we saw what the government thought of us. Why choose our paychecks to take away versus so many other options? That spoke volumes about the decline in our nation’s priorities. This is America, we should not be treating our military and their family members like that. It’s unnecessary and should be unacceptable.
I’m pointing these things out to increase the awareness of current situations in the military, different perspectives, and potential stressors for the military client. These are things that as a client I, for example, might not think to mention to my counselor because I’m presenting with more “pressing” issues. However, stressors such as these can take a toll on someone and may contribute to his or her demeanor or mood. Imagine having such fears of your financial and professional stability either directly impacting your life or hanging over your head—it can make a difference. Just as many non-military Americans are affected by recent unemployment rates, your military clients may likely be facing this issue as well. Asking questions that might reveal the presence of some of these stressors may greatly benefit a session with a client who is a Veteran or Family member.
Natosha Monroe is a counselor and PhD candidate passionate about increasing Troop access to counseling services. Her blog contents are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense in any way.