By Capt. Peter Crawford, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest respondent
First, to Major Slider and the rest of
my fellow officers who recently received pink slips: thank you for your service
and sacrifice. The vast majority of the citizenry you served will never truly understand
what you have done. While it is, I believe, our duty to educate them when asked,
they have no duty to listen or fully appreciate. Such is the inherent "injustice"
of selfless service.
Perhaps unfortunately, this same injustice means
that we do not "deserve" any more explanation from the Army than we have
already received when it comes to these separation boards. In fact, let's just stop
pretending that the Army owes us anything. We are all public servants -- perhaps
virtuous for our volunteerism and sacrifice, but virtue is its own reward. When
the public no longer requires our service, as determined through the proxies of
Congress and military personnel officers, we have no recourse. We know this is true
from moment we raise our hands to take the oath of office. Given the nature of the
massive bureaucracy in which we serve, even the careers of officers with valor awards
and Purple Hearts can stumble on past mistakes and fall victim to policies driven
by cold, unfeeling bureaucratic logic.
I am no apologist for our military's personnel
policies. Frankly, I find them absurd; the words "arbitrary" and "unfair"
often do not even begin to describe them. As one of my fellow captains in my battalion
recently put it to me, "You have to laugh about it because otherwise you'll
just cry." In these uncertain times for military officers, though, I am an
advocate of seeing the nature of military service as it is and not how we want it
to be. Nowhere in my service contract with the Army is there a clause guaranteeing
me a full and fulfilling career. My commissioning oath does not legally bind the
military to employ me to my full potential for a minimum of twenty years, and it
does not require the Army G1 to consider the entire body of my work for advancement.
This might be unfair, but until Congress changes it, this is our system.
I believe that we have an unhealthy culture in
the military of career entitlement. Perhaps this is an unintended consequence of
the "up or out" promotion system or one of the many other vagaries of
talent management in this business. This culture has not only manifested itself
during this era of officer separation boards. Every time we allow a fellow soldier
with eighteen years in the military to "finish out his career" despite
discovering that he has been stealing from his men for the last eight years, we
perpetuate the problem. As officers, in this way we also inherit the Army we deserve.
I have seen an attitude of entitlement in some of the arguments brought forth in
favor of women serving in combat arms -- and I am not the only
one who has noticed this trend. To be absolutely clear, I am not making an argument
against women in the combat arms; rather, I am suggesting that not being able to
serve where you want and achieve the rank and position that you want does not make
a solid case for women. Nor does it bolster an argument that demands an explanation
for why someone chooses to "remove [your] services" from the American
people. Let us meet our bureaucratic adversary with equally cold logic when we have
opportunities to identify necessary changes.
To my fellow officers who have not been
fired, yet: Yes, the bell tolls for thee, too. Take heed. Our day is coming, whether
it is next year or fifteen years from now. We can either start taking a realistic
view of our military careers or be caught surprised and unprepared. And when the
Army's personnel reaper comes a-knocking, remember that no cries about how great
we are to volunteer for war will keep him from swinging his grim scythe.
At the risk of blasphemy, allow me to paraphrase
some of the poetic words from the Book of Job: "The Army giveth and the Army
taketh away. Blessed be the Army."
Crawford is an active duty Army captain serving in Germany. Everything here is his
own opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of his unit or the U.S. Army.