Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sometimes I'm a Wig-Wam, Sometimes I'm a Tee-Pee

My brief, inglorious tenure with the Reserves has left a bruise.  Although it’s been four years since my departure from active duty, re-affiliation was always part of the plan.  Now I am quite suddenly forced to psychologically separate myself from the Navy.

I've been wandering through Corporate America in sheep’s clothing; completely un-bothered that I have zero in common with most people around me.  My primary reference points are other veterans and a good chunk of my social calendar is spent with old Squadron-mates.

With it clear that military life is forever behind me – that identity is no longer a healthy one.  I am at great risk of becoming one of ”those” guys; enamored with the adventures and exploits of my twenties, expecting all others to be equally enthralled.  This is not an acceptable outcome.

Unlike the Military, the corporate world does not provide a standard-issue psychological construct; or at least, not one that I find appealing.  Smiley corporate guy is not someone I aspire to be, although I do admire his enthusiasm.

Fatherhood, to which I am still relatively new, lends itself quite well to a variety of Ethos – some of which I could probably get behind but would require some self-censorship. Many base elements of my personality are not family-friendly and I’m worried how they might manifest themselves if not allowed exercise. 

Still, this is mostly manageable; father-self is pretty well aligned with regular-self.  Work-self, however, diverges wildly from both.

In the ready room my behavior required no modifications.  In cubicle-land, I really need to lock it up.  This results in my being very quiet most of the time.  Sometimes, I think everyone else is engaged in a similar masquerade but I’m not sure.  Perhaps they've adjusted to their habitat after all those years in the cube.

I don’t think they covered this in TAPS. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

I Have Reservations

”Show them your license and your orders and see if they let you on, if not call the CDO.”  Those were my only instructions from the reserve PS3 who was my primary point of contact at the NOSC.  After two hours of waiting in line and three calls to the CDO, she finally relented; ”we’ll send someone to the gate to escort you.”

So began an excruciating, although entirely expected day of administrative boondoggling and regulatory logic loops.  You can’t have certificates on you CAC card until you complete Information Awareness training, but you can’t access the training without functioning certificates. Blink. Blink.

While those things inspired amused deja vu, the mobilization landscape was truly unnerving.  My decision to join SELRES was largely predicated on understanding that involuntary mobilizations were history.  Multiple sources assured* me that most available mobilizations were being snapped up by volunteers who (a) needed it for promotion (b) just like to mobilize or (c) were otherwise unemployed and need the money to keep body and soul together.

Multiple conversations throughout the course of that first Saturday convinced me that I had vastly under-estimated this risk.  The CO confirmed in my first meeting with him that the possibility of involuntary mobilization was ”reduced but not insignificant.”  I found myself overwhelmed with dread at living with the specter of a 12-month Afghan IA looming over me like a boogey-man. 

Before you old-timers start in on me; yes, I understand that mobilizing is the actual purpose of the Reserves.  As a young, steely-eyed killer, I would be first in line to admonish Reservists who dared complain about activation.  

That said, my hypocrisy knows no bounds – I joined SELRES for the retirement, the pay, and the insurance of having a reliable fall-back source of income in the worst of times.  All the wrong reasons.  I do not want deploy, now or ever.  For a variety of reasons, a mobilization would be professionally and emotionally devastating to me.  It took me one day on base to realize - I have gone soft.  I am 100% civilian.

On Sunday I submitted paperwork for transition to IRR.  I lasted one drill weekend.  If you aren't willing to do the job, you've got no business wearing a uniform. Period.  Sorry for causing paperwork.  I tip my cap to those who hold the line, but I am through – hit the lights

*Assured may be too strong a word, I have a habit of hearing what I want to hear.  

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Old Law

If you have ever had a friend announce to you his intention to buy a boat, you probably said, ”that’s great man, good for you” - but you were probably thinking ”this poor, ignorant bastard is on a road to wealth-destroying misery.”   

A 34 year-old man, with a good job and a family, announcing plans to attend law school receives that exact same response. 

Well, at least I’m not buying a boat.

The country is full of unemployed lawyers saddled with crippling, non-dischargable debt.  Google the words ”Law School” and two of the front page articles are full-length, denunciations of the entire enterprise.  I have read every word of those articles and 100 others like it. ”Law school is a sham; ...ruined my life;... you aren’t the exception” – I go to sleep every night with these words dancing in my head.

In most cases the argument against law school follows this framework: (1) law school costs way, way, way too much, (2) the job-market for lawyers is terrible, and (3) the jobs that are available are miserable, slavish drudgery.

The first is a very plain and unassailable fact - law school is stupid expensive.  However, thanks to the GI Bill and the Yellow Ribbon Program, I will sidestep this landmine completely. And since I am attending night school while maintaining my current job and salary, my opportunity cost will be paid in human suffering, rather than U.S. Dollars.

Second, the job market for lawyers is famously terrible.  The statistics are confusing and largely uninteresting, but consider three potential outcomes: (1) get a job at a big law firm that pays $165,000  (2) get some other lawyer job (public sector, small-business, solo practice) that generally pays $45-65K.  (3a) maneuver an in-house job at my current company or (3b) don’t practice law. 

Option one is a crapshoot, the big firms recruit mainly from the elite, top-tier schools, and after that from the very tippy-top of the class at other schools.  I will attend Temple, which is a very good school, and I am a good student, so this is in the realm of possibility but certainly not easy or guarenteed. 

Toss option two out the window, I’ve got a family to feed. 

Option (3a) is a realistic and very appealing possibility and (3b) basically involves staying in my current job.

In total, this one is a wash – the job market for lawyers is very terrible, but so is the job market for every other thing.  I don’t see how having a (free) law degree does me any harm.

The final argument concerns the miserable nature of the legal profession.  These arguments usually begin as, ”If you think you’re life will resemble this TV / Movie lawyer...” then move to ”...mostly reading boring things and working long hours...” and summarize with ”...and you can never quit because you are a quarter million in debt.”

This all sounds like run-of-the-mill bitching about work to me.  I can see how the demands of any job could be a slap in the face of a person who coming off seven consecutive years of the utopian paradise that is the modern college campus, but this is not my first rodeo.  Doctors bitch about their work, as do policemen and teachers and fighter pilots and Kanye West.  I have no doubt that lawyering is demanding work, but I consider myself up to the task. 

Whether or not I can actually graduate from law school while holding down a job, drilling in the Navy Reserves, and being a suitable father and husband... I guess we’re about to find out.  Wish me luck, I’ll keep you all posted.                   

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

JOPA For Life

Congratulations universe, you win.  I am officially back in the Navy as a reservist.  Only time will tell if this is just another way-point in a long string of under-informed (read: bad) decisions but at this early stage I’m happy about it.  ’Happy’ is probably the wrong word, let’s say I’m amused by it.

If the recruitment process is any indication of reservist life, I’m in for a pretty long road to retirement eligibility.  My first communication with the recruiter is approaching it’s second birthday:

I completed a thorough package to the E-2C SAU but never heard anything back.  Honestly, I don’t hold it against them.  I wouldn't have been a very good squadron-mate, I don’t think they have much use for a weekender who hasn't been inside the aircraft since late 2007 (Jesus that was almost eight years ago).

So I’ll go to the Philadelphia NOSC and search for a local billet; hopefully there’s something interesting – I welcome any advice.

I have been warned off this decision by people whom I trust and are in a position to know what they are talking about.  I did not pay mind to that advice because I am dense, arrrogant, and a poor decision-maker.  I served nine years of active duty; that is too many years to just leave on the table so I feel obliged to pursue retirement.  The benefits will serve as both a supplement and an insurance policy, and in the meantime I naively think that reserve duty might be interesting.  I have a good job at a good company with good pay and good benefits, but it can be a little boring so I’ll dress up and play sailor once a month to relive the glory.  Maybe I'll get some good blog ingredients out of it.

The rub is that I start over as an O-3; apparently that is my penance for making a clean break back in ’11.  That was a bad decision.  I know now that I could have hit the IRR with almost no risk of mobilization and I would be hitting the ground as an O-4.  In hindsight, I should have done some research or asked somebody for advice – well hindsight, unlike Hawkeye NFOs, is 20/20.  Fuck it, JOPA for life.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Stadium Thing, explained

The Atlantic Magazine cover story, “The Tragedy of the American Military” by James Fallows has stirred up a quiet storm of activity in some of the corners of the internet that I frequent. Briefly, the article contends:

(a) There exists a disconnect between the public and the military in that the former holds a “reverent but disengaged attitude” toward the latter...

(b) which has resulted in a “chickenhawk”1 nation that manifests itself in various cultural, economic and political apparatii...

(c) in which “careless spending and strategic folly combine to lure America into endless wars it can’t win”

That is the Cliff’s Notes edition of an article that is very long and broad in scope, as are the countless pieces written in response (links below).  Writer’s far smarter and more interesting than I have contributed thousands of words in a debate that will rage on forever without any meaningful effect on anything.

For my part, I am mainly interested in the first point concern the disconnect between the public and the military.  This phenomenon is generally referred to as the “civil-military divide.”  Fallows did not invent it, and both sides of the divide continue lengthening the gap through indifference.  Fallow’s view is best summed up in his own words: “The country thinks too rarely, and too highly, of the 1 percent under fire in our name.”  

That’s half true anyway.  The country does think “too rarely” about the military, but as for “too highly?”  There are a few warmed-over reference points concerning this perceived hero-worship put forth by Fallows and others that deserve to be addressed by someone a little closer to the pointy edge of civilian-military relations:

  1. The “Stadium” Thing:  Reading through the responses to this article, one might think that any person in a uniform can walk right into the Super Bowl and demand to be paraded across the 50-yard line en route to a private luxury suite.  Sadly, this is not the case.  The person you see standing in the end zone in ACUs waving like an idiot is a kind of contest winner.  His prize was free football tickets; the standing, waving and being forced to wear a uniform to a football game is the extracted price. The industry figured out a way to cram one more piece of marketing into their marketing-rich fan experience. They correctly presume that the people who ”revere” military things sometimes overlap with the people who care about football.  This does not mean all people “revere” military things but the fact that there are some is sufficient for the team to spend 2 unsold tickets and a previously-unoccupied 30-seconds in between quarters to “honor” Joe from Staten Island for his great sacrifice.  Joe would rather be wearing his discounted Michael Vick jersey and starting a fight in the 400 section.  If peer pressure induces you to stand up and clap for him that’s on you - sit on your hands if you want to, nobody will even notice.
  2. The Military Discount:  In my 13 years of military-discount eligibility, I can count on one hand the number of times that I've participated.  Generally, the military discount is exactly the same as the discount offered to members of AAA, American Express, Frequent Flier Programs, etc - and the price is still probably lower at Costco2.  It’s a nice gesture, but it’s just that - for business that are outside the range of a handful of major military installations, it rarely even comes up.  Meanwhile, Applebees gets to put a bunch of American flag stickers on their menus for being so military friendly.  
  3. The “Thank You for Your Service” Thing:  This is a nice thing that some people say but it really doesn't mean anything.  “Thank you for your service” is to servicemen as “God bless you” is to sneeze. Occasionally someone is utterly sincere and thanks you for your service earnestly and with burning intensity… encountering these people leads to the most awkward personal interactions in life. “um, you’re welcome?”  I know it’s ungrateful to complain about a simple, nice gesture, but there it is… I think most modern-era vets kind of wish this little habit would go away3.  You’re killing us with kindness.  
  4. SEALs:  SOCOM, Call of Duty, Rainbow Six, No Easy Day, Lone Survivor, Zero Dark Thirty, Seal Team Six!  LL Cool J, Ice Cube, Charlie Sheen, Tom Selleck and Hulk Hogan have all portrayed SEALs.  America loves Navy SEALs.  America worships and reveres Navy SEALs. Most of us are not Navy SEALs - that reverence does not extend to E-2C NFOs.

America does not think "too highly" of their military.

They think the military is a landing spot for rednecks who can't get into college - I've had to explain the concept that I was in the military and I went to college to more than one confused interviewer.

They think anyone can do it - I can't even count the number of "I almost joined the military but decided to have a life instead" stories that I've endured in my 3 years as a civilian.

They know less than nothing about anything military - Several times I've had to explain the fact that the Navy has their own aircraft and that is different than the Air Force. Imagine trying to explain the concept of an Individual Augmentee.

In reality, what little time America does spend thinking about the “1 percent under fire in (their) name,” is spent thinking about:sexual assault, PTSD, and shirtless Navy SEALs.  

1. Chickenhawk is a political term used in the United States to describe a person who strongly supports war or other military action (i.e., a war hawk), yet who actively avoids or avoided military service when of age. (Wikipedia)

2. Similarly, the commissaries and exchanges don’t offer much in the way of savings - the argument that this is somehow a perk for servicemen is mythology created by recruiters.  I’m sure there is some racket in place where-by Dick Cheney’s cousin has a billion dollar subsidy to keep the Panda Express open at NS Norfolk, but it doesn’t mean a thing to the average serviceman.

3.Maybe it’s just me.  I can be something of an insufferable prick and it may very well be that others are very grateful for this kindness.  I didn’t conduct a poll.  


“The Tragedy of the American Military” by James Fallows | The Atlantic

"The Tragedies of James Fallows" | CDR Salamander
"The Tragedy of James Fallows" by Bryan McGrath | Information Dissemination

Chickenhawk Responses No. 9: Meanwhile, the Realities | The Atlantic (With links to responses 1 through 8)

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