He walked into the mini-mart with his Class A uniform on, specialist, with three rows of medals and a mountain division patch. I asked if he was stationed at Fort Drum, he was. Asked if he was deploying to Iraq again, and he is. Two tours already completed, he's going back over on the exact date he's scheduled to leave the Army for good. No orders have been issued pertaining to his seperation date, as 'stop loss' has become an assumed reality for thousands just like him. His unit doesn't talk about it, in typical Army fashion it's treated with the same "suck it up and drive on" explaination given to any situation where the government is responsible for most, if not all, of the bullshit a soldier is being forced to deal with against their will.
I asked whether he was even being given word on whether or not this final deployment will be the end of his obligation, and his answer was, "it's useless even asking about that, because nobody knows anything". I didn't press the issue, knowing from experience that hashing out such things over and over only makes it worse. Instead I asked about the equipment his unit was shipping out with, what condition it was in. Turns out, this unit he and others were transferred to was new, and hadn't yet received, inspected or operated up to half of the vehicles they'll be deploying with in two months. What they did have was hand-me-down from other units, received "as is", meaning the broken down equipment was on the new unit to fix. This is how the Army system works when units have to give up men or equipment to another, unfortunately, the best is retained while problems are passed on for someone else to deal with.
One rotation at NTC (45 day training rotation - in peace times combat units do this around 3 times a year), with an entirely new unit, half of the required equipment, and a dreadfull reality to face, that nobody in their chain of command, from squad leader to the President, knows how, when or if ever this military unit is going to receive what they need to do the job, let alone whether each individual is ever going to be able to take off the uniform. Indeed, this Army of ours is in dire straights, and while you and I don't have to actually DO any of this work ourselves, it should concern everyone who cares about our military that this is the best we can do right now.
Like a carpenter asked to build a house without tools, this soldier is told he's going back to Iraq (contract seperation date be damned), with guys who have only been together for a few months and half of the required equipment, most of which is already on its last legs.
I'M SO GLAD I GOT OUT WHEN I DID, BECAUSE NOBODY GIVES A SHIT ABOUT THIS GUY!