I could build a Bailey bridge, lay a minefield, put up triple strand concertina, make an abatis, disarm IEDs (we called them booby traps), drive an armored personnel carrier, operate a D-Handled Dozer (i.e. a shovel), and I knew how to fire and maneuver. Those four years that I served had an outsized impact on my life and forever changed the person I was. My veteran’s benefits paid for me to go to school and attain my Master’s degree. Something I never would have been able to achieve without the discipline I learned in the military.
Today, as was the case when I served, if you were junior enlisted and had a family you likely live off post as post housing was filled with higher ranking troops. Which meant that as junior enlisted you live in a crappy trailer park and to make ends meet you are likely receiving food stamps.
When I got out of the Army I quickly found out that I had no marketable skills. There just is not a lot of call for a guy who can lay out a minefield of M16A1 bounding mines in civilian market. The same is true for troops getting out today who served in combat arms.
When someone finds out I am a veteran they often thank me for my service which always makes me feel uncomfortable. I doubt that is something that will ever change for me. I am proud of my service to my country; however, I do not need to be thanked for it. I also hear a lot of talk about supporting the troops and I find a lot of that is just talk.
More on "supporting the troops" below the fold.
One of the things I often hear about soldiers currently serving is, "Well, they volunteered," or "they can always get out and do something else with the skills they learned while serving." My answer to that is you are dead wrong. When I joined the Army I signed up for four years of active duty service. If your pay and housing allowance does not cut it for you and your family you cannot just quit and go to a higher paying job. Military occupations also do not transfer over to the civilian world very well—sure, if you were a welder or mechanic you should be okay in the civilian world; however, if you were in combat arms your options in the civilian world are few and far between. In my case the only college credits I received for four years of military service were for physical training—I did not have to take a gym class in college.
With our troops needing food stamps to make ends meet, and with commissaries being on the chopping block, we as a nation need to re-evaluate what is important to us. Should our troops need to rely on food stamps? Or do we purchase the F-35 at $172.7 million per plane?
When I was in the service I was lucky enough to spend a month training with the Canadian Army. At the time their troops were the highest paid army in the world and it showed. They were a highly professional force who had no qualms making a career out of the military. Today, Canada still tops the list when it comes to highest paid forces. There is no reason we cannot pay our troops enough money so that a soldier does not need to rely on food stamps to feed their families.
In 2005 our military spent $16,000 to recruit one soldier. If we can spend that much money recruiting a soldier then why can't we spend some additional money preparing our troops for life in the civilian world? When I got out the VA man came into our ETS briefing and called us fools for getting out of the service. That was all we got. I had no idea how to write a resume, or how to apply for GI Bill benefits I had earned.
We need to pay our troops more, and we need to take better care of our veterans. We need to do more than say "Thank you for your service," or "I support the troops," or call our soldiers and veterans heroes. This isn't rocket science. Cut some of the unnecessary weapons programs—use that money to ensure that our troops are the highest paid, most professional force in the world.