I'll begin this segment by saying that every company commander likes to sit down in their meetings and see "green lights" next to their name in all sorts of areas: "Green lights" in submitting awards and evaluations, "Green lights" in aircraft and vehicle maintenance, "Green lights" in property accountability, and so forth. (In fact, one of the strange aspects of the alleged PowerPoint/Zero Defect military mentality that was pervasive in the 90s was the fact that work seemed to revolve around achieving "green lights" on Powerpoint slides)
Re-enlistment is the same. Of course, we all want to achieve a "Green light" when it comes to re-enlistment, but the fact of the matter is that you are dealing with a Soldier's future when you swear him in for another two to six years. Soldiers who are barely 21 years old are on their second combat deployment and have never known a college lifestyle--and with a new Montgomery GI Bill, they can not only have their tuition paid for, but they can also have their living expenses paid for while they take some time off and achieve a college degree. I do certainly believe in preserving our military force for the future by retaining the best Soldiers, especially in light of a disturbing trend of the best junior leaders leaving the Army (for example, the Army only has, as of 2007, half of the post-command captains it needs). However, I also have to take into consideration that many Soldiers have bigger and better plans in life than the US Army, and in many ways, it would be selfish to hold them back just to get a "Green light" in an area.
I sat down with a number of Soldiers, each with their own plans for the future--some staying, some leaving, some sitting on the fence. Two in particular stuck out.
Soldier #1 has a wife who is also in the military and a daughter not even a year old. He works in what the civilian community would call the Information Technology (IT) field. With jobs at historic lows, the spectre of unemployment did little to change his mind about leaving the Army. Why? He was looking at getting a contractor job in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, one of the bad side effects of the contractor culture is that a large number of Soldiers have seen contractors performing, in many cases, the same jobs that they do for a.) more money, b.) without being "stop-lossed", and c.) without having to shave, get a haircut, or wear bulky uniforms and body armour in 120F heat. The money in particular is a sore subject, as Soldiers who are supporting families on $30,000 a year simply don't see the justice in staying in the military when contractors are making up to four times that for the same jobs. There's also very little quality control when it comes to hiring as a contractor. I think every aviatior knows of some crew chief who got kicked out of the Army (for obesity, drinking and driving, etc) and wound up getting hired for a contract maintenance service within a few weeks, working on the exact same aircraft, working fewer hours and being paid more money.
While I tried to sway his mind by reminding him that contractor jobs would only be out there as long as there was a war going on--and with Iraq winding down and with Afghanistan being re-assessed with much more limited aims, that might not be that long--the prospect of a six-figure salary to tide him over until the economy got back on its feet was too promising to let go of.
Soldier #2 is another exceptionally bright Soldier who is roughly 22 years old. He's one of the many who has heard of my tales of debauchery, many of which date from my college days. Obviously influenced by my tales of close calls with the law, Slip and Slide Parties and whatnot, he wants to attain his college degree. Well, for other good reasons, too, but I think ultimately because of what he's heard of the infamous Slip and Slide party. He actually once asked me if college really was like Animal House, and I had to inform him that, yes, it was.
I asked him what his post-college plans were and he mentioned wanting to become a Foreign Service Officer with the State Department or even joining the Peace Corps. I have to admit, I encouraged him to pursue these career fields. As much as America is going to need more and more Soldiers, particularly with a planned increase in the Army's size, it is going to need those Soldiers in no small part because they're doing the jobs which once fell in the realm of the State Department. At the end of the Cold War, America drastically cut the number of Foreign Service Officers, even as the total number of countries in the world increased. America is going to have to hire far more Foreign Service Operatives in order to once again become viable in American foreign policy.
And, since I'm bad at writing conclusions, here's your Megan Fox of the day: