10 Awful Things About the Army Nobody Tells You
Now, I know what you're thinking already but this isn't that. I'm not bashing the military or America. Also, I don't want to scare you because the Army isn't scary. If you sincerely want to serve, then that's awesome!
So what's this about? Let's put it this way: if you want to buy a car, you can go to the dealer and stare at it endlessly. You can walk around it as many times as you want, maybe even kick the tires. But remember: tires can be changed. You have to look under the hood. If you want to make the right decision, you have to do your homework. This article will help you do that.
I focus on the Army because it's the only branch I served in. I can't speak for other branches. To be fair, I have another article titled 7 Awesome Things About the Army Your Recruiter Will Never Tell You. Take a look at it after you read this one.
Finally, I refer to the soldier as a "he." I do this only to keep things simple. I know there are many female service members. I am proud to have served alongside them. Thank you for understanding.
Ten Awful Things About the Army No One Tells You About
10. Identity theft is a threat and it's just as bad for veterans.
You might think that if you worked for the Army, you'd be safe, but let's get this out of the way right now: identity theft is rampant for service members, veterans, and their families.
If you haven't memorized your social security number by now, you will within the first few days of in-processing. Throughout your entire military career, it will be used so often on so much paperwork that you will get numb to it. It's even on your dog tags! Why? There are so many people in the military that the quickest, easiest way to identify each individual is to do so by number. You'll notice a lot of private sector companies do this as well.
Every form you fill out is another opportunity for a criminal to get your name, social security number, and date of birth. In minutes, you can become an identity theft casualty. If you're fighting in the latest war, you won't know for months! Instead of confetti in your ticker-tape parade, you'll have bills and more paperwork—this time with the credit bureaus and collection agencies. Oh, and this doesn't end after your time is up: It's just as easy to nab a veteran's identity.
But why would criminals go for a single target when they can carpet bomb millions of hardworking, taxpaying Americans at once? Computers are stolen from the homes and cars of government officials so often that the media thinks it's old news. Do any of them get thrown in prison? Fired? Disciplined? No. Also the government has never been shy about hiring contractors to handle office work that contains such sensitive information. I don't know if this makes it better or worse for our troops.
So why does the Department of Defense insist on social security numbers? If anyone has that one figured out, please post your answer in the comment section below. A soldier was once issued a serial number that served the same purpose. No more. Now, he's fighting on two fronts.
9. The Army is not adult daycare. This misconception gets people killed.
One of the things I despise most is the idea that the Army serves the soldier. The Army doesn't serve you: You serve your country by joining the Army. Fortunately, there are few people that believe this because Basic Combat Training (BCT) does an outstanding job of smoking that idea out of their heads. But still, they're out there, making life for other soldiers far worse and sometimes more dangerous.
The Army does have benefits that help soldiers and families throughout their lives. These benefits are not available anywhere else, so it makes sense for civilians to join the military to get them. That's not what I'm talking about. In fact, I highly recommend you get involved in all the programs you can. You will be a better soldier now and a better civilian afterwards. You will make America great!
What I am talking about is the idea that the Army is just a job that's impossible to get fired from, a steady source of income for anyone who can twiddle his thumbs and stay out of sight. Usually, I don't care what people think. However, this kind of attitude usually leads to sub-par performance.
A soldier might get out of shape, forget minute but important parts of certain procedures, not take inspections seriously, and so on. Everyone else in the team now has a larger load to bear.
Friend, the days of Beetle Bailey are over. It's funny to see it in a comic strip but to see it in real life is disgusting. If you're the guy who thinks the Army is Club Med for slackers, then the rest of this article will scare the living you-know-what out of you.
A lot of things about the Army don't make sense. Catch-22 pokes fun at them and the bureaucracy that involves any large organization. It's a classic.
8. It will destroy your soul.
David Wong published an outstanding article on Cracked.com, 9 Types of Jobs that Will Destroy Your Soul, which aptly describes the roles people play in the workplace. I must warn you that the language is rough, but every word of it is true. Every soldier has experienced at least seven of these roles at some point during his military career. I will not re-write what the article says, but I will tell you that every soldier can, at any moment, become:
- The punching bag, who bears the brunt of complaints but can do nothing to help.
- The walking dead, facing sleep deprivation and irregular hours.
- The laughingstock, doing a job everyone makes fun of.
- The cog, performing endless tasks with mindless repetition.
- The rat in a cage: A manager responsible for those he has no authority over.
- The assistant cromulationist: A highly-specialized job that is impossible to explain.
- The Bob: The job that makes everyone else's job harder.
- The girl or the "lone representative of your gender in the workplace" (this applies to female soldiers).
The article is hilarious. If you are a civilian, you will appreciate it, but if you are a soldier, you live it every day.
7. You are on call 24/7, even when you're not.
Ever wonder why service members tell time differently? For example, it's not 11 p.m., it's 2300 hrs. This is because war never sleeps. Those who think otherwise have another thing coming. Battle is about maneuvering units and materials at a moment's notice to secure a tactical advantage. This can easily happen at night and easily make no sense to you.
No matter what your rank or specialization, the Army can wake you up at 0200 hrs and make you guard a port-o-potty in the middle of nowhere, thousands of miles from any national security threat. All you'll have to protect yourself is a broom and a canteen. You have no say in the matter, and nobody is required to explain anything.
You're not even safe on vacation. Oh, did you know the Army includes weekends and holidays as vacation days? That came as a shock to me. When you go on vacation, you are expected to fill out a lot more paperwork than you would at a company in the private sector. The Army wants to know where you are even when you're on vacation, down to the hotel you'll be staying in.
Why? In case of national emergency, the Army has to know where you are so it can summon you if they need you. Even if you are far from your base, you may be contacted to report to a closer one. This is highly unlikely, but it is a soldier's responsibility.
6. Your First Amendment rights are gone—this is the cost of protecting everyone else's.
Most service members easily accept this. I did. Even though I knew what I believed in, I also knew it wasn't fair to use my uniform to push my personal beliefs on anyone else. The people who love to sell their beliefs wrapped in a flag with a pretty yellow ribbon on top will be annoyed to see that their rights to free speech are tossed right out the window.
Don't get me wrong, you can always be an armchair activist. Maybe even go to a few events. However, the second you identify yourself as a service member, you're in deep trouble: You fight for America, you don't speak for it.
Still, the Army seems to favor Christianity. "Oh Lord" this and "praise Jesus" that. This shouldn't surprise anyone as the United States is populated by many Christians. As a Christian myself, I never did take it personally. However, many other soldiers—Jews, Muslims, atheists, etc.—to this day are forced to put their beliefs in the back seat while fighting for a constitution that guarantees religious freedom.
There is even a non-profit Military Religious Freedom Foundation that fights for the religious equality of American soldiers in the US military. But don't bring it up at any of the "prayer breakfasts" you might find yourself at. Think that was a joke? Join and see. Just don't spill the salt.
5. When you join, so does your family—it's everyone's sacrifice.
I was born in a military family. Later, when my mother was pregnant with my brother, my father decided not to re-enlist. By then, he had saved enough to start his own business. He did so and never looked back. Decisions like this are terrifying. Who do you turn your back on: Your family or your country? Of course, it's not all always black and white but it does make life tough for everyone--even for parents of soldiers.
Although military marriages are no more likely to end than civilian marriages, they are faced with unique challenges that not every couple is prepared for. For example, a military spouse is not as likely to find a career. A potential employer has to face the possibility that the employee might leave with only a few day's notice if the spouse is stationed elsewhere.
An Army wife understands that her soldier can be deployed at any time, many times. During this time, she holds the fort. I hate to say this, but it's a lot like being a single mom. It takes a very special woman to be an Army wife.
Resources on the base are there to help, but they are overwhelmed. It's becoming so much of a problem that countless non-profit organizations are popping up to fill in the gap. There is no reason you can't have a happy marriage and great career in the military. Just remember that when you join, so does your family.
4. You will be broke.
In the service, nobody gets rich. A person may join for the bonus or to pay off student loans. These are definitely great benefits. Also, the military pays for housing, food, medical, and so on. Further, bases have gyms and recreational facilities. So what's going on?
All these benefits are real, but the actual take-home pay is low. Take a look at the take-home pay chart and look towards the bottom at "Enlisted Military Pay" E-1 through E-4. That's what the youngest of our troops have to subsist on, per month. Most young, single soldiers survive, but it's our military families that are getting burned. The reasons a military family may live in poverty are many—too many.
Oddly enough, many people actually believe that poverty in the military is a myth. As a medic, I've seen military family members attempt suicide because they are living this myth. I've seen countless programs such as Army Emergency Relief and Adopt a US Soldier try to save our soldiers' families. I've seen laws such as FY 2007 Military Authorization Act passed that, among other things, clearly make it illegal for payday lenders to prey upon our soldiers.
Poverty in the military is very real. Here are 7 Reasons Our Troops are Poor. You can always join and try to strike it rich if you want to prove me wrong.
Soldier is a blue-collar job. Thousands work from desks, cubicles and offices but in the end combat readiness requires sweat, stress and pain. Those already in combat tack on even longer hours and danger.
3. You will see government waste. You will burn taxpayer money.
Okay, let's take a break. Hungry? Make yourself a snack: two eggs, any style (I like mine scrambled). Once you've made these eggs, throw them away, right into the garbage. Then make some more. These are for you. Enjoy!
It was heartbreaking, right? Throwing away those perfectly fine eggs? Well, that's what happens in the military. And I'm not talking about war profiteering, I'm talking about regular, day-in-day-out procedures. I used eggs in my example because eggs must be tossed if they're sitting around too long after being cooked. The military throws away a lot of food every day. When it comes to feeding the troops, it's better to throw away food rather than come up short.
Now that I think about it, the real reason KP (kitchen patrol) is so tough is not because we're scrubbing pots and pans in the steaming kitchen. The real punishment is that you see so much food being thrown out. Perfectly good food that nobody will eat but must be thrown away to prevent food poisoning. Can you throw away a whole chocolate cake no one has touched? How about a tub of ice cream? Can you do it again and again? You will if you sign up!
In fairness, there's a lot of waste in any organization. Even the most profitable companies on earth throw things away. Sometimes it takes too much time and effort to save little things like staples, paperclips, or attack helicopters. Sometimes it takes too much time and effort to bring home thousands of perfectly functioning assault rifles. It's just easier to order new ones from the defense contractors. It gives people jobs, too. Everyone wins! Well, except for the taxpayers.
This was one of the toughest parts of being in the Army for me: throwing things away when, on the other side of the base, the family of a junior enlisted soldier was living in poverty.
2. You might get seriously hurt.
Casualties happen in war. War is hell. People know the risks when they join. It comes with the territory. Yeah, but I'm not talking about that.
What people don't know is that this can happen at any time, even stateside. Even if there is no ammunition or ordinance around, a soldier can get seriously and permanently injured.
After years of PT (physical training), a soldier may have problems with knees and other joints. He can easily have the same problems pro basketball players have but without the same salaries. Any civilian can get injured, but it is more likely in the military because you are more active and working longer hours with more dangerous equipment.
Medics are ready, safety policies are in place, and your buddies are looking out for you, but sometimes this isn't enough. As a medic, I've seen twenty-year-old trainees walking with canes. Canes in the 21st century.
1. You are held to a higher standard. . . forever.
And the number one awful thing about the Army nobody tells you is that you will forever be held to a higher standard!
Lexington and Concorde, Gettysburg, Normandy... soldiers before you have paved the way. It is now your turn. If you think this is an honor, then you are right. What you might not know is that this is also a huge responsibility, and it will last until the day you die.
Your friends will expect you to be in great shape even after you are discharged. Your family will expect you to be calm and patient. Your coworkers will expect you to lead the way and handle stress easily. Everyone you know will expect you to win. Nobody will expect you to complain. If you oversleep, get drunk, get poor, gain weight, and so on, then you will disappoint the Army in the eyes of the civilian.
This responsibility brings out the best in soldiers and veterans, but it lasts forever, and it will never be easy.
If you can do it, if you want the chance, you are ready to join the Army! Good luck!