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10 Awful Things About the Army That Nobody Tells You

For several years, I was a soldier-medic in the U.S. Army. I saw countless military and family members. Now I am a veteran looking back.

Awful Things About the Army You Might Not Know

Before I begin listing and explaining my points, I want to make it clear that this article is not meant to be disrespectful or insulting to any branch of the military. I'm not bashing the Army or America by shedding light on the unsatisfactory aspects of service. Also, I don't want to scare anybody or discourage serving in a branch of the military because the Army isn't scary. If you sincerely want to serve, then that's awesome!

So what's this article actually about? Let's put it this way: If you want to buy a car, you can go to a dealership and stare at a car 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 about purchasing a car or pursuing a military career, you have to do your homework. This article will help you do that.

I'll focus on the Army in this article because it's the only branch of the military that I served in. I can't speak for the 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, throughout this article, I'll refer to the soldier as a "he." I'm only doing so to keep things simple. I know there are many female service members, and I am proud to have served alongside them. Thank you for understanding.

10. Identity Theft Is a Threat to Soldiers, and It's Just as Bad for Veterans

You might think that if you work for the Army, you'd be safe from the threat of identity theft, but let's get honest and clear about this risk. The truth is that identity theft is rampant for service members, veterans, and their families.

If you haven't memorized your social security number (SSN) by now, you will within the first few days of in-processing. Throughout your entire military career, it will be used so often and on so much paperwork that you will get numb to it. 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.

Almost every form you fill out provides another opportunity for a criminal to get your name, SSN, and date of birth. In minutes, you can become an identity theft casualty. If you're deployed and fighting in the latest war, you might not find out that your personal information has been stolen until months after the fact! Instead of confetti in your ticker-tape parade, you'll have bills and more paperwork to contend with, but this time the paperwork will be for all the credit bureaus and collection agencies you'll have to communicate with to sort out your identity theft issues. Oh, and this doesn't end after your time serving is complete. It's just as easy to nab a veteran's identity as it is to steal an active soldier's identity.

This doesn't just happen to individual military representatives. Sometimes, large numbers of soldiers are robbed of their personal information all at once. Why would criminals go for a single target when they can take advantage of millions of hardworking, taxpaying Americans all 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 these government employees get thrown in prison? Fired? Disciplined? No. Also, the government has never been shy about hiring contractors to handle office work that contains sensitive information, so it's not hard to doubt their devotion to protecting the information they're privy to.

To be fair, the Department of Defense has been working hard to phase out the use of social security numbers. For example, they are no longer used on dog tags! Instead, the Pentagon issues a 10-digit randomly generated number. Go Army! Hopefully, someday, social security numbers will no longer be required for any military paperwork.

But for now, a soldier must fight on two fronts: to protect his country and his identity.

What Does the Army Do to Prevent Identity Theft?

Apart from warning service members about the risks and instructing them to be careful about their documentation, there isn't much that can be done to protect a person's information or identity. Prevention and swift action in the event of identity theft are typically the only ways of addressing this issue. The Military Consumer has a lot of information available to specifically help servicemen and veterans navigate identity theft issues because this kind of violation is an unfortunate possibility for people in the military.

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 very few people that believe this because Basic Combat Training (BCT) does an outstanding job of smoking that idea out of recruits' heads. But still, people who think of the Army as an adult daycare facility are out there making life for other soldiers far worse and sometimes more dangerous. Immature people who misunderstand the purpose of the Army usually want access to the Army's benefits without understanding the sacrifices and responsibilities associated with serving.

Even though 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. But those benefits are not what I'm talking about. In fact, if you serve, I highly recommend that you get involved in all the beneficiary programs you can. Doing so will enable you to be a better soldier now and a better civilian afterwards.

What I am talking about is the idea that the Army is just a job that's impossible to get fired from or 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 a sub-par performance.

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An irresponsible soldier might get out of shape, forget minute but important parts of certain procedures, not take inspections seriously, and so on. If one soldier is lax about his responsibilities, then everyone else on the team will have a larger load to bear as a result.

My friend, the days of Beetle Bailey are over. It's funny to see that kind of behavior in a comic strip, but to see it in real life is disgusting. If you're the kind of 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.

8. It Will Destroy Your Soul

David Wong published an outstanding article on Cracked.com called 9 Types of Jobs that Will Destroy Your Soul that 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: A person who bears the brunt of complaints, but can do nothing to help.
  • The walking dead: A person who will face sleep deprivation and irregular hours.
  • The laughingstock: A person who does a job that everyone makes fun of.
  • The cog: A person who performs 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: A person who makes everyone else's job harder.
  • The girl: A.K.A. 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'll relate to it because you will 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 it can 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. The only items you might have to protect yourself will be a broom and a canteen. You'll have no say in the matter, and nobody is required to explain anything to you.

You're not even safe when you're on vacation. Oh, didn't you know that the Army considers weekends and holidays to be vacation days? That fact 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 typical company in the private sector. The Army wants to know every detail regarding your whereabouts when you're on vacation—including the hotel you'll be staying in.

Why? In case of a 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 Will Be Limited While You're Serving

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 protests or demonstrations, however, the second you identify yourself as a service member, you'll be in deep trouble. As a military member, you'll fight for America, but you're not authorized to speak for it.

Still, the Army seems to favor Christianity. There's lots of "oh, lord" this and "praise Jesus" that. This shouldn't surprise anyone because the United States is populated by many Christians. As a Christian myself, I never did take it personally. However, many other soldiers who identify as Jewish, Muslim, atheist, etc. 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 U.S. 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 the Military, Your Family Joins With You

I was born into 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 to make. Who do you turn your back on—your family or your country? Of course, it's not always black and white, but it does make life tough for everyone—even for the parents of soldiers.

Although military marriages are no more likely to end in divorce 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 their spouse is suddenly stationed elsewhere. An article called How Military Marriage Screws Up Your Career sheds light on many of the ways that military spouses can struggle professionally.

An Army wife understands that her soldier can be deployed at any time. During this time, she holds down 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.

Supportive resources on military bases are there to help spouses and families, but they are usually overwhelmed by the number of people they serve. 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 a 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 fees, and so on. Furthermore, bases have gyms and recreational facilities. So what causes soldiers to end up broke?

All the aforementioned benefits are real, but the actual take-home pay is low. Take a look at the military's take-home pay rate and look 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. Unfortunately, there are many reasons why a military family may live in poverty.

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 with and experiencing the reality of military impoverishment. I've seen countless programs such as Army Emergency Relief and Adopt a U.S. Soldier try to save our soldiers' families. I've seen laws such as the 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, and the possibility of being broke after enlisting is something to heavily consider. You can always join the military and try to strike it rich if you want to try to prove me wrong about this.

3. You Will See the Government Waste 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 eggs are actually 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 eat something that's not fresh enough.

Now that I think about it, the real reason KP (kitchen patrol) is so tough is not because they're always scrubbing pots and pans in the steaming kitchen. The real punishment is that you will end up seeing a lot of food getting thrown out, and it will be hard to witness all the wastefulness. Perfectly good food that nobody has eaten must be thrown away to prevent food poisoning. Can you throw away a whole chocolate cake that no one has touched? How about a tub of ice cream? Can you do it again and again? You will if you sign up for the military!

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. This practice gives people jobs to do, so technically, everyone wins! Well, except for the taxpayers.

This was one of the toughest parts of being in the Army for me. It was hard to throw things away when, on the other side of the base, the family of a junior enlisted soldier was living in poverty and could have used what we threw out.