Don't Do This Again!
The National Guard missed its 2004 recruitment quota of 56,000 – the first miss in a decade according to a recent story in the New York Times. The numbers were almost 7,000 short, so an effort to bolster the ranks is underway: “re-up” and receive a bonus of $15,000 tax-free! Sign to a six-year extension of your contract with the U.S. government, and you’ll receive enough money “to pay down debt, splurge on a vacation, buy a car, make a home down payment or cover education costs … .” You can be reasonably sure that reenlistment will include a 24-month repeat tour of duty to Afghanistan or Iraq. Some are signing up – some aren’t.
Am I bothered by this story? Oh, yes. Like many of the family members interviewed in the Times story, I “don’t much care for the Guard.” My daughter will be on the other side of the world, immersed in a military environment of controlled, highly mediated messages, and will have been there for more than a year when the campaign for her reenlistment will, in her case, reach its height. That’s not “fair play,” but it’s also nothing new.
I have two children in the Guard, one serving active duty and one on the wait list – both having enlisted with the Minnesota National Guard in response to what they then believed to be a civic duty. They didn’t enlist for the bonuses, weren’t interested in educational support – both were full-tuition scholars at the local university, and certainly didn’t join for the fun. Their enlistments were a matter of honor. I, along with them, expected no less show of integrity from the government with whom they enlisted to serve. I have been sorely disappointed, and find myself torn between the respect I have for my children, as well as for the men and women with whom they, serve yet am blazingly angry about the misleading and blatant breech of honor regularly practiced administratively.
Here are some examples: The $15,000 bonus – the one that looks so attractive as to immediately bolster recruitment numbers, well, that bonus will be paid in two installments not one. The soldier will receive half of the money after three years of the commitment has been served and the other half at the end of six years. Doesn’t look so attractive when the deal is laid out like that, does it? Furthermore, the six-year commitment to which you agree can, without any recourse, become an eight-year commitment simply by having a 24-month tour of duty to Afghanistan or Iraq initiating in the last months of your sixth year – exactly the situation for my daughter, Tommi. What’s more, there is no “bonus” pay for this type of extension to your contract. There is no draft in America?! Oh yes there is! But the pool of potential candidates is limited to those who currently or once did wear a uniform. All this doesn’t touch on the turmoil I feel for seeing the most economically disadvantaged among us most manipulated and deceived in the name of honor and patriotism.
Tommi, I love you. I am as proud as I can be for the service you give and the integrity with which you serve. Abe, you know I feel the same way about you and the work you do. Both of you know that I eagerly (and at times too boldly) extend the same appreciation to all those in military service. But kids, I don’t much care for the Guard, and I sure hope you don’t do this again.