Friday, February 20, 2009

Forget It

When my friend neared the end of his first term as a Marine, after several meetings with the career planner, much discussion with his wife, and careful consideration of all his options, he elected that, given his circumstances, reenlisting would be the best course of action.

A good friend was aiming to go to a unit that didn’t deploy in bustling area of the Northeast, and it would be fun to reenlist with him, train other Marines, enjoy the uniform far from a large base, and remain a part of the brotherhood. Besides all this, reenlistment bonuses were fantastic at that time. You get a huge sum just for showing up, plus even more for staying in a specific field. The opportunities for a large nest egg were tangible. It would be a down payment on a house. With dreams someday of a family, it seemed like a great idea. All he had to do was some brief paperwork and go get a signature.

This signature, however, was that of the company first sergeant. While he was usually fairly welcoming to his subordinates, he was a busy man, so my friend scheduled a time when he could meet with him, get the signature he needed, and prepare to raise his hand again for the oath for his country. He was excited. Nearly four years in the Corps had taken him twice to Iraq as an infantryman, seen him shot at and mortared repeatedly, taught him many things, and transformed a teenager into an instructor, skilled tactician, and leader of Marines – whose purpose was mission accomplishment, advocacy of his troops, and perpetual concern for their well being, safety, and combat preparedness. He had chosen his career well, conducted himself professionally, and had high accolades and decorations to prove it. The Marines would benefit from him remaining. He, too, would enjoy the continued relationship.

At the agreed-upon time, he appeared in the company office to get the 1st Sgt’s signature for the go ahead. It would be brief. “You’re reenlisting? That’s excellent news, devil dog. God speed! Let me sign that paper, and you have yourself a find career as an infantry NCO.” They never said no to a reenlistment. He was delayed in his meeting on account of the 1st Sgt being busy counseling (yelling at) somebody. No worries. Ass chewings never take long.

Four hours later, he was finally called into the office. My friend, though extremely patient was annoyed. This was a decision that was carefully-considered, and it would influence the next four years of his life, and perhaps even more of it. Marines were always eager to retain their own. He was a good Marine on all levels, a multi-time combat veteran, and carried with him the survival skills that his juniors desperately needed to know. The war in Iraq wasn’t going anywhere for the immediate future.

After he reported in, he explained his intentions to the first sergeant and handed him the paper. The first sergeant glared back up at him, took the paper, and frowned as he read it. Setting it down, he looked squarely at my friend and asked, “Why on earth are you reenlisting?”

It was the final nail in the coffin. Reenlisting was a decision he had made boldly, but with the hopes that the next four years would be smoother than the first. Having somebody question his character and inquire why on earth he wanted to reenlist was insulting.

“You know what, first sergeant, I think I’ve changed my mind.”

He walked out, tore up the papers, and a few months later got out of the Marine Corps like almost all of us. The Marines lost a good man that day. After years of being treated like a useless underling, it appeared the next four would be simply more of the same. Forget it. Not long after this, his friend, who DID end up reenlisting and going to the non-deployable unit, found himself once again in Iraq, feeling like he’d been completely screwed.

My veteran buddy, longtime friend, fellow fighter, driver, companion, and coverer of my six, has since joined an outfit that was downright eager to accept him. He’s now a cadet in the Army ROTC, providing them with essential training in counterinsurgency operations, and preparing his fellow cadets for inevitable deployment to the middle east. At heart, he’s still a Marine, and he’s still annoyed that a single first sergeant would do so little to retain the nation’s finest We both know for a fact that this man singlehandedly discouraged several others from reenlisting, myself being one of them. For his sake, I hope the Army does him better.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved


  1. Marines seem to do pretty well in the Army. I served with at least three of them. The rank comes easier, because it is a larger organization, but they probably miss the uniforms.

  2. I don't understand what's so insulting about the 1st sergeant's question. Maybe he had observed this guy getting the short end of the stick and thought he could do better elsewhere, brotherhood aside. Sounds like the 1st sergeant actually isn't too happy with his career.

  3. I'm having a hard time posting a comment on your subsequent blog about the VA. The page is blank. So here is my comment:

    Ha ha ha! Blogs just get the bloggers in trouble. That's all it seems to have done for me when folks get insulted about what I write. Best not to encourage readership; someone might read what you write.

  4. The same thing was said to me when I was struggling with the decision to reenlist or perhaps obtain an Active Guard Reserve position or become a recruiter. The majority of those I had to see to get signatures and such counselled me to leave the military if I "want to see your daughter grow up and have a real relationship with her."

    I am surprised Blackwater didn't try to snatch him up....