October 19, 2010

Name: LT. G
Posting date: 10/20/10
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Reno, Nevada
Milblog: Kerplunk

I woke up the other morning to a text from a good friend who, like me, served in Iraq as a platoon leader, and like me, separated from the Army at the end of his initial commitment. "Don't you just feel like kicking in a door again?" he asked. Though platoon leaders tend not to be the door-kickers, I understood his broader point, and replied with "damn straight."

I've been out of the military for just over a year now, and I've been shocked at how much I miss (parts of) it. The camaraderie, of course, can't be replaced in the civilian world, nor can the ability to act like a boorish 16-year old with a gun. (I'll leave it to the reader's judgment whether or not the latter is a positive or a negative). But the pure sense of purpose we had in combat is what I long for the most. The missions changed day-to-day obviously, as did our tasks and purpose, but at its base level, soldiering in Iraq offered a clarity normal life can't. "Kill or be killed" felt a lot more pressing than "Pick up a gallon of milk," you know?

Of my friends and peers who left the service the same time I did, I'd say roughly half have expressed interest in returning for the reasons outlined above. "Civilian life is boring," they'll say, or "At least the bullshit in the Army mattered." One close friend stated outright that he was certain he'd get sued for accidental sexual harassment if he worked in corporate America another day, because "women don't have a sense of humor." (His words, not mine.) I understand their arguments -- for all its faults and dangers, the Army and combat offer thrills and adventure. It's easy to get addicted to that, but not so easy to kick.

The other half of my friends, though, want nothing to do with returning to service. More often than not, these guys lost something or someone over there, rather than getting lucky with their close calls. For them, thrill and adventure are boyish fantasies of a past life. They may long for the camaraderie, and usually detest the civilian mindset as much as the other group, but they are as done with the service as done can be.

(Two quick caveats: One, I'm aware the sample size of junior officers I cite is tiny, and should not be utilized for statistical purposes. Two, the current climate of the economy must be referenced as a factor in retention, as well.)

I think I fall somewhere in between of these two camps. My platoon and I were very lucky in that we lost no one, and the only real tragedy that befell us was the Hot Wheels incident -- which he survived. I miss the people in the Army everyday. But I don't really miss the Army. I don't miss the endless series of PowerPoint presentations. I don't miss the empowered clowns misconstruing and mangling their Higher's orders while passing them down to us. And I don't miss being away from my friends and family for months on end.

As an officer, the only real opportunity one has to soldier is as a platoon leader. Commanding a company sounds intriguing, though it's still nothing like being a PL, but even that is only 18 months of a twenty-year career. Even if I were to sign back up, moving from the IRR back to active duty, I couldn't go back and be a scout platoon leader. The bureaucracy simply won't allow for it; there's a whole new crop of bright-eyed lieutenants eager for the opportunity to lead soldiers and Marines. And good on them for such. So, I remind myself, even if the mind has diluted various memory shards of the negative times, it wouldn't be the same. Office Space in Camo as a staff officer would await, not door-kicking. I joined the Army to lead, and lead I did. But I got out because I didn't want to manage, and manage I would. Eminem wrote a song about the world turning. Apply it accordingly. And don't click that link if you hate rap or profanity.

Anyways, off to get a gallon of whole milk! This bowl of Golden Grahams won't eat itself.

Note: LT. G was a frequent contributor to The Sandbox during his deployment. His book Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War was published last March to excellent reviews.



It's a shame that the military still does not get it - your best officers are leaders, not managers. Many of the best leaders are driven out to lead in the private sector, leaving the few that are left fighting with malingerer conformists.

KABOOM! was a great book, btw. I passed it onto my wife, who may be deploying to Iraq in 2012 (if not sooner).

Isn't the US out of Iraq now? How can you wife go in again?
And for kicking in the doors of innocent humans (not animals) I hope someone kicks in your doors very soon!

Bob, we're going to be in Iraq for a VERY long time training the INA and IP (and thumbing our noses at the Iranians). Remember, the phrase was "combat troops." If shot at, they will defend themselves.

I've been retired 16 years and still don't understand most civilians. They pride themselves at being ignorant of international politics and history but have little problem wanting to send the militaary anywhere! Too many 'ra-ra' the armed forces but have little vested interest in the peril they send them into.

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