12 January 2015

Career Sacrifice

Greetings fellow warriors! I hope I will be able to impart some knowledge and initiate some meaningful and rewarding conversations around our profession of arms.  Although I have some joint experience, most of my commentary will center on the Army Reserves. The subject of this article came to mind with the receipt of an email from LG Talley, USARC CG, regarding the recovery of unsatisfactory participants (unsats) from troop program units.  This missive doesn’t really have much to do with unsats, but more about the conversation regarding the memo from the Commander of the Army Reserves (CAR).

I have spoken with many active duty and retired military personnel regarding their overall experiences of service. Among them, I have heard many stories of how a person’s civilian career has suffered because of their involvement with the Army Reserves.  I have personally experienced it in some form or another, probably not as severely as others, but an impact nonetheless.  It affects people differently.  You may think that your company supports your service, and they may even think they do, until you start to get promoted in the Reserves or are mobilized.

In my case, when my first deployment came, my company said all the right things.  They gave me the company policies, they told me that my job would be waiting when I got back, they even paid me during the first two months I was gone.  The issues only surfaced upon my return.  When I got back, my peers had all been promoted and been given offices, yet I was an afterthought.  Later when my company was acquired, I was no longer thought of as the Director who had led production support for 10 years and had enacted good and meaningful change, but was simply the guy who had recently returned from deployment, completing “odd” jobs until a place was found for him.  I was not even on the list of employees to be transitioned to the new organization.  I did eventually, through networking, find a position within the new company. However, it had not been acquired through the sanctioned transition process, therefore I was bypassed for an advancement.  Eventually, a year deployment had turned into a three-year stagnation of my civilian career.

This is not an anecdotal story.  I once talked with an officer who worked for a law firm, and while his military career was stellar, achieving the rank of Colonel, he could not advance within his firm.  They even told him he needed to make a choice — he could achieve success in his civilian career or in his military career, but not both.

I know what you’re thinking: “We have the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act!  We have ESGR!  They can’t do that.”  I beg to differ, because they still do it. In fact, they do it every day, and they do it creatively.  It makes people think long and hard about their continuation in the military.  In the example of the Colonel who was given a choice, he had already gotten past the point of no return, so he stayed. Usually, it is at the O3 level when an officer decides, and at the E6 level where an NCO decides whether they have had enough.  Coincidentally, these are also the grades for which the Army Reserve is most in need.  It is also at this point in a Soldier’s career when the Reserve system asks much more than one weekend a month and two weeks a year - most of which is unpaid, unscheduled, and falls at some of the most inopportune times.  Imagine, you have worked your way up only to work your tail off for less than minimum wage once all the hours are factored in.  If you question this rationale, ask any Battalion Commander or Command Sergeant Major to show you the hours he/she puts in. 

This is my experience and that of those I have worked with. Now, I’d like to hear from you. What are your experiences?  What does your employer think of you not being able to work over the weekend on a big system implementation, because you have battle assembly?  What if your company has scheduled an important town hall meeting, but you can’t go because annual training is scheduled, or you have to leave a meeting because your Brigade Commander is at a conference and needs to know the latest influenza inoculation statistics?  What can be done to make it better on both ends of the spectrum?  Or do we need to settle for a mediocre civilian career in order to serve our country?

Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.

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