A Soldier's Perspective

Discussion in 'Middle East - General' started by metanoia2k, Oct 22, 2003.

  1. metanoia2k
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    metanoia2k Guest

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    The loss of credibility and support for US Army troops prompted this NCO to speak out. His observations regarding troop morale, retention and recruiting success ought to force all Americans to question the caliber of this nation's civilian leadership.

    metanoia2k
    ==============================================

    Letter From US Sgt Major To Senator Warner, R. VA

    Clifton P. O'Brien
    Command Sergeant Major
    United States Army

    Dear Senator Warner,

    My name is Clifton P. O'Brien II and I serve as the Regimental Command Sergeant Major of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) based at FT Campbell, Ky. We are the only Special Operations Aviation Regiment in the US Military and we have played a major role in every conflict since Operation "Urgent Fury" in Grenada. I am very proud of the 160th and the soldiers that serve here. I am a career soldier with 25 years of service. I have served 11 years in the 160th and other tours include the 82d Airborne, 101st Airborne, 2d Infantry Division, Miltary District of Washington, Recruiting Command, 8th Infantry Division and the 25th Infantry Division.

    Last month I submitted my retirement paperwork and will end my career at 26 years instead of 30. I could easily stay to 30, but I choose not to do so as I will try to explain in this letter.

    I watched hearings on C-Span recently and it has prompted me to write you. The Joint Chiefs are truly great men dealing with some very complicated issues during some tough times. I am not politically astute, but will try to give you a soldiers perspective on why we are starting a nosedive. If we don't start taking steps now to correct the issues we face the dollar amount and energy expended to turn things around may be more than we can afford.

    I disagree with General Reimer in one area. I think we will reach the "hollow" Army in 3 to 5 years, maybe sooner. The pace of operations is exhausting the force and combined with reductions in what soldiers perceive as benefits is causing us to lose many good soldiers. We are losing many of our very best in large numbers and potential recruits are not beating the doors down. This is not good and we can't afford it. I have a daughter serving in the Army and her mother and I have advised her to get out when her enlistment is up. She will get out next year, finish her college and become a Registered Nurse in the civilian sector.

    Listed below are the areas that is hurting recruiting, retention AND our credibility:

    TRUST IN LEADERSHIP

    This applies to our elected representatives. Many [troops] feel we are simply pawns with little value until we are needed. Promises are made, and quickly broken based on political climate. Unneeded programs are pushed and money not used to take care of the force. Pork Barrel politics are evident. Do we need what we did 20 years ago? Probably not. But we do need good, high quality soldiers and individuals with the desire to serve and make a career out of defending our nation and our interest.

    Every time a program or benefit that was promised is cut it damages the credibility of our leaders. "Implied Promises" are a verbal contract, not written and we all understand that. But a contract is a contract and the old saying "you are only as good as your word" applies here. Break enough promises and people will walk away.

    QUALITY OF LIFE

    It's not where it should be. Too many deployments coupled with a shortage of personnel makes everyone work harder. The infrastructure at most Army installations is in bad shape with limited funds to fix problems, no money to make improvements and sometimes needed services are delayed or cancelled. My Commander reminds all of us leaders that we enlist soldiers, but we almost always reenlist families. If we don't provide what the families need or mom and dad are never there they look for a different lifestyle.

    MEDICAL AND DENTAL BENEFITS

    What a farce this turned out to be. Tri-Care and Delta Dental don't meet the needs and don't even come close to what was promised to most soldiers and families. Once again, an implied promise that has been broken. Young soldiers at FT Campbell come in contact with retirees every day and the retirees let them know if you stay to retirement you will be treated like a 3d class citizen, you can't count on any commitments or promises made and the truth will always change to meet current popular politics. I don't think the retirees mean any harm but they are frustrated and disillusioned. After attending my retirement brief I can honestly sayI don't blame them. I just choose to say nothing to my soldiers.

    PAY

    "Being a soldier is more than about money". I've heard this a hundred times and it is true. If it wasn't I would not have stayed. I make a decent living, but not a great living. Compared to my peers in the civilian world with the level of responsibility I have I can say I am well behind them. That has been my choice and have no regrets. Keep in mind we haven't had a decent pay raise in years and the economyis booming. A soldier can get out of theArmy and work at unskilled labor earning $9.00 to $10.00 per hour in Nashville. If a soldier has a marketable technical skill they can land a well paying job with good benefits that exceed what we can offer. As a civilian they aren't faced with 16 hour workdays, constant deployments, family separations, alert recalls, field exercises year round etc etc. The bottom line is "Patriotism is great, but it don't put food on the table or provide for your family". One soldier that requires food stamps or a program like WIC is a shame. We can do better for those we ask so much from.

    RETIREMENT

    Another huge sore spot. The vast majority of kids coming in today will not make a career out of the Army for 35% of their base pay. What makes our Army the best in the world is a professional NCO corps. Ask any general from the former Warsaw pact countries. The soldiers coming in today won't stay and suffer the hardships for so little in return. They will vote with their feet and we are starting to see that now. They get out, go to college, get a higher paying job with the ability to make and save more with none of the danger or hardship the Army provides. Last year my son-in-law turned down promotion to Staff Sergeant (E-6) and got out of the Army after five years. He was a stellar soldier who was selected as Battalion Soldier of the Year and Brigade Soldier of the Year. He was qualified to work on two different types of helicopters and was top-rated on every evaluation report.

    He returned to Louisiana where he is employed as a helicopter mechanic. He works 7 days on, 12 hour days and gets 7 days off. He makes $16.50 per hour starting and can earn more by working overtime. Just working normal hours he makes considerably more than if he stayed in uniform. His medical and dental benefits are easily equal to what we offer. My daughter was raised as an Army brat and wanted him to stay in. She is now very happy he got out. They own a home, have a stable life and she knows he is home at night and safe.

    If you want a commited professional force you have to make commitments, but even more importantly, you have to keep your commitments. Our national leadership has not done that. Freedom isn't free and you must be willing to pay for that security. My son in law told me " I'm not staying in the Army because they make promises they don't keep, they say you will get this, then they take it away". We've cut the Army by more than 40%, stagnated pay, cut funding at every level, increased deployment time and took away promised programs and benefits. Then we wonder why our recruiting and retention is low. You can't expect folks to make the commitment required or the sacrifice needed if you keep reducing all they were promised or expect. The very best, like my son in law will leave for a better life.

    As a final thought I want to share with you what bothers me most. You don't fund them, you don't train them, you don't properly equip them or take care of them, they may fail when we need them most. The price we will pay can't be measured in dollars or social program gains. Our sons and daughters will pay the price in blood. We will fill many more bodybags than we should because of politics. Rhetoric and social programs haven't won a war yet. We are in a dive. It gets worse monthly. If we don't take some steps to remedy the situation I advise our leaders to dust off the draft, and make it fair this time by granting no exemptions except medical. We all live here in the greatest nation on earth because that freedom has been bought with soldiers blood. Everyone bears a responsibility to serve.

    I have enjoyed the Army. I am proud of the Army, my country and the service I was allowed to provide. It has been an honor for me to serve. I just don't like what I see happening to our military.

    Very Respectfully,

    Clifton P. O'Brien
    Command Sergeant Major
    United States Army
     
  2. jimnyc
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    jimnyc ...

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    Good post, metanoia2k, made for some very interesting reading.

    I agree wholheartedly that our soldiers deserve much more than they are getting. They get much less than the ordinary citizen on so many levels when I think it should be the other way around.

    With that said, I think all of our past governments have been guilty of not making this situation better, not just the current administration. Nor do I think this is something specific to the soldiers serving in Iraq, this problem has existed for quite some time.
     
  3. metanoia2k
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    I agree...I was raised in the military (Air Force, Strategic Air Command) which is why I love it and hate it. I have IMMENSE respect for the military command.

    Pres Bush is going to have a real political problem, by the way, when 25,000 reservists come home in March. We will start hearing a LOT of stories about what is going on over there NOT filtered through Gen Sanchez's Ops team.
     
  4. jimnyc
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    jimnyc ...

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    I have no doubt there will be stories, just as there were in Vietnam, WW2, Korean War & the 1991 War in Iraq. Some true, some false. There will always be good and bad in a war.
     
  5. 5stringJeff
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    5stringJeff Senior Member

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    I wonder when this letter was actually written. It mentions a "booming" economy and no significant pay raises. Sounds life the letter was written c. 1999-2000. The military has received a series of large raises (anywhere from 4-6% a year) for the last few years. It was actually pretty nice as a junior officer.
    I will agree, though, QOL for enlisted soldiers is not always very good, depending on the post you are at. Pay is always an issue, and he is right in saying that Tricare is nothing to write home about.
     
  6. Dawoud
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  7. jimnyc
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    Wow, and even Reverend Jesse Jackson is involved!

    She might have a legitimate gripe, but as soon as you bring in the reverends and start crying "I'm black, I get treated differently", well...

    This is a soldier fighting for benefits issue, nothing more.
     

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