Wednesday, November 18, 2009

And They Just Turned Their Heads

That's about as easy a way to start the first blog as any, I guess.
To kick things off, I'd like to introduce myself. I'm John. I am in the Air Force as an "enlisted man." In other words, I'm too lowly to really matter. That's not self-pity, but just the reality of any gigantic beurocracy.
I work in Contracting, which means in short, that I spend the taxpayers' dollars. I spend a TON of the taxpayers' dollars. It's ridiculous. It's frightening. We'll spend five million bucks renovating a building that we knock down less than six months later. Trust me, I've seen it. We'll spend a few million dollars on a parade field, so that some random dude can feel like he "left his mark." If he wanted to leave his mark, he could have pissed on a tree. But in the biggest military in the world, you apparently leave your mark by spending millions. It's a new lifestyle, and one that I hope I never adjust to.
I'm a weird liberal freak who disagrees with pretty much everything I see on a daily basis. The logical question to ask would be why the hell I joined the Air Force, if that's the case. I joined because I was an idealist, and thought that you had to work to see the change you wanted to see. Maybe I listened to too many Obama speeches. Maybe my friend's infatuation with Tony Robbins effected me more than I originally thought. I'm not really sure. Whatever the case may be, I haven't met too many other Bob Dylan listening, Kurt Vonnegut reading, war hating liberals in the two years I've been on the inside.
So I'm going to try to keep these blogs somewhat topical-- a kind of "outsider's view of the military" type of thing. I'm sure it has been done. Maybe not.

Today's topic: Ft. Hood.

I'm sure we've all seen enough about this on the news. It's frightening. It's disturbing. Some maniac pulled a gun and killed several soldiers, many of whom had just returned from a long deployment in some war-torn corner of the globe. I saw a bunch of conflicting news reports. The shooter was a religious extremist. He was over-extended from too many deployments. He broke.
Whatever the reason, it's fuckin' crazy, and scary as hell. And no matter what, there's no excuse.
Of course, it was all over the news channels almost as it was happening. After September 11th, every base in the U.S. is required to allow soldiers and sailors and marines and airmen access to the news. So, many of us in the military, or at least on my base, watched the story as it unfolded. People were understandably afraid. Disturbed.
The next day, the flags were lowered to half-staff in honor of the victims.

And nothing more was said.

I waited for... something. Anything. Some kind of, I don't know, reassurance. The murderer was an officer in the mental health field. So many of the stories I heard the days after the incident were about members of the military breaking under the high deployment tempo. Not as an excuse for what happened, but reaching for an explanation where none was possible.
I thought that certainly the leadership on base would address this issue. I thought that, maybe, just maybe, we would be told that there are people for us to talk to if we were ever feeling overwhelmed.
Silence. And they just turned their heads.
I wondered why. I still wonder why.

If you are depressed, or having a hard time adjusting, or just don't feel quite right in the head in general, the military is not sympathetic. They might say they are, but all you have to do is look up any branch's policy on "personality disorders" to know the truth.
Here's a story about military discharges for personality disorders from NPR.

In short, if you are diagnosed with a personality disorder, you are discharged from the military with no benefits.
I realize that this is a horrible catch-22 for the military. It is a bad position to be in. You can't trust people with certain types of severe personality disorders with guns. And in today's military, no matter what career field, you have to be trusted with a gun. There's no such thing as the "rear echelon mother fuckers" anymore. I work at a desk, and still I have to qualify with weapons in case I deploy.
But what are people who are actually having problems supposed to do? Who do you talk to if you know that something isn't right in your head? If you talk to Mental Health, you can get discharged. And if you get discharged for psychiatric reasons, that's on your discharge paperwork, forcing you to explain THAT to any future potential employers. Have fun with that one.
You can talk to a chaplain. Can't get discharged talking to a chaplain. But I have to wonder what good it will do talking to a person whose specialty is in theology, and NOT emotional or personality problems and disorders.

I don't have any suggestions. I'm not sure what the answer is. I'd like to say that the military should be more helpful to people who are having problems. That you shouldn't have to risk your current job AND every future job if you feel like you need help. But I don't know the solution.

What I DO know, though, is that the tragedy at Ft. Hood should have been addressed to us by our senior leadership. It happened just a couple hundred miles from the base at which I'm currently stationed. It hit close to home for many of us. But instead of addressing the issue, it was ignored.

And it wasn't just here, either. I talked to a few friends of mine in different branches of the service, stationed all across the country and world. Andrew, stationed in Washington State, told me that they had a small memorial service, but didn't actually talk about anything. Joel, stationed in Germany, said that it was barely acknowledged. The same story repeated itself with everyone I talked to.
Commanders will give speeches about the dumbest shit. I've heard a speech about how much my quality of life was going to improve because the Air Force just spent three million dollars beautifying a parade ground on base. But when a serious issue that should be addressed presented itself, it was met with silence.
I'm not sure if any good would come of the highest ranking person on a base telling his people that they have someone to talk to. I'm not sure if having that level of dialog would stop this from happening in the future.
But it couldn't hurt, right?

No comments:

Post a Comment