Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Truly Uncamouflaged

Last week, I was officially discharged from the military.

I haven’t served since Dec. 2010, when my active duty commitment was complete. Since then I’ve been a “civilian,” a fulltime graduate student, a person relishing my post-military freedom—especially my freedom of speech. But I’ve also been a name on a list.

The beginning:June 2002, ROTC commissioning
with my mother (USAFR, retired)
When I signed my military contract and accepted an ROTC scholarship back in 2002 (side note: I feel old), I committed to eight years of service: at least four years active duty and the remainder in the Individual Ready Reserves (IRR for the acronym-happy military). I wasn’t required to drill or work for the Air Force in any capacity. I wasn’t paid or eligible for benefits. All I had to do was update my contact information annually, just in case...

Just in case they needed someone in my position to fill an assignment. Just in case they needed me to deploy.

I was in Afghanistan with several Army soldiers who had been recalled from IRR. They all performed their duties honorably, but the appointment obviously weighed heavily on their morale. They had been plucked from their civilian lives on short notice, thrust into a job at which they were rusty at best in a place to which they hoped to never return.

Though I’ve been out of the military for almost four years, that “just in case” has been there in the back of my mind. During the Arab Spring and escalating conflicts in places like Libya and Syria. The Air Force has not traditionally needed IRR backfills, but the last few years have seen a shrinking military. When I left active duty, my career field was at critical manning levels. (I wanted to teach ROTC but couldn’t be released for “special duty.”) Drilling reservists were being slotted for regular deployments.

So as June 2, 2014 drew closer, the date when my contractual obligation would be complete, I got anxious. June 2 arrived. My husband opened a bottle of champagne, and my family and I breathed a collective sigh of relief. After four years, it seemed anti-climactic.

As an officer, in order to completely sever my military ties and not remain indefinitely subject to recall, I had to take one more step and resign my commission.

I understand this is a very difficult decision for many people, and it’s not something I take lightly. But for me it was an easy choice. I’d done my option-weighing, mentor-advice-seeking and deliberating in 2010. I’ve had four years to reaffirm that I made the right move in getting out. Four years when I’ve seen friends deploy for their second, third, eighth tours. When I’ve seen the military continue their push to “do more with less,” involuntarily separating “overages” and expecting those who remain to pick up the slack (the same thing that happened to my career field several years ago, shortly thereafter forcing us into critical manning and a 1:1 deployment/dwell time cycle). Four years when the news from Afghanistan and Iraq has left me questioning the purpose all over again. Meanwhile at home, people don’t realize we’re still at war.

But mostly, in these four years I’ve seen myself find my footing. When I got out in 2010 I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do and a vague plan to delay really deciding by going to grad school. I struggled reconciling the veteran part of me with everything else I felt I was, or wanted to be. Now, as cheesy as it sounds, I’ve found my place.

I have no regrets about my military service. I’m grateful for the experiences it gave me and the people I met. There are aspects I will always miss. But I’m done. I’ve moved on. I’m striking my name from the list.

Leaving the military was a leap; resigning my commission was a simple step forward.

The end: Sept 2014, honorably discharged

The decision to resign or stay in is a personal one, and everyone has different rationale. Have you resigned your commission? Have you decided to stay on IRR? Are you at that crossroads? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

NOTE: As with many government activities, the process for resigning my commission was a bit convoluted. My understanding is it differs by component, but if you’re looking for guidance please let me know and I’d be happy to pass on lessons learned.