Saturday, January 20, 2007

Decisions

The last few nights have been long. I've been up until at least one in the morning, without fail, and every day I've woken up for PT feeling starved for sleep. I've felt exhausted by lunchtime, and ultimately I have only myself to blame. I've been exploring career options over the past week, as I mentioned before, and I have a lot on my plate.

As I've expressed in the past, I don't really like my current job. I find the work to be dull and backbreaking, and I find the people in my line of work to be, honestly, a little immature and ignorant. I can say with conviction that the skill set my current line of work provides would prove almost useless to me in my life after the Army, and the long-term benefits of actually staying with this MOS are virtually nil. My aptitude scores exceed those of my compatriots by at least thirty points, and when I tell people that I have a GT score of 128, the typical response is to ask me why the hell I'm even in this career field. Officers in my unit routinely come to me with questions on history, literature, and proper English usage. Needless to say, I've pretty much figured out, perhaps far later than my colleagues, that I am both ill-suited for and wasted upon this MOS.

Which brings me to my current dilemma. I've been meeting with my battalion Career Counselor recently, and have been courted with an array of options for re-enlistment so broad as to be disorienting. After spending so much time being treated like another "dumbass grunt," to look at my quals and find I have so many promising options available comes as quite the shock. As I mentioned before, I've been encouraged strongly to consider a career as a commissioned officer, which for many reasons carries strong appeal. On the other hand, I've also been looking at a host of potential jobs at the enlisted level which also hold some deeper interest for me. While on paper, the decision would appear to be an academic one, I find I am having difficulty making the choice between the opportunities available to me.

First, there's The Officer Thing. Right now, I have a chance to explore either applying for Officer Candidate School, or (more promisingly) being removed from my current unit to attend college full time, as an ROTC cadet through a program known as Green to Gold. I'll admit, I'm intrigued by this possibility. Even as a soldier in Basic training, I used to look at the officers I saw, with their stylized bars and oak leaves, and wonder what it would be like to inhabit their rarified sphere. Hearing that I might have a shot at a command position fills me with a sense of ambition and promise that I can't say I've ever really felt.

On paper, Officer sounds great. I've seen what the officers in my unit do, and though the work looks to be highly demanding and stressful, I fully believe the responsibility to be within my intellectual capacity. I also have to admit that there's a certain ring to the phrases "Lieutenant Freeman" or "Captain Freeman." The potential boost to my civilian resume, as well as the obvious pay increase and improvement in living quarters, would also be a boon, as my wife and I have recently begun to discuss trying for a baby. Make no mistake, being an officer sounds like a pretty sweet deal. That being said, there are disadvantages.

Becoming an officer would likely obligate me to far more time in the Army than I had previously been willing to consider. By the time I finished my intitial obligation, I will probably have exceeded my ten-year mark, at which point I'd effectively become "locked in" until the minimum retiring point of 20 years in service. I'm really not sure that I'm a "lifer" in this career, no matter how good the pay. Truth is, I'm something of a hippie at heart. In addition, choosing to pursue this path would require devoting more time to my studies than I ever did as a civilian college student. I was never the most dedicated of students; managing to pull a 2.66 GPA out of a university career where I attended perhaps 1/3rd of my classes. Granted, at 23 I have a lot more focus and drive than I did as a shiftless 19-yea-old sophomore, but still. Making matters worse, to go Green to Gold I have to enter into school during a fall semester. Since I won't even redeploy til this coming September, that means I'd have to spend another miserable year in this MOS, trying my damnedest to make Sergeant and boost my performance scores to maximize the chances of my officer packet getting picked up.

There are other options as well. If I choose to reclass and stay enlisted, my test scores make me eligible for virtually any MOS for which there is an opening. Currently, I'm looking at either Paralegal, Public Affairs (Journalism), or Intelligence, where I'm told there is a sore need for analysts and Human Intelligence collectors. Any one of these could intrigue me, and each would offer me an opportunity to escape the confining, anti-intellectual environment in which I currently find myself. I have no desire to make a career of Engineering, and if given the choice between that and getting out, I'd sooner simply not renew my contract. Still, while simply reclassing has the advantages of getting me into a new line of work sooner, fact is, it's harder to get promoted in the more advanced jobs, and the pay is still never going to be as good as I would get being an officer. On top of that, staying enlisted would still mean I have to put off finishing my degree, and after seeing my friends now entering into Graduate programs, I'm too tired of not having that stupid piece of paper.

Basically, I'm torn between two futures. One involves me a chance to finish my Army career honorably, and still get out to embrace my dreams while I'm still young. The other will require more time, as well as force me to accept a lot of compromises that I wouldn't have been willing to consider previously. That being said, nothing worth attaining has never been easy, as they say, and the potential payoffs for simply sucking it up until I can put in an Officer packet are enormous. The only question now becomes what I'm willing to do to secure my future. It should be a simple question, but am I willing to put up with this unit's bullshit long enough to put in a packet?

There, my friends, is the rub.

4 Comments:

Blogger Seven of Six said...

Milo, I understand your dilemma. I was going through the exact same thing in Panama, over qualified for my MOS.
My enlisted pals thought I was an Officer or to be exact, a Narc.
Except, I had back-up. A guy who I went through the LA MEPPS station, basic, AIT and all the way to Panama with me.
Anyway, I seriously thought of the medical field. Any interest? All the soldiers I knew who were in that field, got great paying jobs when they got out.
Jeez, this one X-Ray Tech was making something like 60K.

9:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You don't know me from Adam, so my advice is worth pretty much nothing :)

However, as the wife of a retired NCO, I can say this:

If you are *not* sure you want to make the military a career, don't go Green to Gold. Period. By the time you find yourself needing to make a choice whether or not to get out, you'll have invested so much time it will seem stupid *not* to work out the 20, because of the dollars, because of the benefits, because fill-in-the-blank.

Pick something that 1) truly interests and challenges you, and 2) translates easily to the civilian world (my spouse was 19E, and it was a right horror finding work after he retired).

If, over the course of time you find you do want to go for your 20, the retirement pay for a senior NCO is not horrid (not, obviously, as good as it would be for an officer), however the benefits - primarily medical - are excellent and in this day and age, not to be sneezed at. But if at a point in time you decide you *don't* want to go for your 20, your transition will be much easier.

You can take only one damn class at a time towards your degree if that's all you have time for - yes, it means you have to make a commitment to take that seriously and not let it be something that drops by the wayside over the years - but it is possible.

So, for what it's worth - them's my words of advice. Good luck with your decision.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Pookie Sixx said...

You have a tough decision Milo. I will tell you this from my experience: There is a LOT of politics involved with becoming an officer as well as SNCO. Those politics can sour you if you are not prepared nor willing to deal with them.

I started the process of separation after I hit 8 years. I got stuck in stop loss after 9/11 and still decided to get out even though it brought me to just under 10 years. Everyone said I was crazy, but here's the thing:

VA provides me the medical and it's all FREE. I got disability filed and I now get a 50% rating along with a check each month that is just under what I would get if I retired and it is TAX FREE. Retirement is not. Also, I was in a career field that was able to translate into a civilian job. so, when I got out, I really didn't have that hard of a time finding a job. The key I figured out is that you have to civilianize your resume so they understand what you are talking about. Otherwise, you come off as stiff and too militaristic. Once I got that taken care of, getting jobs hasn't been a problem and I make way more now than I ever did in the military.

Never the less...it is a tough decision and a tough transition. You have to think long and hard about if you can do 10-12-15 more years of the military. If you can't...go. good luck!

5:27 PM  
Blogger Blue Wren said...

Milo ...
The military will always squash your spirit, your creativity and individuality. It must in order to function. But you're an intelligent, creative, talented person, a thinker. Instead of making the military a career, where you'll always be pushing your real self to the background, consider leaving when your enlistment ends, if you can. Going back to college may be difficult, and it may take you a while to achieve your goals, but you're young, and there's still time.
If you decide to stay in the Army, either as an enlisted person or an officer, I think public affairs would be a good choice for you. As a career, it would give you an outlet (somewhat limited) for your creativity, an opportunity to write and tell the stories of the soldiers around you. Their stories need to be told.
I'm a peacetime veteran (USAF) and worked for several years with the US Army as a civilian writer/editor in public affairs. I worked with some very good, very talented military reporters.
Whatever you decide, please take your time thinking about it. And remember, as long as you're in the military, you are not free.
Best of luck to you.

9:03 AM  

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