Vets in Public Space (Excerpt)

It ain’t easy to be proud, and it’s only getting harder. I don’t know if I ever really was. Sometimes I don’t even tell people I’m in the military at all. I avoid it when possible, make fewer stops if I’m headed home in uniform, put my driver’s license in the front of my wallet instead of the CAC card. I don’t like when people thank me for my service, or offer to pay for my food. Saying this, even thinking about it is out of bounds for any “real soldier.” Certainly, there are standards we’re supposed to abide by–be physically and mentally tough and what not (which is quite ironic at a national guard PT test), but the narrow monolith of what a soldier must be, whether in our out of uniform is too thin, and, like the masculinity that anchors it, too fragile.

Susette, on the Lions and Writers blog talked about the oxymoron of being a writer in the military, how leaders and peers are unable to understand her artistry, seeing it as a distraction. It’s definitely  part of a much larger problem. Everything that might require one to think is deemed a distraction.

It is an oxymoron indeed, that an institution which constantly gets on soldiers about classes and planning and education, is completely against said education, thought and informed decision making.

I cannot count how many times in nine years I’ve been thrust into mandatory check in the box Army courses where not a single “instructor” has any knowledge of the subject material or has made any noticeable effort to inform themselves or subsequently, the class. So much time at drill is devoted to the importance of these classes that section leaders inevitably fight over how and when to shove everyone into them. Even though most often, half the company is sitting on their thumbs. More odious though, is that some of the most poorly planned, least thought on blocks of instruction are ones like sexual assault, mental health, and adjusting to civilian life.

Seems like there’s a pattern there…

It’s like the Army goes out of it’s way to minimize the importance of this shit. If say, a world renowned psychiatrist who specializes in adjustment issues, depression or suicide were to walk in on one of these “classes,” Uncle Sam would shoo his ass away and tell Sergeant who the fuck ever–who probably can’t spell psychiatry–to come up with something better in five minutes and teach it to the company. And sure as hell Sergeant who the fuck ever won’t voice any concern because that’s complaining, then he’d be a “pussy,” and so he dives right in without even trying to fake confidence or proficiency after googling what a neuron is on his phone for a few minutes until he realizes he’d have to read some shit to learn that. He wouldn’t wanna look like some fruity liberal using fancy words anyway.

I once sat in a sexual assault class packed with bros where some officer pulled up the tea and consent youtube video for a few laughs and called it a day. Every soldier signed the block for the year while women were still dying of dehydration overseas rather than go to latrines at night because some of those same fucking bros would be waiting for them outside of the porta shitters at night.

I know, I know though, the Army is definitely boasting about paying for people’s civilian education at least, right? But that’s really only when it’s convenient. Let’s not forget amongst infinite stipulations to get a third of your tuition covered, that FTA could just get cancelled by congress mid semester and then you have to pay both the school and the Army back for money you never even received.

How many people has that happened to?

Countless times I’ve been denied career advancing opportunity because leadership thought a handful of MUTAs–to watch people fail PT tests or videos about tea and consent–were more important. Things like academic conferences, graduate school (to include interviews and substantial out of class responsibilities) or even temporary academic appointments, all of which could be absolutely necessary for building a real career, are just dumb libby shit to them. While I was in PA school, I wasn’t even permitted to miss half a drill day for weekly tests. God forbid there are clinicals or you’re in a stringent accelerated program that demands any weekend time.

I’m certainly not the only one though, soldiers have been counseled, written up, transferred, and even made their decision to leave the military altogether because of education issues. I saw an article the other day that talked about the Army pushing out it’s best leaders and promoting followers, and another one that says they finally decided to include writing in leadership courses. They were cute. Mostly because the response from troops is overwhelmingly hell no, and it’s clear that the Army gods of pedagogy don’t plan on doing away with the currently lauded half-baked model of fake learning, bland servitude and box checking.

Sometimes, in the midst of a good laugh with military friends I can think back to what kept me in this long. But now, more often than I’d like–as the Army moves toward better integration, drawing out staunch racists, anti-intellectuals, and “real men” desperate maintain their coveted subject positions–I feel more shame than anything.

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