Join The Army, Maybe
(July 20, 2010)
About four years ago the Air Force did something totally unheard of. They let
Air Force Academy graduates (now new officers) separate from the military before
they had fulfilled their obligation of active duty service time, for receiving
their “free” education at the Academy. Lieutenants, who had to pay back the Air
Force with their time, were just allowed to walk away and not owe anything in
repayment. Some could not wait to get out into the civilian world and do it
without owing the Air Force a big pile of money for their years at the Academy.
For those of you who have failed to notice, the job situation in
this country is not very robust and it will get worse in the
future. In hard times the military does not have to work hard to
fill their rolls. Young people and even some middle age people
see the military as their last chance. They
Van E. Harl
need a job so they enter the service. Recruiters like it when
the economy is bad, because for them work can be rather easy.
When you enter a US military academy you can walk away in the first two years
without owing any time or money to the Department of Defense. After you start
your junior year, now the military has real control of you. If you flunk out or
are put out of an academy, you have to pay them back. It can be with money, but
an academy education is getting close to $300, 000 so if you are poor, you can
pay back with your time, serving as a baby airmen or private.
The academies know they have this hammer over your head and in your last two
years at the academy the pressure of expectations on the part of the military
goes up. Now in most cases the cadet or midshipman wants to be there, to get
that education and become an officer, so leaving before graduation is not really
an issue and neither is any repayment a concern.
The military is on one of its down-sizing cycles. They have to cut their people
strength to save money, so if your high school senior is even giving a passing
thought to enlisting after graduation they need to be proactive on this issue
now--right now. The new G.I. Bill is almost like having a full ride scholarship
and it only takes four years of active duty to earn this wonderful opportunity.
So what am I getting at here? With this downsizing of the military they have
decided to make some of their people expendable. All the services are going to
cut back on taking in new people. They are also going to start yet again,
throwing their good people out onto the streets, for no reason other than they
have to cut the number of people on active duty. They are actually going to
force some new officers who got their commissions after attending military
academies and/ or taking ROTC scholarships at civilian universities off active
duty. Even it they do not want to leave.
The kicker is, even though that new officer does not want to separate and is
willing to fulfill their time obligation as pay back for their college degree,
they have to get out. However they are not just forced to walk away, they are
expected to repay the military for the “free” education. That really inspires a
young adult to go for the gold of a military academy education.
Even harder times are coming and my big military never ceases to amaze me how
quick it will turn on its own people. The military is always putting their low
performers out before they finish their initial obligation. However, to force
out academy graduates who are good performers and then expect them to repay an
over inflated dollar valued education is very suspect. What senior military
person who has nothing personal to lose on this issue is making the decision to
throw away and at the same time punish good young officers?
When I taught high school Air Force Junior ROTC some of my cadets thought they
could just goof off their entire 9-12th grade years, because they could just
join the Army no matter how poor they did in school. As one cadet told me “the
Army will take anyone.” Hard times are here and joining the military may not
even be your choice of last chance. Few will get to join and only the best and
brightest will be chosen to enlist or enter an academy.
Van E. Harl
Major Van E. Harl, USAF Ret., was a career police officer in the U.S. Air
Force. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the
Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. Major Harl is a graduate of
the U.S. Army Infantry School, the Air Force Squadron Officer School and the Air
Command and Staff College. After retiring from the Air Force he was a state
police officer in Nevada.
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