Yesterday I had the great fortune to run into a Marine that I had the pleasure to work with while I was still on active duty. The young sergeant, who had served honorably and faithfully for eight years and through three wartime deployments, shared with me that despite his overwhelming desire to stay in uniform and continue to serve the nation that he was being forced out of the Marine Corps. Not because of anything he did – in fact just the opposite. He was forced out because he loved what he was doing, but because of his success and the successes of countless thousands of others in uniform the need for so many Marines (and Soldiers and Sailors and Airmen) has diminished. With the end of our active wars overseas comes the end of the need for the large military that had fought them, and with then of the need for so many uniformed military men and women comes the need to shrink the force.
That need is why such a talented, motivated, professional, and dedicated Marine NCO is being shown the door. Along with thousands and thousands of professionals just like him.
Earlier in the week I attended an event in which LtGen John Toolan, the Commanding General of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, shared his personal dilemma in regards to the downsizing of the military. His command, which has been on the absolute tip of the spear in Iraq and Afghanistan (having had elements ranging from platoons to divisions deployed to both theaters), is facing the practical realities of a contracting military. He had over 4000 re-enlistment requests sitting on his desk (not really sitting there, but awaiting action from his headquarters) from Marines who want to continue to serve.
He only had the authority to approve 400 of them.
The effect of the reduction in forces is that one in ten Marines who want to stay in and continue to serve are able to do so. The other nine are headed out the door to a future that does not include the career that they had anticipated. Those nine are headed back into the society they served, and they will all need jobs once they arrive.
Josef Stalin once said that one death is a tragedy and one million is a statistic. In the context of a career that is cut short by a shrinking military his words are strikingly relevant nearly a century after he uttered them. One serviceman or servicewoman whose career is ended because of the vicissitudes of DOD force structure is indeed a tragedy because of the unfulfilled future to which they had dedicated their lives, but the tens of thousands who are being pushed out the door are just a statistic.
Edmund Burke also observed that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. If those of us who inhabit the society in which those in uniform will return simply look at the statistics and shrug them off, then we are guilty of failing each and every new veteran and allowing the evil of unemployment and underemployment to befall those who have ensured that our society remains free and unfettered by the shackles of tyranny.
So ask yourself: is the drawdown a cascade of individual tragedies that we can collectively help avert or a statistic that we will collectively ignore, or is there something we can do to make sure that the careers that they were not fulfilled in uniform can be created once they hang up the cloth of the nation?