As before, this story is substantively true in that only names, specific dates and locations may be changed in order to protect this particular service member’s well being as they are currently still in the service. Because it refers to fairly recent events, I feel a trigger warning is warranted. Thank you for reading:
PART II: The Next Generation
He was a military brat. Born on a base and moving his whole life with his career enlisted dad and mom. He did Jr. ROTC and made Eagle Scout, but having graduated high school in 1990 and with college out of reach, he signed up. He did Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and missed his grandpa’s funeral for that as well as suffering a near miss himself. Home and then to Riyadh, missed his father’s retirement for that one. He finally got to come home to Alaska. In 2000, with Uncle Sam making noises about sending him to the lower 48, he clocked out and went into the AK National Guard. He got so many “man days” it was almost like being active duty. Then, on September 11, 2001, things got real, real fast in Alaska.
Read on please:
Upon hearing the news of the attack on N.Y. and D.C., he left home for the base just in case he was needed. His wife, former military, knew he’d be gone for however long they needed him. It was how he was. His 8 year-old son went to school with his mom, a school teacher, but they were sent home soon after when bomb threats were made against downtown Anchorage. They sat at home and waited.
Alaska is a wonderful place, but highly dependent on air traffic. At that time, Anchorage was home to the largest private plane airport and largest float/ski plane airport in the world. One out of every four adults in Alaska has a private pilot’s license. It was moose season, so a lot people were out in the bush. When the skies shut down, Anchorage became eerily quiet. The only sound was the jets screaming out of the base when some hunter, who hadn’t heard the news, started to fly into the airspace around town.
Finally he called, he’d been activated. He was activated until late Fall of 2002. By then, he’d been activated so long that he and his wife decided he might as well go back into the service. Thing is, he’d gone to school so much since ’91 he was only 27 credits shy of his bachelor’s degree. And, there was a new ROTC program starting up, so it’d be only 1 year and he’d have his bars. He didn’t know it, but he’d have to quit the AKNG because so many units were being activated that the ROTC commander was afraid he’d lose people to deployments. Due to class scheduling and work it took longer than they thought it would, but they considered it worth it. His wife pinned on his bars, her father’s bars from WWII, that he had pinned on her, in May ’04. They were immediately shipped south, cats, dogs, kid and all.
They were told they’d not be at that base long, so don’t buy a house. They lived in condemned base housing being told every 6 months that they’d be moving soon. But, he wasn’t even being moved around every 6 months, as per policy, to a different section within his command. He seemed to be stuck. Then he found out that his direct superior really liked taking credit for his work, so much that she was willing to torpedo his career to advance hers. He pinned on First Lieutenant in March of ’06 with his wife serving up a party literally right after a tornado. (You can’t make this shit up). Rumors had started of cutbacks and troop reductions but they kept the faith. He was good at his job. They finally bought a house. In late summer of ’07, the whispers got louder and suddenly, his CO pinned on major and retired. She came back 2 weeks later, still his boss, and having done nothing to save him, he got his “thanks for playing” memo.
He spent the last month of active duty, in late ’07, searching for a National Guard or Reserve berth in any state at all in order to finish out his 20 to retirement. Slots were scarce because over 40,000 personnel had been cut at the same time. Yes, in the middle of the war we’re still fighting. Finally, he found a spot and, after almost a year, found a day job with a defense contractor in the area. The commute to drill weekends wasn’t bad, 100 miles once a month and he fit in there well.
Then, more rumors. Cutbacks? Base closing? No one knew anything for sure. He was close, so close to “sanctuary” (once you hit 18 years, they can’t toss you except for cause). If he could just get to March, he’d be ok. His kid was finishing high school. He’d gotten into a good school and got a “serving member” related scholarship for a full ride. Drill weekend, January 2011, no news was good news. Drill weekend, February 2011, news and not the good kind. His out date was ELEVEN days short of sanctuary!
His wife, with his permission, began writing letters, making phone calls, sending emails and going to legislative offices in both the state they lived in and the one where he did drill. Up both civilian and DoD chains of command, up to the Federal level. She wrote to both President Obama and Mrs. Obama. All they needed was 11 days! No joy anywhere. She wrote the local press and they were interested but too slow. This was their kid’s college education, his retirement, their plans!
In a last, final act of desperation, his wife pulled their son out of school for the first time since 9/11. She needed someone to help her drive. They were going to D.C. to deliver a letter to the White House, in person. They drove 20 hours, straight through because they couldn’t afford a hotel room. They pulled into the center of D.C. with the first light of dawn. His mom, remember she’d been a teacher, pulled up in front of the Supreme Court Building and pointed out the words, “Justice the Guardian of Liberty” and explained that they were there to exercise their First Amendment “right to petition government for redress of grievances. And that right is the right to make a complaint to, or seek the assistance of, one’s government, without fear of punishment or reprisals. Besides, they had appointments everywhere but the White House.
Because they hadn’t been able to get an appointment there, it was the first stop. They had their DoD ID’s and a special letter and photo, not in an envelope, to deliver to the front gate. The shock when they got there was palpable. As car after car rolled up to and through the gate, she saw that ID’s were being checked, not by a Marine or other military personnel but by an unarmed Wackenhut guard.* Seriously? In this day and age? Oh well, they’d driven all this way, so might as well make the attempt. He took their ID’s, both civilian and military. Ten minutes later, with traffic backing up behind them, he came out of his hut. They couldn’t come through and couldn’t even buy tour tickets. She asked to have him deliver the letter and was informed he was not even allowed to touch it, she’d have to mail it. She’d driven 1800 miles to mail it? She asked if he could call a military person on duty, a Marine or something. He didn’t even know if any Marines were on duty! When asked if it could be delivered to the West Wing, he didn’t know what she meant, not even when she mentioned the Press Room and the TV show.
It was almost time for their first appointment, so they went to the Capitol. You can probably guess what happened there. You can have an appointment, but if you aren’t in a certain tax bracket, what you might get is an intern or an aide, if you’re lucky. If not, you’re asked to leave it with the receptionist. Then they drove to THE United States Post Office and put the letter and photo into an overnight envelope, certified mail, return receipt requested. It looked important. Surely someone would open it and read it, even if it was only the Secret Service. They then went and visited the Air & Space Museum so that her son could see the chip, he’d put his name on in 1st grade, that had touched a comet and come back. If that was possible, surely this mission was. It was such a small thing compared to that, it was only 11 days. They visited the Wall, the Korean War memorial, Lincoln’s Memorial and the Holocaust Museum and left D.C. at dusk, headed for home.
He didn’t get the 11 days, though 6 months later, he finally found a slot 4 states away. He had to change his specialty and re-up for 6 more years in order to fit this slot but it’s only an 13 hour drive each way. It takes almost his whole drill pay to pay for the commute and lodgings. His family gets bounced off of TriCare, military medical insurance they pay for, regularly and for no discernible reason. It might be because his wife is disabled now and “expensive”. The DoD contractor jobs come and go. Right now it’s been a year and his unemployment disappeared December 28, 2012 thanks to the US Congress. His kid is the only one bringing in any money and their house is about to go into foreclosure.
He’s made his 20 year mark, but he hopes to put on major before he is forced to leave the Reserves because it’s a big bump up in the amount you get upon retirement. This is an iffy proposition as there are few slots open for majors anywhere and besides, it’s not like he could actually draw his retirement for another 20 years when he’s 62-65 years old. His son lost the scholarship, his faith in the “fairness” of the United States and the belief that one person could make a difference. All for the want of a sympathetic ear and eleven fucking days.
PS: That letter? It bounced off the White House mail room 6 times before being returned to sender as undeliverable.
*At the time, the qualifications to be an unarmed Wackenhut guard was a high school diploma or GED and a clean drug test. That’s what was guarding our President.