I Love It. But I Have To Leave It.

By John Rogers
Sunday, March 16, 2008

I'm a captain in the U.S. Army, an institution I love and respect, and one that has made me a better man. The Army has taught me how to relate to people of various ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic classes. It has taught me how to stay calm under fire and in other stressful situations (an especially handy lesson as my fiancee and I plan our wedding). It has taught me how to exact discipline and how to approach people with different personalities in different ways.

All these lessons will, I'm convinced, make me a better friend, a better husband and, one day, a better father.

But after four years, I've decided to resign my commission and leave the Army.

This isn't what I envisioned when I joined up in 2004 as a 24-year-old college graduate. I hoped to spend at least eight years in the service, maybe more. I wanted to lead troops in combating terrorism and making our home front safe. I wanted to command a company, something you can achieve in about six to eight years. Instead, come April 1, I'll take off my uniform for good and become a civilian again.

And I'm not alone. Many other captains I know are making the same decision, or considering it. Let me be clear: I'm not a spokesman for some mythical "United Bureau of Captains Leaving the Army." But as I've talked with other captains, attended conferences with superiors on this issue and listened to my peers' reactions to what I've written here, I've heard a collective echo arising from the ranks of captains who are leaving. My reasons for this decision strike a chord with many of them.

Those reasons are threefold: First, I'm about to get married, and I want a family. Second, I can earn as much or more in the civilian world as I do in the Army. And finally, my experience with war has left me feeling angry, frustrated and mismanaged.

I've lost confidence that I can serve both a wife and the Army. It's not that my fiancee is putting demands on me; this is a conclusion I've reached on my own. Staying in would mean six months of Army schooling in the Captain Career Course. We'd have to move from Seattle to Georgia or Kentucky. My wife would have to quit her job to be with me. Then I'd move again to a deploying unit or become an adviser to the Iraqi army for another 12 to 15 months. My wife would be uprooted and replanted in a place where she'd be alone, knowing no one, and without the job she loves. She'd be unable to pursue her goals or use her talents. That's no recipe for marital bliss.

Also, soldiers need to train, so I'd spend a lot of time away in the field -- at weapons ranges or training centers, or fighting simulated battles. A marriage needs time to blossom. But a captain's career path, whether he's deployed or at home, can bulldoze it before it blooms. And deploying every other year raises certain obvious challenges to starting a family.

As it happens, I have (a very beautiful) someone. But not all soldiers do, and many of them would like that to change. Where staying in for me means not having the time to develop a relationship, for others it means not having the time to find one. Then there are situations like that of one captain I know who has a son who's nearly 4. He missed the baby's birth and has been present in his boy's life for a total of one year. I hope you can see why I, and others like me, feel that we have to choose: family or Army. Each person's situation may be different, but we're all in the same shoes . . . and they stink.

Second, I feel no financial pressure to "stay Army." I'm confident that I'll be able to land a job that pays enough to cover a mortgage and put food on the table. Placement firms such as Cameron-Brooks, Lucas Group and Orion have good records in helping former officers find positions in the corporate world. Most captains have college degrees and know that they can get a job outside the Army and begin a new profession. We find phrases such as "stock options," "incentives" or "no firearms permitted in the building" enticing. We like the idea of promotion based on merit, not a timeline. Some want to work for the FBI or the CIA, agencies they believe are more effective in the fight against terrorism.

An initial drop in salary won't hurt me, even if I have to pay for medical coverage. Besides, money isn't my motivation for serving -- which is why I find no incentive in the Army's $25,000 to $35,000 bonus for staying in.

Finally, I'm frustrated by the war and how I was managed and blocked in doing my job in Iraq. Take the following incident. It's not the only one I could hang my hat on, but it's the most pointed.

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