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2010-08-17
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Army Reserves Not Honoring Officer Contracts

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I’ve ranted before on the ridiculousness of separating from the Army as an officer and how the regulations seem to be at odds with one another. As a brief reminder, when an enlisted soldier’s contract is up, they simply submit the appropriate personnel action forms, get the necessary signatures and they are dropped from the rolls back into civilian life. The regulations that govern this process include officers! Yet somehow, the Army has another procedure requiring officers to resign their commissions through a longer and more convoluted process.

Let’s talk about that convoluted process now with two case examples, Captains X & Y.1 Officers owe the Army eight years of service which can be broken up between Active and Reserve time. For example, an officer that serves five years on Active Duty will continue to serve in either inactive status (IRR) or in the Reserves. We’ll ignore for a moment that even after those eight years are up that the Army keeps them on the books for recall at their leisure without an intentional resignation of commission. Because the Army is hurting so badly for officers, it began a program allowing officers to join the Reserves instead of disappearing into the IRR whereupon their remaining obligation would be cut in half. So instead of having three years left as inactive ghosts, they would only have to serve eighteen months but continue to provide valuable leadership.

CPT X took this deal which put the end of his service obligation around May 2009. I should add that CPT X left a lucrative professional career in the finance industry following September 11th, 2001 to serve his country and quickly went through OCS and then served overseas for multiple tours in Korea. Although never deployed to combat, he served his time and then continued to serve as a Reservist. In the end, the obligation curtailment would have worked out for him to enroll into a competitive graduate program for an MBA to resume his previous career, or so he thought.

  • He submitted his first round of paperwork in July of 2009, even though his obligation had passed in May 2009.
  • This particular round was fraught with errors to which he admitted it was his own fault and he corrected the packet for a second submission.2 Nobody thought much of it after the second submission, thinking the wait was “typical Army”.3
  • Come October, his packet came back to the unit with a message from the JSTSC, our higher command, that he was ineligible to be separated and still had months left to serve. It took CPT X about a day to look through his old files and produce documentation proving his obligation had been shortened and this packet was sent back immediately.
  • Herein begins the true ridiculousness. I made monthly inquiries as to the packet’s status to which I was regularly informed, “It’s at the JSTSC.” Again, this wasn’t necessarily unusual, as people familiar with the Army will attest, we sort of expected his packet to be back at the bottom of the pile.
  • I distinctly remember returning from a snowboarding trip and checking on his packet’s status on the first business day of 2010 to which the status changed, “It’s at USARC.” We assumed this was good news as the folks at USARC would be the final approving authority. Again assuming bureaucracy, everyone figured it would be another month or so and he would be released.
  • The monthly inquiries followed and there was never a different story. Fortunately, our Group Commander (an O-6) got involved because so many other personnel actions were pending without updates leading him to make a personal inquiry. Amazingly, in my own weekly follow-ups the JSTSC managed to not answer a full Colonel’s inquiry for three straight weeks.
  • We finally received an update on CPT X’s packet in May (now nearly ten months after he started it and a year past his service obligation). The response was, “we can’t read your packet.” The documents that were emailed back to our unit were nearly illegible, as if somebody had sent them with a bad fax or received them while low on ink. This was a ridiculous situation because the original, submitted documents were razor sharp and easy to read PDF and XFDL (the Army’s form system for digital signatures). The situation really made everyone scratch their heads … if these had been at USARC for nearly five months, why was this the first time somebody noticed they were hard to read? Needless to say, it took about two days to doublecheck the documents and find all the originals to resubmit.
  • Murphy’s Law struck again and the packet came back within two weeks because it no longer met the current standard. In the period between its first submission and its recent resubmission, unqualified resignation packets were now required to include a form stating whether or not the solder had been sexually assaulted or was a victim in any way during their service. Naturally, the Army dictated inclusion of a form for which they provided no example. This slowed the process down but the packet was submitted.
  • And it was returned again because the packet required a new document. Now, all separating officers were required to be counseled on their separation from the first O-6 Colonel in their chain of command. Ours did not reside in state so when the first opportunity to make this face to face counseling took place, CPT X did so and resubmitted his packet immediately (now August 2010).
  • During this time period, I drafted up a template that CPT X submitted as a Congressional Inquiry, which in every case I’ve seen them, result in a quick answer. Congressional Inquiries are typically taken very seriously causing many units to have such an SOP in order to facilitate handling them. Amazingly, more than a month later, there has been no information or feedback to his grievance.
  • To add insult to injury, downstream units were informed that all unqualified resignations were in a holding pattern until a personalized letter could be sent from the commanding-general to each officer wishing to separate. This notification was provided in July 2010 and the email trail it was associated with seems to indicate the decision was older than that. Yet phone calls to the USARC G1 today confirmed the format for the letter still has not been approved and therefore all the packets are just sitting in limbo.

I outline the details of CPT X’s case because of the sheer absurdities within it, the bureaucratic delays are absolutely unconscionable. Enlisted soldiers have waivered on the fence about whether they would separate from the military up to a month prior and still been able to submit paperwork and be released on time. CPT X is now approaching his original mandatory service obligation date, meaning his life would have been easier had he never joined the Reserves at all.

I mentioned there was a CPT Y in this story. Originally, I had not put much attention into CPT Y’s packet as it was never being returned to the unit so (as I’ve mentioned before) we always assumed it was inching its way along the bureaucratic pipes. CPT Y is a West Pointer, class of 2002 combat veteran, and his shortened service obligation ended in December 2009. Unfortunately, he did not submit his packet until December 2009 but he understood he wouldn’t be released until it was approved by USARC. Nonetheless, his packet was given the “it’s at USARC” status as far back as January 2010. When it never returned, everyone assumed he was on the brink of approval. Once it passed the six month threshold of lead time, CPT Y’s packet entered the radar with CPT X’s for regular attention. Only recently did we learn USARC claimed they never had it and it was resubmitted by JSTSC in recent months whereupon he is now stymied as well in waiting for a document that doesn’t even exist.

After two years in the IRR, I came back to the Army as a Reservist myself for an opportunity to do interesting things in the cyber field with an Information Operations unit. I distinctly did not take any special “deals” from the Army myself simply because I didn’t trust the system.4 Personally, I cannot complain about my situation as for once, I actually got what I wanted from the Army through the Reserves unlike the Active side. It still takes forever to get stuff, but I’m used to the process, and my own transfer between units will have been a five month process if it actually happens in the coming weeks.

But watching this ridiculous process unfold for my friends and colleagues makes it impossible for me to favorably recommend the Army Reserves to anybody thinking about coming back as an officer. Unless you have the time to “sit and wait out a storm of tom foolery”, with rare exception, the Army Reserves that I’ve been witness to is just not the place for officers to get any sense of satisfaction from their military service. While these are just two examples of officers within my unit, we have a total of six attempting to leave (one after being passed over three times for a promotion board due to clerical errors by HRC – no fault of her own) and I’ve come to understand that nearly sixty packets from other Reserve units with similar situations are awaiting final approval for military separation. These men and women have served their time and fulfilled their obligations. It’s time for Uncle Sam to do the right thing and let them go.

ADDENDUM: A little more than a month after submitting the Congressional Inquiry, the JSTC did actually respond. CPT X received a letter from his congressman that his company commander [that's me] was at fault and holding up his paperwork. Yes, the JSTC blamed the guy that initiated the inquiry. So how did we resolve this situation? I called the New York media and asked how they would like a story about a New Yorker that answered the 9/11 call, served his time, and was being denied his release from service. He received his honorable discharge two days later.



1 Yes, it would appear the infamous Cadet X and Cadet Y of West Point’s honor training have gone on to become Captains X and Y. Unlike USMA’s training though, these two individuals are not case studies in “bad” behavior.

2 In the early stages, there were individuals that spent more time poking holes in his packet submission than simply helping him do it right. It was even witnessed by day staff soldiers that an officer was joking and laughing one afternoon about how “he was never going to get out” as opposed to putting that same amount of energy into helping their subordinate.

3 My own separation from the Active Army several years ago took months to get approved, but I had submitted it nearly a year prior fully expecting red tape to be in the way.

4 I also kept telling myself, there’s a reason you left the Army before, don’t get tied down with stipulations in such a way that you can’t walk back out if those reasons rear their ugly head again.


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