During the years of heavy American troop deployment to Afghanistan and Iraq, the California National Guard gave re-enlistment bonuses to those with highly sought after job skills and training.
According to New York Times (NYT) reporter Dave Phillips, the military often pays re-enlistment bonuses and other incentives, like repayment of college loans, to keep highly trained and desirable personnel in the service. The practice accelerated during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During those years the California Guard held seminars where troops filed through an assembly line-style re-enlistment process. Promises were made, contracts were signed and the soldiers were redeployed.
Then, in 2011, an audit of this re-enlistment program discovered somewhere around 10,000 soldiers had received excessive bonuses totaling between $70 and $100 million.
According to Phillips’ article, the ranking NCO pleaded guilty in 2012. But the military has taken the position that those bonuses are overpayments and letters were sent to the affected soldiers demanding the money be returned. According to the NYT article, some have seen their wages garnisheed. In one case a court has ordered monthly payments of $650.
Student loans can be a bitch. Getting out from under them is difficult, perhaps impossible. It is the kind of debt which can postpone or cripple dreams and plans for years.
Some of these young soldiers took a good long look at their options and they decided to make a deal with the devil.
I joined the U.S. Army in the late ‘60s and deserted to Canada in 1970. Vietnam wasn’t a popular war—they had to have the draft to fill the ranks back then. Today it is an all-volunteer force. Public sentiment after 9/11 made war seem glorious and popular again. It may seem strange that I would be over-concerned about how these vets were recruited.
The fact is that once a soldier has put their signature on the paperwork, the government owns their ass. A deal has been made and what will come, will come. Thou shalt not kill is no longer one of the rules to be lived by. And included among all the paperwork the military had you sign for your personnel jacket was your last will and testament.
What will come, will come. You will spend time away from family and miss out on the love, occasions and celebrations families provide. You may be sent into harm’s way or wounded. This devil you signed on with may demand to witness horrific scenes of hell on earth and some of your comrades may not make it back.
Those who do return rejoin society and try to fit in again. Then they were blindsided with these letters saying the government won’t honour its side of the deal. War is described as “Ignorant boys killing each other,” by author Wendy Berry in his novel Hannah Coulter. Sadly he may be very much right.
A solution has eluded the U.S. Congress and the military says that under current law it would be illegal to stop trying to reclaim the money.
Every U.S. president has the power to offer amnesty or pardons. Each Thanksgiving, with great fanfare and many flags, they spare the life of a turkey. So perhaps the government could cancel the order for a couple or three bombs, write these bonuses off and put this fiasco to bed. After all, the fraud, if that is the right word, is the fault of the government.
All too often vets (on both sides of the border) are denied legislated benefits and promises go unfilled. For shame.
Take care of someone who loves you ….