The in between veterans

With Veterans Day I am always reminded of my personal situation and in the last few years it has become stronger. Basically I fall in between because I did serve in the military but did not make it through boot camp. For years I never considered myself a veteran but now I will talk about this experience.

I probably need to explain it better so it makes more sense. When I was 17 instead of going to college I decided to enlist in the navy. I did this for purely selfish reasons, such as I figured they would pay for me to attend college while paying me money. In my immature mind I remember thinking “free money” and in the fantasy I lived in a fantastic condo in the navy, worked during the day while attending college at night. The recruiter was untruthful about what really happens in boot and I arrived at boot wondering when we got our cool condos. Ever see Private Benjamin? that is me to a T sadly.

I should mention though that before I got to boot that day the medical examiner at MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station, where you go to enlist)didn’t think I should have gone because my ankle wasn’t as strong as it should be for a 18 year old (I enlisted as a 17 year old but by the time I left I was 18). Long story short it did me in once I got to boot but in reality I would have been discharged anyway for failure to adapt. I was the last person at my age to have gone. I was very immature and would rather spend the day at the mall with my friends than working. I did really well on the running and swimming and physical fitness aspects, in fact I did better than the men (I was at that point a student athlete)but the ankle would give out at times and I needed a brace to give it support.

After a few weeks I was sent to the out processing facility to be discharged and met many others who were all being discharged. Some were discharged due to drugs, or being a lesbian (back then being gay meant an automatic discharge) and plenty were dishonorably discharged. There were a few creepy people who scared me to be blunt. Also, many being discharged (along with those in the company I was in before discharge) were from a different sociological group. By this I mean the majority were from lower income families where the military was the only choice. I was from a family that while not rich could have helped me attend college. Years later my mom told me she knew the navy was a bad choice for me and knew I would be discharged. A friend of mine (also discharged early from boot camp, only army)said he knew the ankle would cause me problems.

As time went on I basically buried my feelings of insecurity with having not finished my term of duty. I went on to college and graduate school, did a variety of jobs and went on with my life. If an employer asked if I served I would either say no or explain my situation. However around the 20th anniversary of me having served the feelings started to emerge and I started watching various boot camp videos. I also started talking to people who were also in the same position. I asked someone not long ago in the know if I am technically considered a veteran and they said yes but (and this is a big but)I am ineligible to receive benefits. I generally can’t join veterans groups (though I am not sure this means across the board)and when I die I can’t get a military funeral I don’t believe (though I am not 100% sure of this). Awhile back someone broke into the veterans bureau (or whatever it is called)and I received a message that my info was among those hacked. Every so often I will get messages from groups looking for veterans and they got my name from some list.

Many things from boot have stayed with me. To this day I will still find myself breaking into a march and singing a cadence. I also fold clothes the military way. I have to organize things a certain way and at most jobs my employers will assume I am a veteran because everything is orderly.

There are many like me out there because as many as 50% of all recruits never make it past the first 6 months.

4 thoughts on “The in between veterans”

  1. You might talk to the VA about any benefits that might be available to you. My guess is that you got an honorable discharge, but there may be a minimum time of service to qualify for benefits. A military funeral is often just the color guard and bugler, plus the grave marker. They usually don’t pay for the funeral expenses unless you are killed in action. Unless you are cremated, you pretty much have to die in service or be a colonel/captain or higher to make it into a national cemetery.

    Depending on when you enlisted, you might have been separated from the military unfairly. As a long-time civilian employee of the Army (and ex-Air Force ROTC cadet, but my vision got to be too bad for the waiver), policy in the Army is that soldiers who don’t meet physical standards or get injured during basic training are put in a training platoon and then recycled back to another basic training company to do basic over again. Other services do a similar thing. However, if you enlisted at a time that the forces were drawing down, which was the case after the first Gulf War, it was a lot easier to be separated from the service for minor things.

    The better program for you may well have been any of the ROTC programs, which with the Army and Air Force would have paid for your tuition and books, and given you $100 a month as a living allowance, so you would have still had to pay for your dorm room. The Navy does things differently, giving people a monthly allowance toward tuition and other expenses. Prospective Marine officers join Navy ROTC.

    An advantage that ROTC would have given you is that the “basic training” part of it does not occur until after your sophomore year, though you do have to attend two classes a week and learn the manual of arms for close-order drill. The good part is that had you flunked out of ROTC due to flunking basic training, odds are that you would not have had to repay the military for the first two years of tuition. One of my design lab partners had a bad knee, and they didn’t know whether he would be commissioned until right before graduation. He was commissioned.

  2. In hindsight I wish I had done the ROTC because then I would have gone in as an officer. I went in (1989)during peacetime so things are a bit different. Because I served less than 180 days on active duty (though was in Delayed Entry for almost a year)I probably don’t qualify for much but yes my discharge was good because I didn’t get out due to bad reasons.

    Lately I have been telling people about my history because the feelings came back because of becoming involved with the American Legion (and the guy I want to be with).

  3. You might have gotten a pretty sweet deal on your military obligation. Because the services were drawing down when you would have graduated from college (1993 or so), you might have only had to do reserve time after graduation. This happened with the son of one of my father’s friends. He wound up with a six year reserve obligation. Usually a ROTC scholarship requires one to serve 4 years of active duty and two years in the inactive reserve, but it you make captain/lieutenant (O-3), you can stay for another 6-8 years at a minimum.

    Had you made it through basic training, you would have run into the stop-loss that was put into effect in late 1990 as the Gulf War geared up. This prevents people from separating from the military until a certain date with few exceptions. Suppose that you had enlisted for four years. The stop-loss wouldn’t have mattered because you were not scheduled to end your enlistment until 1993. A friend of mine who retired from the Army Reserve a few years ago as a lieutenant colonel volunteered for an initial six-month term on active duty as the Gulf War was starting up, and they kept him just about a year.

  4. I’ve heard about Stop Loss and yes I would have avoided that, though what many don’t know is after you serve your 4 years you are required to be on standby for another 4 years. This means that one might be called into active duty if there was a war going on. I likely would have gone to Iraq for Desert Storm. The only good thing about this is I would have likely gotten more benefits even after leaving because it was during a war. The guy I am interested in enlisted in the army during Grenada and though he never saw battle he received more honors just for being in the service during that time. I know I would have had a better situation had I taken the ROTC because I know a few (mostly nurses)who did that, then when they graduated only served in the reserves. They were then finished when it was done and didn’t have to go to Iraq or Afghanistan.

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