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A Time to Say Thank You, But Army Drops Ball

He joined the Army back in ’87, in the days when there was nothing particularly patriotic about joining the military, no war or cause to really get behind. He joined because it was the thing he wanted more than anything else.

By Tammy Dominski

Shortly after entering that brotherly organization, there came Desert Storm, and he proudly served nine months there, most of the expanse of that conflict. He returned to Ft. Bragg, and to his beloved 82nd Infantry unit, and settled into his life there as a career soldier.
 
The years went by. We met and fell in love, married two years later, and settled down, if you can call it settling down when you aren’t in one place for more than a few years at a time. Seemed like he spent more time away than at home, and missed every special occasion at least once, no different than what other military families go through at one time or another. I picked up the pieces of our lives in his absence. I felt it was my job to make his job easier. I was the rock that stood in place for my husband in his absence. The children we had along the way, in between deployments, schools and training, grew up a little different than their civilian counterparts, a little stronger, a bit wiser. Though not for the “faint of heart”, we made our nomadic lives work nonetheless.
 
He kept returning to the 82nd, saying it was his home. To some, the constant cycle of training, sleeplessness and jumping from planes becomes a part of you, and no other place will suffice. But everyone has a point when life takes a pivital turn. My husband began to see past the Army. He told me that if he didn’t make that last rank by his 20 year mark of service, he would like to retire from the Army and see what else life held for him.
 
And as fate would have it, although he would tell you that he is not a firm believer in fate, that final rank wasn’t to be, so he made the decision to retire. Ironically, he was in Iraq when this occurred, in the middle of a long white-knuckled, heart-pounding 15-month tour. He finished out his tour, the last one away from us, and returned home. He turned down the academy the Army would have sent him to, should he have stayed in, and we started to talk about things we’d never talked about before in our 17 years of marriage, like where to really settle down, what civilian employment opportunities there were, and all the other typical things that retirees most likely have to think about after giving 20 and more years to the military.
 
The days flew by. And for once in his career, after setting up countless of other awards for countles other soldiers, including retirements, he sat back to enjoy his own. I bought a new outfit for the retirement ceremony. After spending years buying outfits for military occasions, this one felt like the best one of all. Our children were excited to see their dad walk across the stage and be recognized for his 20 years of Army service.
 
Family and friends came into North Carolina for the ceremony, some as far as California. We were all out having breakfast together the morning of the retirement ceremony when a call came in for my husband. He listened as he was told that “someone dropped the ball” on his retirement paperwork and thus there would be no retirement ceremony for him. The paperwork wasn’t finished, and without the proper paperwork, you can’t attend a retirement ceremony. And since his end-of-service date was only a few days away, there would be no chance of doing it later. He was offered the chance to come back as a civilian and attend a later ceremony, in a few months, but he declined. He was ready to put it all behind him, and walk away from the Army feeling complete. But that memory was not to be. He had to tell me, children, friends and family the humbling news.
 
So at the end of his career, my husband, who did everything for the army and sacrificed so much for what be believed in and put his heart into, got absolutely nothing in return. At the end of his career, he didn’t get so much as a handshake or a “thanks, job well done.” Not from his coworkers, not from his chain of command, not from his soldiers. No flag presented to him, no award, nothing. The 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment had seemingly turned their backs, and a blind eye, to the whole thing. 
 
Their excuse was, “These awards take time to get signed.” But they’d known for six months that he was retiring. He was also told, “Lots of guys have this happen to them, when the paperwork doesn’t get done in time.” But there is no excuse for that behavior, especially not in the 82nd Airborne, where men should know the meaning of brotherhood. It is just a metaphoric slap in the face to his entire spotless career, and to me and to our children. 
 
Our friends and family went back home, and my husband picked up the threads of the civilian life he’d thrown himself into, and life went on. He was promised things would be made right, but never heard from anyone again. Those responsible for “dropping the ball” were never held accountable for their actions. My husband tried to put it behind him.
 
Seven months later, on a sunny September afternoon, I was at home with the children when a soldier pulled up in our driveway and got out of his car. He said he had something for my husband. He retrieved from his car a folded flag and a plaque, and handed them to me. He said he’d been in the company for two days, and they told him to drop those things in the mail, but he said he lived in the area, so he’d just drop the package off himself. So this is how my brave and dedicated husband received his end-of-career honors. By some guy who had been in the company two days and just happened to be in the neighborhood. I thanked the soldier, closed the door, and cried. That is NO way to treat a veteran.
 
It broke my heart, to see this happen to such a dedicated soldier. It seemed to diminish all the sacrifices we’d made for the military. It cheapened all we’d been through on behalf of the Army, all those sleepless nights, the worry, the fear, the pain. I was furious. I wanted vindication. But ultimately, I knew it was my husband’s burden to carry, and I backed off with my comments and my anger. My husband no longer speaks of that time in his life, but you can see the pain he carries sometimes on his face.
 
It shouldn’t matter if the soldier got out of the Army after 2 years or 20 years. Something like this should never happen to anyone in the military. Military members serve our country with a bravery few can understand. “Make sure retirees get their awards ON TIME” should be at the top of some “Army To-Do” list, so that this doesn’t happen again. No one else said it, so I will now. To my husband, and the other “lots of guys” who have missed the recognition they deserve at the end of their military career, I say, “Thank you.” Thank you for a job well done.

View the original article at Veterans Today

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