Azimuth Check, Oct. 14, 2010

Time for another potpourri of things that pique my interest. Here are a hat-trick of things in my head–from the Hasan Trial to stumbling drunk through NYC.

Hasan, A Lesson in Being Careful, Very Careful

This picture is more exciting than the Article 32. Trust me.

It’s starting! Major Nidal Hasan faces the eagerly-anticipated Article 32 hearing. Please wake me when its over.

According to USA Today, it is anticipated to last up to 6 weeks. Be mindful that the Article 32 is an investigation. The hearing is merely a piece of the process. Essentially, the Colonel presiding over the Article 32 “investigates” the matter completely to determine whether reasonable grounds exist to move forward to a court-martial. This will be long, excruciatingly thorough, and anticlimactic.

Most Article 32 hearings last one day. This will be different because the death penalty is in play. Parties on all sides will show an amazing degree of care.

When the Army is careful about things, they go all-out. As an example, consider mowing a lawn. When you mow your lawn, you probably wear a t-shirt, shorts, and old shoes. Now, go to Ft. Leonard Wood and observe basic trainees mowing a lawn. They are forced to wear full Army Combat Uniform, hearing protection, eye protection, gloves, camelbak for hydration, a helmet, and even an occasional flak vest. For all I know, they may even wear a condom–just to be extra safe.

Update: As I wrote this, I read that Hasan’s attorneys requested a one month continuance. They may return this week to discuss their need for a delay. Ah, the excitement.

I can hardly contain myself.

Reentry? No? Maybe? Yes?

Hundreds of people across the United States seek a return to the military each year. Many of these left the Armed Forces under less-than-ideal circumstances. At first blush, it sounds strange. Consider the cycle:

  1. Joins the Armed Forces.
  2. Something happens (usually low-level misconduct), and leadership starts treating the servicemember like crud.
  3. They punish him in a variety of ways for his mistake(s).
  4. They kick him out unceremoniously. Usually, it results in a less-than-Honorable discharge.
  5. The now-former-servicemember scratches and claws to get back into the Armed Forces and regain his former status.

I see this happen regularly. Why on earth would somebody want to return to an organization that treated them like a piece of meat?

When you consider the cycle with comparable civilian employment, the average citizen would not want to see the building, let alone seek reemployment in the same workplace that just spit them out. For some reason, the military is different.

There are several reasons which likely explain this.

  • Benefits, benefits, benefits. For an individual with only a high school or equivalent degree, it is hard to find a job that offers the benefits afforded to members of the Armed Forces. They include good pay, nontaxable housing allowance/housing provided, nontaxable meal allowance/meals provided, commissary privileges, PX privileges, free healthcare, free dental, and nontaxable money to buy uniforms.
  • Veterans’ Entitlements. The GI Bill is no joke. It is a fantastic way to get a nearly-free college education. However, the GI Bill as well as most other significant VA benefits evaporate without an Honorable Discharge.
  • Redemption. The military, in many circles and families, is still considered to be a rite of passage. The stigma of not making the cut eats at a person, and they seek a way to reform their reputation.
  • Distance makes the heart grow fonder. When a person leaves the military, the bad memories tend to fade while the good memories become stronger. Look at all of the WWII and Vietnam veterans who seek a way to reconnect with their buddies. They don’t think of the death, carnage, and horrors of war. Their focus is on the comraderie they had with their buddies, and they long to feel that way again. Even those who behave badly still make strong connections with their peers.
  • Security. Sure, they were kicked-out before, but they saw how many steps are involved in order to “fire” someone from the military. It is anything but “employment at will.”

Can they return? The answer is a distinct maybe. Depending on their characterization of service coupled with their reentry eligibility code, it may be possible or barred outright. More often than not, they must apply for relief before a Board for the Correction of Military Records or the Discharge Review Board.

Non-Law-Related Thought of the Week

Kurt Vonnegut said the best times in life can be recognized adequately by saying one sentence: “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

Today, I reminisced about my college years north of New York City. The time was the early 1990’s, and Rudy Giuliani had begun his cleanup of NYC in earnest. On many weekends, my friends and I would catch the Metro North train from Garrison down to Grand Central (a 45 minute trip).

There it is, just below street level.

Once there, we made our way via subway to the Village where we began our early afternoon at a small, semi-subterranean establishment called “Down the Hatch” on West 4th Street. Their logo featured a crudely drawn human head with an absurdly large open mouth. Into the mouth was poured a large mug of beer. It wasn’t the grandest or most popular of bars, but it did offer all-you-can-eat wings and all-you-can-drink beer for a flat $13 from 1PM to 6PM. We arrived precisely at 1 in order to most effectively spend our meager college earnings.

Paddy Reillys

Afterward, we meandered through the city enjoying freedom and conversation until we arrived at a small pub on 2nd Street near the intersection of East 29th called Paddy Reilly’s.

It wasn’t the largest bar, and it certainly would have benefitted from a good cleaning, but it was just right for us. One of my friends (usually one with a nickname such as “Batch” or “Dirty Bob” would grab a round at the bar (limited selection, but good enough for us), and I’d grab a pack of reds from the cigarette machine. From there, we spent the balance of our evening.

Each Saturday, a band called Black 47 played in the cramped confines of Paddy Reillys. Led by the always-entertaining Larry Kirwan, they graced us with Irish-American rock music for the better part of 2 hours. No, I’m not Irish, but it doesn’t stop me from appreciating good music and atmosphere.

We’d stay as long as we could, chatting with the band and other patrons. Closing time meant a long stumble to Grand Central where we waited for the first northbound train to board.

We weren’t wild or obnoxious. There were no amazing tales to demonstrate that we are lucky to be alive. Rather, the most you get is the anecdote I relayed above. We enjoyed being friends. We enjoyed good food, good music, and good beer. Most of all, we enjoyed being ourselves around people who accepted us.

Those times are gone, and I don’t wish them back. Sure, they were fun at the time, and I wouldn’t trade the memories for the world. Things change, though. I heard Black 47 switched their venue to a bar called Connelly’s due to issues with the fire code. My friends and I have all gone our separate ways, and we all started families. My family evolved. Some new mambers came to be, and others died. Things can never be as they were, and that’s fine with me. My only regret is that we didn’t sit back and recognize the time, our friendship, and our circumstances more. I believe that is one of the regrets that most of us have about our youth–the failure to realize how nice it is.

Now, I sit here, several decades older. I have more degrees and much more experience. My perspectives evolved (some radically) in that time. I’m utilizing my First Amendment rights in creating this blog and writing this post. I realized the dream of working for myself. I wish my mother and father could see it, but nature doesn’t work by popular mandate. My tolerance for alcohol diminished greatly, and I don’t communicate with my old comrades quite as much as I should. But, I’m surrounded by things that make me very, very happy. That’s what I want.

If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.