I joined the army in 1978 as a delayed entry soldier and went on active duty in July 1979. The Vietnam War was over, and there was no other military actions going on. I retired from the Army in August 1994. People assume when I say I retired that I spent 20 years in the Army. Some people would do the math and say, “wait a minute . . .?”, when in fact, I only served 15 years.
Yes, I retired with full benefits after 15 years of service in peace – blessed by never having to step foot on a battlefield, but given credit and privileges for serving in a war-time Army. You could call my retirement a sacrifice because I gave up a percentage of my pension since I retired early. I would have made more if I stayed in the additional five years, but the Army needed to reduce its size, so I helped.
In the years building up to the Gulf War, all the branches of the U.S. Military had grown in general. In the years after the war, the military was slowly downsizing. It seemed like it wasn’t downsizing fast enough.
I loved serving in the Army. I was doing well. I was a Sergeant First Class Within 12 years of service and was highly decorated although I was working in (what I call) a peace time Army. After the third year at Fort Leonard Wood, I was the Chief Instructor of the 63B Light Wheel Vehicle Mechanic’s Course (LWVMC) and was on the E-8 promotion list. However, after several more years, I was disappointed because I seemed stuck at Fort Leonard Wood. We were there for almost six years with no sign of moving on. Donna [My wife] and I dreamed of going to Germany. But all new assignments at the time were frozen. No one was getting assignments or going anywhere.
I was a soldier in limbo.
I was also told I wasn’t going anywhere because I was considered essential personnel. The 63B LWVMC School I was running was scheduled to be deactivated at the end of year and rumor was that I could be forced to stay to help close the school. We weren’t running many classes through the course because we were no longer getting soldiers from other basic training posts outside of Leonard Wood. Occasionally we got enough soldiers from the FT Leonard Wood Basic Training School to start a class. Only a few classes were able to start with the few soldiers that took basic training at Leonard Wood. A class required 25 to 30 soldiers to start. If there weren’t enough soldiers to start a class, they were either shipped off to other post or held over to help fill the next class. My instructors and I were all sitting around waiting for enough soldiers to fill a class or we were waiting, hoping for new assignments. Assignments for us were slow to come. Some of my soldiers (Instructors/comrades/Peers/friends) were sent off to Somalia for Operation Restore Hope, only a few. Others took assignments as instructors in the 88 Mike course. Me – as I said, I seemed to be stuck where I was.
By the way. The 88 Mike course was the truck driving school on Fort Leornard Wood.
DEC. 1993, this is the Instructors, before the last LWVMC class graduated
My dad owned a successful furniture and upholstery business in Hampton, Virginia. His dream was for me to come home and take over the business. I wasn’t ready to quit the Army yet - because I wanted to retire and not leave without any benefits. At least I had something to look forward to! However, As I became more disenchanted, getting out early started sounding better as time went by.
In 1993, the Army was getting more desperate to downsize. They started offering incentives like a program called VSI, an early release with an annual annuity payment equal to 2.5 percent of the soldier's base pay times the number of years of active service for five years. I thought about it, then decided on the VET program. An early release with a lump sum payment that would have put, before taxes, $52,000 in my pocket.
I submitted the paperwork for the VET program, and it went through the Battalion for approval. When the Battalion Sergeant Major found out what I did. He called me in. I spent four hours in his office getting yelled at for making such a bad decision and a stupid mistake. He tried everything to talk me out of it, but the cash and a business opportunity with my dad kept me from changing my mind. He followed me all the way out of the building telling me I shouldn’t do this. My ETS date (Expiration of Term of Service) was August 1994. I didn’t want to stay here for five more years after that.
The course was set, Donna and I nervously made plans for leaving the Army.
The course was set, yet, God had a better idea.
Late in 1993, I guess around October, I get a call from the Battalion S-1 (the personnel Office). They said I was put on levy for Germany. That was weird because there should be no personnel actions going on with me. I was getting out next year. The S-1 just wanted to let me know. I went to the Battalion to check it out and sure enough, they had an official pre-notification for me. THAT WAS DONNA's AND MY DREAM!!!
I went crawling to the Sergeant Major and asked if I can stop the early out. He jumped on the phone and within the hour, I was no longer on the early out program.
I went home and told Donna and we were the most excited, happiest couple/Family on Fort Leonard Wood!! We started making new plans! WE ARE going to Germany!!!
So, I was back in the Army! We jumped the gun and started separating items that we will sell, things that will go into storage, and the things we will take with us. Then, less than two weeks later, our hopes and dreams were shattered. We were taken off Levy because, there was no treatment facilities available for our autistic son. We were devastated.
I fumed for a few weeks and then decided to go back to the S-1 and see if they would reinstate my early out application.
When I showed up at the Battalion, The S-1 Sergeant said, “Oh good, you’re here to pick up your orders.” I was really confused. “What orders?” It turned out, I was on Levy again, but this time with a pin-point assignment for Wiesbaden in Frankfurt, Germany. I was told it was one of the best assignments I could ever ask for! I couldn’t believe it!!! Once again, were excited and happy, AND READY TO GO!!!
With this good news, as the Chief Instructor being responsible and involved with the closing of the 63B course at Leonard Wood, AND enough soldiers to run one more class through – 63B10 Class 47. I had the incentive to make this the best graduation and deactivation there ever was. Graduation and deactivation will be December 15th, 1993. I convinced everyone to go all out! I even sent out letters of invitations to many local and military VIP’s including the Ordnance Corps Command Sergeant Major, CSM Cutbirth as the guest of honor and guest speaker. He accepted!! I was in seventh heaven!! Everything was perfect . . .
Class 47 finished their 13 weeks, the whole class graduated, we honored the highest achievers with real awards instead of the traditional silly paper certificates. I was in seventh heaven!! Everything was perfect . . . Graduation for the last 63B class went off without a hitch.
I was in seventh heaven!! Everything was perfect . . . Our plan was to go home for Christmas, break the news to dad about staying in the Army a little longer, then maybe, when I retire, I’ll take over the business. I was thinking though. We might be in Germany for a while. If it’s as good as they say, we might try to extend our assignment like we did in Korea. I couldn’t wait. Donna was excited too! We started selling things, preparing the kids. I was in seventh heaven!! Everything was perfect . . .
Since we were going to pack up and go to Germany from Missouri, we went home to Virginia for a longer Christmas vacation than normal. Dad took the news well and said he’ll wait. The business will be there when i’m ready. We returned to Fort Leonard Wood in early January. Things seemed really strange when I reported back to work. Everyone was gone – all my instructors and support staff - gone. The only person in the office was the course director. He asked me what I was doing there (weird), It’s where I work. I figured I would continue to work there until we left for Germany. Afterall, I only had four months left. My first order of business was to get my final orders and travel authorization to ship one of our cars to Germany. BUT he told me I’m not going anywhere and to report to the 88M course chief. I’m like, why? I start clearing soon. I’m not going to work in the 88-mike course since I’m leaving soon. I spoke with the first sergeant and he agreed and told me to go home.
I called the S-1 a few times about getting clearance papers. I wanted to make sure to start the clearing process in mid-February so we wouldn’t have any problems. We were leaving in April!!
Did I mention, I was in seventh heaven!! Everything was perfect? But, I forgot about the rumor that said, I wasn’t going anywhere because I was considered essential personnel. AND there was a HUGE delay, a hiccup, a setback, a major problem for me!!!
I’m not going to go into all the gory details about what happened – it was just weird, weird, weird. I found out later that all of the equipment, tools, training aids, and vehicles needed to be cleaned, repaired, and turned in through supply actions and the buildings needed to be turned over to the post to complete the deactivation of LWVMC. Suddenly, that became my responsibility. It was supposed to be the course Director and the supply Sergeant’s Job!! I’m supposed to go to Germany! But, before I knew it, my orders were canceled . . . again, this time permanently. Donna and I were sick! I was mad! How could they expect me to perform my duties after doing that to me? Why couldn’t they select one of the other NCOs in LWV to do the job?
They said, I’m the only one who will be here the longest. As the Chief Instructor, I’m the only one who knows what and where everything is. And, they said, I’m the only one who knows how to get it all done and the gave me a year to do it. They – are those in the chain of command above me, not one of whom would admit he was the one who signed the paperwork to cancel my orders. I continued to insist they didn’t need to do that. But THEY insisted it was impossible to get everything done before I left.
I’m almost done with my story . . .
I was mad!
This was not right! I wanted to get even!
First, to shame them, I proved that everything could be done before my Permanent Change of Station (PCS) date by getting it done (everything cleaned, fixed and turned in) in three months. Second, to shame them, I proved that everything could be done by someone else. I delegated it all to my supply Sergeant and one of my senior instructors. Third, to shame them, I proved that other NCOs were going to be here after I would have left by providing them a list of names of those who were going to be here and wanted to be here.
There was no shame. They had no shame. They still credited me with finishing the deactivation, turning in all the equipment, and turning the buildings over within three months. But, I didn't do it.
Oh, my retirement. So, now I’m in limbo again. All the early out programs were canceled, so I have nothing to gain if I leave the Army early. My termination (ETS) date was approaching, and I have to make a decision, Reenlist or get out of the Army. Dad still wants me to come home, but I’m closer to a 20-year retirement (5 years away) and the time I spent in the Army would have been a waste if I get out now. Donna was afraid that, after reenlisting, I would bet sent back to Korea on an unaccompanied tour, leaving her and the kids alone at Leonard Wood. And, war was looming, but that’s always a risk a soldier takes.
It’s now the middle of May 1994. I’m under the impression that God had a hand in what happened and He caused the events to keep me where I was. Maybe He had plans for our future. I don’t know. I’m still in limbo. I didn’t want to teach at the 88 Mike course, Since I no longer had a job (LWMVMC was gone), I did odd jobs around the battalion. Most notably, I designed and built a new modernized battalion conference room, fixed up the computer, and, in addition to the pull down screen, I mounted a big CRT monitor on the wall to show presentations.
One day, I heard the Sergeant Major call my name. “Jesse, you got a minute?” He invited me in his office. He told me to take a seat. He said “It pains me to ask you this, but have you heard of a program called TERA? I said "No."
He explained, TERA means Temporary Early Retirement Authority that authorizes service members with over 15, but less than 20 years of total active-duty service to apply for early retirement – it means getting a slightly smaller pension, but a pension and full benefits for life. I said that’s nice, but I haven’t reached 15 years yet, I’m only three months short though. I’ll have to wait and hopefully it’ll still be available.
The Sergeant Major already checked. He told me that according to the S-1, I’ve been in the Army for 15 years, 6 months. I was a delayed entry soldier, so I am credited with an additional year. Based on my records, He said, I can retire, and he approves of this over getting a lump sum of money or just getting out with nothing.
I forgot that I joined the Army in 1978. The excitement started to build!
The Sergeant Major’s recommendation was for me to stay in the Army for the additional 5 years to reach 20 years, but he would understand if I took the TERA offer.
I (We) decided to apply for the TERA, it was approved in June and I retired at the end of August 1994!
We moved to Hampton, Virginia and I started a new career, working with my dad.