Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Getting Out

The army was trying to lose people. It was a bloated operation, staffed for a cold war that no longer existed. In particular, Germany was terribly over manned and the German government was eager to repatriate American bases. From a peak in 1987 of 2.1 million personnel, the military was going to drop to 1.4 million.

Getting out should have been easy. In fact, our friends who still wanted to make the military their career were desperately worried about keeping their jobs, about their chances for promotion in the future.

Actually, Kirk wasn't really asking for much of an early out. He was very close to his four year mark, and was just asking to take off some of the extra time he had to sign up for to get us command sponsorship. But if we waiting until his contract was up we would miss out on a semester of school, and we both wanted to go back to college. We had already started applying, and if Kirk got out in January we would be able to find work and a place to live before school started.

All around us people were leaving - the army was bleeding out people left and right. We were, for the first time, living in government housing (although off-base) and a compound that was meant to hold around 150 families had a bare handful. So we were confident as we waited... and waited... and waited.

Of course Kirk had told his commanders that he was putting in for an early-out. There was a strange mentality that even though they wanted people to leave, there must be something wrong with a soldier who didn't want to be a soldier. Kirk was definitely persona non grata, and as weeks stretched to months his commanding officers became more and more irritated with having this low-morale, disruptive person on their hands. Finally they shunted him off into the unit post office where at least he wouldn't cause any trouble and would hopefully keep quiet.

Kirk filed his papers again and again, called people to find out what had happened, banged his head on the walls in frustration. Meanwhile (because naturally all good things happen in clumps) I got pregnant again. Deadlines for acceptance to colleges passed, we had burned bridges by making our intentions clear, and now everything was falling to pieces. Kirk became physically sick, developing what would become a chronic stomach problem. Every night we would put the kids in the double stroller and walk for hours by the Rhine, trying to figure out something, anything we could do.

Finally, late in the spring we found out what had happened. The guy responsible for the initial processing of all the early-outs had decided he didn't want to deal with all the paperwork. He had been simply throwing away every application that crossed his desk - for months - then suppressing any inquiries that might point out what he had been doing.

It fit beautifully with the rest of our army experience. Our plans were in a shambles, we had a baby due in October, no job, and nowhere to live - but we were free. For now, that was enough.

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