Chair Force Engineer

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

No Chance Outside

There's an old Air Force joke that "NCO" doesn't stand for "Non-Commissioned Officer." It stands for "No Chance Outside." The point of the joke, as best I can tell, is that the master sergeants have spent so much time in the Air Force that they can't imagine doing anything else in the private sector.

Luckily for most members of the armed forces in the era of contracting out many jobs that used to belong to uniformed personnel, it's quite easy to take off the uniform and get paid much more money to do the same thing as a contractor or government civilian that they were previously doing when they were on active duty.

At the same time, the situation is much more harsh for people who don't like what they were doing while in uniform and want a change of profession. By most accounts, the retraining that the military offers to separating personnel is not very good. I speak with friends of mine (like the guys with engineering degrees who were forced into the communications field) who share many of my fears and insecurities. While they may want to leave the Air Force, they have no idea what they're going to do on the outside. All they know is what they've been doing for the last few years while wearing the uniform. I suspect that many of them will stick with the Air Force because it represents stability and security in their lives. Many of them will find enjoyable assignments, and some will advance to the upper echelons of the military hierarchy.

Of all the general officers in the United States, the majority of them will tell you that they wanted to leave after their first tour. Many of them wanted to leave after subsequent tours as well. But something kept calling them back, and they eventually found assignments they liked. While many generals are too humble to admit it, they also had the wisdom to make smart choices during those years of struggle in order to achieve the rarefied ranks.

The alternative to the "No Chance Outside" mentality is the "Make it Work" mindset. Whatever happens, these individuals have the resolute faith that they can make things work out in the end. Some of them are resourceful and strong-willed, and they will make it happen. As for the others, I think they are the ones who comprise the group we know as the stereotypical homeless veterans.

I used to embrace the "No Chance Outside" mentality. I can think of a crucial moment in my life, just over five years ago, when I firmly embraced "No Chance." After an entire lifetime of parental smothering, I had to look ahead to what life would be like when I was finally set on my own. I thought that the regimented lifestyle of the armed forces would help me in that regard.

In hindsight, everything I believed five years ago was wrong. The heavily-regimented lifestyle is applied to the junior enlisted, but not to the officers. You can't succeed as a military officer if you don't express a high degree of independence and assertiveness.

At the same time, everything I needed to learn, I mostly learned from college. Much of the rest was picked up in my first few months living on my own after commissioning. Going to college with half the country between the student and the parents is the best remedy for a child who has been suffocated by overprotective parents for eighteen years.

In five years time, I've rejected the sense of despair from having "No Chance Outside." I will learn to make it work. I'll even take jobs working retail if I have to. And if I fail, then I at least failed in trying to assert myself on my own, and trying to live the American dream. To fail is to earn a spot in the next "Bumfights" video. I'll be the guy fighting a toothless vagrant over a stale turkey sandwich.