Alton, Recruiting Station. Alton, Illinois.
When I first arrived to Alton I was generously given ten days to find a place to live and establish myself. When those ten days were up it was simply time to go to work. My first day on the job, I was supposed to report to Scott Air force Base for Company Training at 0900 hours. I wasn’t aware of this until 0850 when I showed up for work the first day. So my first day on the job I would be late. I had no idea what this Company Training would consist of but it eventually turned into the bane of my very existence. Basically, once a month, Company Training was a chance for all the soldiers in the Company to get together in one room with the First Sergeant, and the Company Commander and they would complain about how bad we were doing as a Company or praise us if we were doing well. Really, it was a waste of time because the whole process never held any substance. The training was routine, the classes were the same every time, and nobody took it serious. Not even the Company Leadership. What made it worse was that some soldiers had to travel over two hours to come to this. I can recall one instance during Company Training when our Company was doing very well; our First Sergeant stated that since we are doing so well with our recruiting numbers now we can focus on other things. Like family issues. Pay issues. And other personal related things. Another instance I can recall was; we were at the VFW doing Company Training, and it was the last day on the job for the civilian work force and after our training the Company Commander proceeded to say that if you drove here in a Government vehicle you weren’t allowed to drink any alcoholic beverages. But if you came in your personal vehicle (which he did) feel free to indulge a little. I left as soon as I could.
The work load wasn’t an immense amount that a soldier couldn’t handle. It was the long hours that each soldier had to put in. The leadership put the weight on the soldiers’ shoulders that we were still in the Army. We still had to maintain physical fitness standards, and we still had to abide by the rules and regulations just like if we were on a Military Installation. Although, that was hardly the case. Soldiers and leaders alike would walk around without their headgear on, without being in proper uniform, standing outside without their battle dress tops on, or showing up to work in civilian clothes for no apparent reason. It’s like it became the norm. It’s just what we did. We didn’t have any direct supervision. People would argue that we didn’t need any. Most of us were seasoned leaders, senior Non Commissioned Officers, and we all acted like we had forgotten what organization we were a part of. This was the environment that I was walking into. We worked odd hours. Long hours. Sixteen hour days. We tried to make physical training a part of our day. We tried to fit it into our schedule. We even had a gym that we were able to utilize for free paid for by the Army. But when a soldier is getting off of work at 2000 or 2100 hours at night it makes it very difficult to get up at 0600 and make it to physical training. So in essence most soldiers’ physical fitness suffered dramatically.
The days were long, and very unfulfilling. Most days when soldiers were out driving around looking for potential recruits for the Army, they would just find an empty parking lot, recline the seats back, and take a two-hour nap. You could probably find the rest of the soldiers at home playing video games to decompress or to have a peaceful lunch or dinner without the constant harassment of people walking into the office or constant phone calls or the never-ending pressures of the Station Commander breathing down your neck every five seconds asking what you’re working on or how many phone calls you’ve made. When 1700 hours rolled around most people would just be getting off work. Not the Recruiters. We still had about three to four more hours of work. There were times where I had to drive two hours one way to meet a possible applicant’s parent. That parent didn’t get off work until 1800 hours. So I had to schedule the appointment late enough in the evening for them so everyone would be happy. I wouldn’t get home until 2300 hours or later. That happened more often than I can count. I would get back to the Recruiting Station around midnight to return the Government car, and the whole place would be locked up, lights out, and everyone would be gone. I remember coming from an Army that as long as you had soldiers out in the field you were there to support them. What really upset me was the fact that the Company Leadership Team was at home by 1800 nearly every night while most recruiting stations in the Company were still working well past 2000 hours.
With so much time spent cooped up in one office with the same people nearly six days a week, tension would soon rise and conflicts would soon be a part of the recruiting day. Arguments would break out over ways to get the mission accomplished and soon personal problems that became more of the focus on the soldiers end because of failure to resolve them in a timely manner would be the ultimate demise of the recruiting efforts in the Alton Recruiting Station. Pay issues were the common theme. The Battalion was mainly ran by civilians that probably couldn’t care less of the soldiers well-being. Having been a victim of having pay issues, and no one really considering it to be a serious matter, I jumped the chain of command to try to get things resolved. It took nine whole months to finally get my pay issues resolved, and by then I had lost total faith in my chain of command. I could no longer trust them. I could no longer feel supported by them. I could no longer work hard, and feel good about coming to work anymore. I felt let down, and betrayed. I wasn’t the only one. Another soldier shared the same torment and neglect that I had faced for nine months. The soldier’s initial complaint was greeted with a sarcastic, cold, callous remark. “I don’t care. Go back to work.” The rain tapped the windows gently as the awkward silence fell over the recruiting station. I looked to the soldier and I could feel the anger and the frustration as he stared back at me. It was the toxic leadership that those instructors at the school-house had been talking about all along. And now we were experiencing it tenfold.
The months dragged on. I felt physically sick to come to work. I had no desire to do anything. I couldn’t even make an attempt to try to do any work. The soldiers in the recruiting station struggled to maintain any kind of integrity. The Government cars always had contraband littered on the floor boards. Potential applicants were purposely avoided. There were more smoke breaks during our day than anything. Our chain of command didn’t support us. Why should we support the mission? The Station Commander hardly supported the soldiers. Anytime a soldier came to him with a grievance or an alternative way to accomplish the mission the soldiers were always greeted with a dismissive attitude or sarcastic retorts. It was hardly the definition of leadership. It was hardly an expression of the Army Values. It hardly motivated the soldiers to put in a solid 12-16 hours of quality work.
I think what initially delayed the inevitability of the downfall of my recruiting career was the fact that eventually our work hours were changed from 0900 to whenever to 0900 to 1700 hours. I could finally breathe easy and feel somewhat normal again. The problem was-the damage had already been done. My motivational levels were in the toilet, I wasn’t inspired to do any work and I hated everyone around me. Arguments and insubordination were a common trend in the recruiting office. No one followed direction. No one did the right thing. Most of the time, I was intoxicated at work. I spent the majority of the afternoon either playing video games in my apartment, drinking, sleeping or all of the above. When I’d go to interviews, I’d purposely sabotage it and talk the applicant out of joining just so I wouldn’t have additional work to do. And that’s even if I was able to make an appointment. I didn’t try anymore and I really didn’t care.
The First Sergeant walked into the classroom on a dreary morning and started ranting and raving about integrity, selfless service, doing the right thing blah, blah, blah. Usually I’m the type of guy to just ignore top leadership rants like this because I’m well aware of why it’s happening. The First Sergeant got his ass chewed out by his boss so now the shit is rolling downhill. The problem I was having is that this guy was such a pathetic leader it was hardly tolerable to accept his ass-chewing. I was getting more and more upset as he went on. I wanted to desperately call him out on his own bullshit. I took one look around the room to see if anyone would have my back. I could only chuckle to myself. These recruiters were all sitting there with their heads down just taking it. Maybe a fight wasn’t worth it to them. Maybe a fight wasn’t in their blood or maybe they were just trying to get through the day. Maybe they were just ignoring the ranting First Sergeant hoping he’d just shut up and move on. At any rate, I knew I was flying solo on this mission but I didn’t care. I had to say something.
“First, Sergeant, what about you? You’re one to talk about integrity.” I squeaked.
Now you have to picture this guy. He’s sort of a cross between Alfred E. Newman and an idiot. He’s hardly intimidating. He’s not like one of those real First Sergeants in the Army that’d rip your head off in one swipe and leave you for dead. He was kind of like a scared little Chihuahua in a corner shaking like a leaf. I mean, the guy would talk so much shit over the phone because he could. But face to face, I could smell the fear.
“Excuse me? Sergeant, this isn’t an open conversation.” He replied.
“I don’t care if it is or not. You’re the last person to talk about doing the right thing around here, First Sergeant.” I refuted.
“Sergeant, at ease! Do you understand me?” He snapped.
“No, I don’t understa-“ and before I could finish, he was literally running out of the classroom. Where was this idiot running off to? I quickly stood up and demanded that he return to the classroom instead of running off like a chicken shit. I think I said something to the tune of “Get your ass back here and deal with the problem instead of always running to the commander.”
When I caught up with him, he was blubbering like a child to the Company Commander about how I disrespected him in the classroom. He turned to me and told me to stand at the position of attention and tell the captain what had happened. I sneered at the First Sergeant at that point. I’ve never wanted to kill a man so badly in my life. What a childish loon this guy was. I told the commander I needed a moment to collect my thoughts and I walked away from the situation.
That wasn’t the first time I got into with the First Sergeant. Before a crowd of about 1,000 people, the First Sergeant yelled to me, “I’m going to fuck you up.” because I had forgotten about some minor paperwork back at the office before we left for some three-day recruiting thing in Ohio. I was sitting about six rows back in this huge auditorium when he yelled those words to me and I literally wanted to jump those six rows and stab him in the heart with a chair. When he and I got outside the auditorium I didn’t waste any time. I stuck my finger in his face and told him if he ever talked to me like that again in front of my peers, I’d roll his dumbass up. Well, the end note was this; I ended up standing at parade rest with him apologizing to me.
I started my recruiting career in June of 2008 and it was over by October 2009. Combined with poor leadership, bad decision-making on my part and a much unmanaged, unsupervised organization, I spent the majority of my time sitting at the Company from 0900 hours to about noon on disciplinary probation for “threatening” my chain of command, five days a week for about a year before I was finally released from active duty. September 10th was my final day in the United States Army and I wasn’t sure where that road was going to lead me. Within that final year or recruiting, I managed to buy a home, get into a serious relationship and bring it all crashing down around me just as soon as I thought I had established something great and worth keeping. While sitting at the company headquarters, I watched many soldiers come through for various disciplinary problems and I watched a bumblefuck of a chain of command handle it. Recruiting was run on a “good ol’ boy” system. If you were successful, put a lot of bodies in the Army, it was okay to fail a drug test. Or receive/send nude pictures to applicants. Those were just a few examples of what I saw while watching the chain of command. They fought for who they liked best and let others fall. They only cared for their best interest. And it’s funny too, because the First Sergeant came from a battalion full of corrupt and ill-mannered individuals. I talked to one soldier that knew him personally, and all the wrongness he had done prior to coming over to the company I was currently in. He was, in my eyes, a total fuck up.
My demise came on a fateful night of heavy drinking and venting frustration to my station commander. I wanted to slaughter the whole chain of command because I was unhappy with my life. I was pissed off about the whole pay issue fiasco that took an eternity to get ironed out. And it wasn’t the length of time that upset me; it was the unwillingness for certain individuals to care about it. I was upset because I was living in some shit-hole apartment in a poverty-stricken area of town. I wasn’t eating right and I wasn’t getting adequate exercise because I was stuck at work 90% of the time. I had poor leadership, no friends and no way to really vent my frustrations. At this point in time in my life, I had no knowledge that I may be suffering from combat related injuries, until I spent three days in a behavior health hospital for losing my shit over the phone to my station commander. The sad part was, he was sort of just an innocent bystander in the whole mess. He did what he could to help me with my problem, the hang-up was one above him; the First Sergeant.