By Sergeant Michael Krause
By nature, soldiering is a profession that can easily lead to "burnout". We are never off duty, and when you stop believing that, the phone will ring, and you'll be sitting at Green Ramp with a camo and a bewildered expression on your face. In our army, and in life, everything can change in seconds. One minute, it's motor stable Monday, and everything is running smoothly. The next minute a soldier is waiting to get picked up at the MP station; another is at Sick Call getting a Profile marked "breathe at own pace and distance"; another is pulling up in a 1986 Toyota Tercel that he got a "great deal" on downtown financed at 22% interest; the last soldier, in the distance, is arguing about the length of his sideburns with a man who looks vaguely like your Sergeant Major. String a few of these days together into something called a week, and you have burnout.
Burnout happens to the best of us and only intensifies with promotion. When I was a Specialist or PFC and hit the fabled point of "burnout", well, I just took it easy for a weekend, regrouped and went back into the Inferno. Recently, I hit burnout for the first time since becoming an NCO. The weight of my chevrons significantly changes how I can respond to burnout.
Change one: no more venting. Why? The troops, the troops, the troops, and they are always listening.... one afoul comment from their team leader and the negative opinions about the Army they are already attempting to cultivate will bloom fully. So, no more venting.
Change two: no more "shamming". As a junior soldier I rarely took part in this time honored army tradition, but, it is rumored, during a stressful time or two, that I locked up the arms room for "NVG testing" and leaned back at my desk for some eyelid PMCS...but these rumors are all baseless. For the Noncommissioned Officer, there is no "shamming"...to do so would be a crime against our soldiers and an affront to the parents that trusted us with them. Every second we have with troops is a second that we can utilize...to train, mentor, and encourage. The second you put on hard stripes is the second that "shamming" must end.
So burnout has struck, and "look, Mom, I'm an NCO." What to do? I didn't really know, or even where to look for the answer. But the answer found me. In CSM J.D. Pendry's book, The Three Meter Zone, he relates a story where a junior NCO asked him, "Where's the glory in being an NCO?".
I think many of us have asked that question, and many of us have found the answer. The glory in being an NCO is often found unexpectedly, and strikes without warning: the wayward soldier who flies right and thanks you, the smile on the soldier you took extra time for who just passed his PT test, or the day when everything just clicks, and you are driving home from the motor pool, and BOOM! The cannon fires and you are standing in the middle of Bastogne Drive saluting that beautiful flag and there isn't any other job in the world you want to do.
Things like that are the reservoirs we are going to have to drink from when weary. No one is going to come pat us on the back, because normally, we are the ones patting backs. To a degree, we must be self-reliant.
What did I do? I moped around for a while, and then ran across the scrapbook I keep and started leafing through it. The first page - there's the Fort Jackson Basic Training certificate and a picture of a shaven PV1 Krause. Then come the normal Certificates of Training and the AAMs, the boring stuff. But, wedged in between are chronicled the high points of the years I have spent in the Army (all three of 'em). The picture of my wife and me, a new pair of air assault wings on my chest. My dad and I, both in uniform, the day I graduated PLDC. And, some pictures of very bored soldiers in the darkest woods of Ft Campbell, on the hottest field problem ever, dog-piling on top of their NCO.
By the end of looking at all that, I felt much better. Maybe I felt the best when I saw the last page, a set of bland looking orders that say that the Secretary of the Army has placed special trust and confidence in my valor, fidelity, and all the rest, and that effective 6 September 2001, I was no longer a Specialist, but a Sergeant.
Does the Secretary of the Army know who I am? I don't think so.
Does he really place special trust in me? Maybe not.
But, I know five soldiers and their families who do. And if that doesn't make you feel less burnt-out, check your pulse.