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An Hour for Fifty Years

At the end of our call, he made sure to say, “Thanks a lot for reaching out to ask me why I’m leaving the Army. No one did that for me when I left Active Duty.”

A Simple Exit Interview

It was the end of an exit interview I conducted with a Soldier whose contract with my Army Reserve unit ended over six months ago. Big changes in personnel systems and processes kept his paperwork in limbo, so he was still on my books. I figured I would ask about his experience in my unit before he left. After all, the most honest Soldiers are the ones who have one foot out the door.

He described his failed attempts at becoming trained on a new skill set until he lost interest and decided to stabilize his family in their new civilian life. He wife got a job. They had a baby. He got a civilian job he likes.

“Even so, I practically begged the retention sergeant to find me a different opportunity in the Army Reserve, but he didn’t really care about keeping me in. I know the Army’s hurting for Soldiers, so why didn’t he work with me?” he asked. He had a civilian medical background and wanted to move to an Army medical unit. We have lots of those in the Army Reserve, but his vocational test scores were too low. Instead of a 102, he scored a 101.

One point, and he was shown the door.

Asking the Question

I asked if he would be willing to speak with an Army Reserve medical unit. If they could find a way to help him overcome that one point, would he be willing to reenlist in the Army Reserve. “Some retention sergeants are just crappy at their jobs,” I said, “but the medical units who actually work with new Soldiers are motivated to fill their units. Perhaps they could help!”

“Yes, I would,” he replied. No hesitation.

An Obvious Takeaway

At the end of our call, he made sure to say, “Thanks a lot for reaching out to ask me why I’m leaving the Army. No one did that for me when I left Active Duty.” He didn’t have to say anything more. I remember what it was like to be treated like something disposable. I remembers how it made me wonder if I had made a terrible mistake by giving a huge part of my life—and my health—to this organization that was ready to kick me to the curb as soon as I wasn’t “usable” any more. I remembered how much it hurt. “I want to make sure you know your service to our Nation was valued, even if you don’t continue serving,” I said.

He needed to know that. Every Veteran needs to know that.

I sent my detailed notes from our interview to key members in my unit. I wanted them to see the difference a phone call can make, not just for the numbers in the Army Reserve, but for the human being on the other end of that line.

I wrote, “Team, the way a Soldier enters the Army INTO our unit will affect every following day that they serve in the Army. They way a Soldier leaves the Army FROM our unit will affect every following day of the rest of their lives. It only takes an hour of extra work on our parts to put a smile on their face for the next fifty years, every time they recall that their military service was valued by their brothers and sisters in arms. They deserve it, and we are more than capable of doing it.

What can you change today to make sending your Soldiers off a more human experience?

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