Why Is Getting Out of the U.S. Army So Tough?

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Ryan Kristiansen with a Warrior recovery vehicle

Awhile back, there was a post here on Battleland featuring U.S. Army Private Daniel Houten, who was contrasting his service in the Israeli Defense Forces with that of the U.S. Army. Private Houten stated that he feels the U.S. Army is the best in the world. Largest, perhaps, but best? That is a judgment call, and having served in the U.S. Army Reserve, the Royal Naval Reserve, and now — as a commissioned army officer in the United Kingdom — I would beg to differ with Private Houten’s assessment.

My relationship with the U.S. Army was brief, profoundly disappointing and frustrating. What I witnessed is an Army that, instead of welcoming new soldiers and developing a true esprit de corps, treats new recruits harshly, almost like prisoners. In fact, I was informed by one member of my company who had served time that prison was actually more welcoming than the U.S. Army.

I quickly resolved that I wanted out, and informed my drill sergeant that I would like a separation. His response was that I should begin purposely “messing up” so that they could kick me out. This situation was bizarre in the extreme – both parties knew that the other was not a good fit, but legally there was no mechanism in place for the Army or myself to annul the enlistment contract.

Men and women of the U.S. armed forces sign an enlistment contract that binds them to service, generally for eight years. Unlike your average job contract however, this one gives the employer significantly more control over your working life. This contract, binding the service member to the armed forces under threat of imprisonment, is understood as necessary in order to ensure that military can reliably count on the majority of its members being deployable in the event of a national emergency:

Imagine a situation where it is expected to encounter an enemy force numbering 50,000. The army looks at its available divisions, and decides to deploy 100,000 members to counter this force. The only problem is, once the troops receive their orders a number of them decide that fighting for an obscure foreign-policy reason isn’t sufficiently motivating, and decide to sit this one out. Thus, on the day the troops are to deploy, only 65,000 are ready, forcing the previous tactical considerations out the window.

If there was no threat of repercussions then a great number of individuals would choose desertion if called upon to deploy into a combat zone.

But how binding should this contract be?

Is it reasonable to expect that all 17-year-olds who enlist in the Delayed Entry Program will be equally enthralled with military life after they have had a taste of it? Remember, until they begin their Initial Military Training, their main contact with the military has been via their recruiter, individuals who are trained by the military to sell their product, which is the military lifestyle.

Like their civilian HR counterparts, they sell the positive and exciting side of the job, and downplay the negative. The prospective recruit is likely to have come to the recruiter’s office after having watched a number of war films, in which the exploits of the soldier or seaman have been glorified and made heroic. Some of the selling work has already been done for the recruiter, thanks to Hollywood. The recruit’s expectations are high, and people outside of the military are often unaware of what the working environment is actually like in the service.

I already had several years of experience working with the U.K. military due to my involvement in the Army Cadet Force before I arrived at Fort Sill, Okla., to begin training, and I was still surprised at how different the U.S. military environment was. The average recruit straight out of high school has never had another job in his life. He has grown up in a relatively quiet neighbourhood, and enjoyed a loving, stable family life. What he is about to encounter may or may not be to his liking.

Firstly, I was surprised to find out that despite the fact that I had volunteered to join the Army, I was treated like a common criminal who was there only because the court had offered it as an alternative to going to jail. Secondly, I was surprised to learn that some of my battle buddies were, in fact, there because the alternative was jail.

Our platoon drill sergeant informed us shortly after arriving that “You were stupid enough to join, and now you will pay for it.” I was really beginning to wonder what I had gotten myself into. Why would the experienced soldier that the Army has ordered to instil the service ethos and pride into us fresh recruits start off by informing us that we had all made a mistake?

As the weeks went by, a series of tasks was carried out, which were so clearly disconnected that it was obvious that the battery commander and his staff were running through a tick-sheet and checking off each task as it has been completed. Lessons in basic field-craft, such as cam and concealment, moving on foot, section battle drills and sleeping outdoors were absent. Tasks not carried out to the drill sergeant’s liking caused him to burst out that we recruits were stupid, and that we were all going to die in Afghanistan.

Along with several of my comrades, I began questioning whether or not we had made the right choice in joining the service. Not because I didn’t want to serve, but because the environment I was in lacked any sort of pride and was held together by fear and punishment. It didn’t help to ponder my decision, as there wasn’t a way out. The only option left was to continue to serve, bitter that my hands were tied and bitter at the Army.

A person in this situation is no longer concerned about his personal welfare. An accident may be welcomed, because it might mean he can escape the oppression that surrounds him. His attitude is now not just a threat to himself, but also to his battle buddies – if he is unconcerned about his own safety it can jeopardize the safety of others as well.

How many of us have been hired for a job that turned out to be very different from how we imagined? It’s usually not a problem, as  you can start looking for a new job right away. Or, if it is really not to your liking and you have sufficient funds, you can quit immediately and then start looking. But this option isn’t available to our young citizens who find that serving in the U.S. armed forces isn’t for them.

The time has come for the U.S. military to have a more flexible contract for our young soldiers. Society has changed radically since the terms of service in the armed forces were established. The British and Canadian armed forces show how the U.S. armed forces can adapt to make service life more of a lifestyle choice, and less a form of indentured servitude.

In Britain, a recruit may opt to be released within two weeks of beginning basic training. If he decides to continue with his service, he is then committed to serving for at least a year, after which he may submit a Notice to Terminate. If his request is accepted, they will normally be discharged within a year.

This program ensures that only those individuals who are motivated and desire to serve remain within the armed forces. Individuals who have lost that drive and pride and are bound to the service only by virtue of their contract cannot be expected to work to the best of their ability. They help contribute to a deterioration of the esprit de corps within their unit.

In the Canadian forces, individuals can choose which level of commitment they desire. they can choose only to drill, to be available for deployment across Canada, or chose to be available for deployment overseas. In both the British and Canadian examples, all service members are still required to report to duty if subject to call out, and face imprisonment if they fail to report for duty. In this way, the British and Canadians assist those individuals who want to leave by ensuring they have an opportunity to get out, while leaving motivated and proud soldiers surrounded by colleagues who embrace the same ethos.

When a soldier is forced to remain in service, unacceptable behaviour — such as drug and alcohol abuse — may be viewed as a way out. While usually successful in getting the soldier discharged, such behaviour invariably negatively impacts the soldier’s personal health and well-being, as well as the military’s preparation for war fighting.

The U.S. military should examine the possibility of allowing its service members an opportunity to terminate their contracts early. Such a change in policy would benefit the forces as a whole by keeping only those individuals who are motivated and contribute to the mission in a positive manner, while screening out those whose hearts are no longer in the mission.

Captain Ryan Kristiansen, MSc. is a native of Seattle who moved to the United Kingdom in 2004, returning briefly to the U.S. to undergo combat medic training in the U.S. Army Reserve in 2008. He is now a reserve officer in the British Army and, as a civilian, works as a hydrographic surveyor in the North Sea. The views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of the British Army.


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I cannot imagine being in an army with gays, criminals, thugs, dead enders. I hear so much praise about veteran this veteran that, as if the tank maker, tax payer, base builder, and all the people that via taxes pay for the equipment that is trashed and sold on government auction websites for pennies on the dollar accounts for nothing. The military is a welfare program for the noncompetitive industrial and high tech sectors of the American economy. We can make a VTOL jet but not a high speed railway on the East Coast. We have Aircraft carriers and subs but our bridges are over 60 years old? Then we let our vets die at the VA from apathy and neglect. Many major US conflicts including Iraq and Vietnam could have been ended in weeks if the American doctrine was really in the interest of Americans. One bomb in Tehran would end the next nuke war, and send a message that going against the U.S. will lead to compete destruction for the aggressor. One bombing of the dams in Hanoi or a poisoning of their agricultural water supply would have crushed the VC. We need to not use our military as police or social workers or nation builders. They need to defend out boarders and we stay out of other countries too inbred or lazy to determine their own political will. From our boarders we must purge those who subvert our morality and from our military we must purge the non hackers who do not have a deep love for our country. Mostly, we need to shout down the idiots who elect people who hate the U.S. and put our troops in harms way on purpose. 


With all do respect to the author. As a recruiter not know what century you attempted to enlist in it sounds as though you are an anti military loafer looking for an easy way out. At no time as a recruiter do i feel the need to sell the US Army to anyone. My encounter with anyone that wishes to know more about the job i do had been without a doubt respectful and informative to both them and myself. If a recruiter had to sell this product, the US Army, then that person will most likely never enlist anyway. While only a small percentage of Americans serve in the Army every American in this country are fully aware of the basic job is that we do. If the author had such a tough time that he had to go to jail or the Army then that alone tells a lot about this person. That had not been possible since prior to 1975 when the Draft was still used. My suggestion to the author would be to research real life and not off of another's sorry tale of wo is me that could not make it in the ranks of the greatest fighting force on Earth. HOOAH


@ScottByrdSsg I find it hard to believe that the President of the United States can simply resign after taking an oath without any threats of punishment or jail time. Same with congressman, senators, etc. This is basic equal rights. Perhaps if the military wasn't doing such shady things they wouldn't need to hold jail time over soldiers heads in order to get them to do something.


Don't know what the author of this piece was expecting when joining the US Army, or had ever even seen any movies about basic training in the US military but he did not make it far enough to claim to have an educated opinion. I went to the same training this author claims to have "attempted"- a combat medic in the US Army. Basic training is all about breaking you down as an individual, surviving, surpassing limits, learning new strengths. It isn't some fluffy, warm, lets-hold-hands-and-sing experience. It does involve "yelling" and lots of physical training with drill sergeants who berate and put you down. But had the author made it past the FIRST WEEKS he would have found that those same "evil drill sergeants" calm down eventually and take time to mentor soldiers one-on-one in a civil manner, offer advice and even a kind word or two (eventually). And when you get to your MOS (job) school, you are treated even better, leading up to your being welcomed into the regular army where you are treated like a human, professional being (in most units).

Sorry Kris- you couldn't hack it in the US Army!! You didn't give it a chance or even understand the point of what was happening to you then and it seems by your story you didn't gain enlightenment later on either. The fact that you praise the British Army so highly which claiming the US Army treated you like dirt in your first weeks of basic training only illustrates that the US Army is superior to the British- in other words US Soldiers are tougher and better trained due to being broken down and rebuilt in the manner which they are. My Drill Sergeants yelled at me, PT'd me to death and called us all names and told us how worthless we were- and the same guys later on taught us all that we could overcome pain, sweat and tears to become part of something greater than ourselves.

I wouldn't trade one bit of being yelled at by my US Army Drill Sergeants for whatever the British Army supposedly does better for its recruits.............HOOAH!


@bretylium  Were you actually in the US Army?

And while I do not agree with everything with everything Kris wrote either, but having served extensively with the US, Canadian and British armies, I can tell you I honestly have deep doubts you were in the US Army. Either that or you just joined and have still the "I'm the best in the world" propaganda stuck in your brain. Wait a while until the reality of it all hits. Or at the least you have worked with other armies and see their strong and weak points. You sound like a kid just out of high school bragging about his new girlfriend. And that's how most new soldiers in the US Army seem. Generalizing here of course, but not far from the truth. Ask any NCO what his job is and most will tell you babysitting..

Here's a thought for you, if what you say is true, then why did General Peter Schoomaker, former head of SOCOM, ask for and get a Canadian Light Infantry unit to provide direct action support to the US Special Forces in Afghanistan in 2001?And being from JBLM, why are there a constant stream for Canadian Army units working with the Special Forces and Rangers here? I know a number of SF and Rangers here, some are my best friends and who would they want to be backing them up? Working with them?

Canadians, so you can ‘Hooah’ all you want, but the reality is far from your Walter Mitty dreams.

PS: That Canadian unit? All the talk about Carlos Hathcocks sniping records being broken back in 2001-2002? That was those guys, 3 or 4 of them kept beating the record.. so a small sniper detachment has most of its snipers making world record shots throughout a deployment. This was passed on to me by a SF friend who was there. It was a year or more before it was actually released to the press. True professionals don't go looking for the lime light. And you should be very thankful for them, because as they were breaking that record they were saving the lives of a lot of 101 Airborne soldiers. And the 101st had the graciousness and respect to have a special panel made at their memorial at Fort Campbell commemorating that, and listing the Canadian lives lost fighting side by side. So if you want to be a good soldier, grow up, and open your eyes.


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I am a mom of a sofier who did everything rigt and served his time gracefully. He was to be discharged feb 1 2913. That day has come and gone and he is still waiting for the va to rate his disability becsuse he was


I'm sorry. But what did you expect?? Before I joined the Army I knew all of what you are saying, did you not have friends in the army before joining? A friend in the special forces helped me a lot because without the knowledge that they (at first) WILL treat you like shit, like you're a nobody, without that knowledge I would've probably failed to see the point like you are with this misleading "blog". 

But the fact of the matter is they have their formula, they get you in, make you feel broken down and sad for yourself, they PURPOSELY BREAK YOU INTO BITS. But then, you start making friends and helping each other out because in the army all you've got is your squad and your comrades, you start to build confidence together, you accomplish everything TOGETHER. This magical feeling that maybe you are going to be able to prove your commander wrong, that you ARE strong enough and tough enough, is so gratifying.. And when you realize that it's just a game for them, and that if and when you win THEY will finally support you and only then will you have their respect. But if you quit like a loser when you haven't even started, then you definitely don't deserve to be a part of the US ARMY and they will have done their jobs in filtering out the weak.

It's about being broken down as an individual, and as a team, being able to rise back when you never thought it wouldn't be possible. This makes a team, a family and as long as your with them, weather in Africa, Afghanistan or Hell, it doesn't matter because you feel at home when you're with them and you KNOW they will give their life for you as you would for them. You, sir, missed the point of the most important step in making a team, the point that they make so evident that you cannot succeed alone but together nothing can stop you.

I did not address the "Flexible contract" part of this blog because I somewhat agree that a lot of people aren't made for the Army and they shouldn't be next to me in a firefight.


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