The wars still rage on. Soldiers are still dying and risking their lives everyday. But, you would never know it from the talk at parties or in the bars. America is removed from the war. Even our taxes were not raised, as happens in most wars, but decreased.
When Reservists and Guardsmen deploy, that does register with some folks. But, the problems at home register with very few of us. A Reservist called me recently. I listened to his story as a lawyer first, but also as a recently retired Reserve officer.
"Joe" has deployed twice, in 2003 and 2008. He works s a firefighter/paramedic at a good sized town in Texas. In his Reserve life, he serves as a staff officer in a drill sergeant unit. My last Reserve unit was a also a drill sergeant unit. I know that drill sergeants are the best, the smartest and, contrary to what some would expect, very skilled at interpersonal relations. He was a drill sergeant before he became an officer. Drill sergeants must have high academic test scores to become a DS. They are scrutinized in ways a normal sergeant never is. Theirs is a very public sort of duty that allows very few mistakes.
He has worked for the "Smallville" Fire Department since 2000. He was hired to be a paramedic. He attended all the required schools and obtained all the required certifications. All he lacked was the required on-the-job training. The OJT training consisted of 30 shifts supervised by a senior paramedic. Once he had his 30 shifts, he would be done. He would then be a paramedic.
He started his 30 shifts in 2003 but it was cut short when his supervisor trainer got into some trouble with alcohol. Joe only completed some 19 shifts of his 30. He then deployed. He returned and started his 30 shifts again from the beginning in 2008, but was unexpectedly called back to active duty in 2009. This time, he completed 18 of his required 30 shifts.
He returned home from the war in February, 2010. He started his 30 shifts one more time in September, 2010. Before he got very far, a co-worker complained abut his paramedic skills. The new Chief of Paramedics asked that Joe undergo a 10 shift "ride-out." That is, Joe would be scrutinized by 3 experts for 10 shifts. He would be scrutinized as a senior paramedic, even though he had never completed the 30 shift requirement. It was the new Chief’s decision that Joe be rated as a senior paramedic.
About this time, the new Chief of Paramedics talked to Joe about some training. He mentioned to Joe in an accusatory manner that Joe seemed to care more about being an Army man than being a paramedic.
Soon after, Joe had a free weekend so he submitted a request to attend a Reserve conference near his hometown. The conference, as with most Reserve conferences was on the weekend. As part of his ten day ride-out, Joe was required to first be tested on some basic paramedic equipment. With no warning, the new Chief asked Joe to do the equipment test the same weekend as the Reserve conference. Joe told him, that he could not – he already had orders to be on active duty for that weekend. The chief, said hang on. Returning to the phone, the Chief, sounded upset and said the conference was not on the drill schedule Joe had turned in. "That’s right," said Joe, it is a conference, not a regularly scheduled drill." The Chief replied, "Be in my office tomorrow with orders showing you are on Reserve duty this weekend!"
Joe appeared at his office the next day with the necessary orders for the weekend. So, the new Chief made him do his equipment check the next day with no preparation. Joe passed. He tested on Friday and went to the Reserve conference on Saturday.
By April, 2011, the 10 day ride-out was over. All three evaluators failed Joe. They said Joe knew the protocols and the meds, but he was too slow to assess. Well, speed comes with experience. Yes, Joe had his 30 shifts spread over several years. But, they were with two different trainers, with two different approaches. Worse yet, as I know from my deployment, when you deploy and perform a completely different skill set, you lose much of what you used to know. All that knowledge just goes away somewhere.
When I deployed, I never went near a lawsuit or an affidavit. Never saw a legal pleading or read a case. Upon my return, I struggled for months trying to pull back that old knowledge that used to be so close to the surface. I filed so many lawsuits before, but upon my return in 2006, I could not remember at all how to file one silly lawsuit. I had to ask colleagues for help.
Joe knows his paramedic business. But, Smallville decided they would terminate his employment after 11 years. They did offer him a severance package. Unlike most terminated employees, Joe has a choice. I told him he has a viable USERRA lawsuit if he wishes to pursue it. In the end, I think he will accept the severance and resign quietly. Joe has a small child and a wife. Like most Reservists today, he also has options. He could deploy again. The Army desperately needs captains and majors in the two wars.
In a perfect world, he would not have to risk his life in Afghanistan to put food on the table. But, in a better world, his employer would understand Joe’s issues and perhaps, even support his Reserve duty. There are many Joe’s out there and there will be more.