The Second String

Our unit didn’t deploy with 100 percent of our allotted manpower. This is not uncommon. In fact, it’s pretty rare to find a reserve unit that is fully manned. The people that we did bring with us, for the most part, are motivated volunteers, despite the financial and other hardships that many of our personnel face. We can perform our mission with our own folks, no problem.

Of course, that’s not a good enough answer for the pencil-pushers back home. Since we’re not fully manned, they’re sending us some extra bodies to get us up to 100 percent.

This is mostly a good thing. We can always use new blood. While they didn’t all volunteer to come here, most of the “augmentees” have taken to their new jobs with, if not with eagerness, at least with some degree of professional pride.

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Tom was acting strangely, and was displaying a little bit of a short temper that surfaced under stressful conditions. I asked a few of his fellow augmentees if they had any insights into his behavior, and that’s when the stories started to emerge.

(Memo to the personnel folks back in the rear: please don’t send me anyone who will create more work for me than he actually performs).

Tom had stopped taking his medication, because he “ran out and couldn’t get a refill.”

I sent him to a doc for a psych eval. The doc said to “keep him away from the weapons” until he has “stabilized” and could be “re-evaluated.” Needless to say, this somewhat limits his usefulness in a potential war zone. In the meantime, I’ve found a “safe” job for him to do, and continue to evaluate his behavior. He seems to be improving, but how can I be sure he won’t suddenly regress?

Then there’s the guy I’ll call “Frank.” Frank does his job, and does it well. At the same time, he makes it absolutely clear that he doesn’t want to be here. His current plan to get back home involves taking advantage of the archaic “last surviving male in the family” exception. This one dates back to the Civil War era, when it was critical for every family to have a male heir to carry on the family business or mind the farm. Those days may have long ago faded into memory, but Frank doesn’t care. He’d probably wear a dress like Corporal Klinger if he thought it would get him home.

What Frank has failed to realize, no matter how often we tell him, is that the time for him to claim this exemption has passed. It’s obvious to everyone involved that he is trying to “play” the system. His situation today is the same as it has been for several years, and he never said a word about it until he was mobilized. By volunteering to remain in the Reserves, he declared that he was willing and able to fight for his country in a time of need.

That time is now.

“Frankly,” I feel like strangling the sumbitch. It is clear that he was only in the Reserves for the extra money and the pension. Like many others, he was gambling that he would never be recalled to active duty. He lost that bet.

Now it’s time to pay the banker. Sorry, Frank.