There is, however, a long-term cost. We've had an all-volunteer force for thirty-five years. Everyone who serves has freely chosen to come in, and in theory, can freely choose to get out at their end of active obligated service (EAOS). (Yes, I know "stop-loss" is a major exception to this.) When you don't treat your people right, they won't volunteer to stay in, regardless of the incentive to re-enlist. There comes a point at which you can no longer buy continued service. Six months ago, I wrote here that I thought the Navy had passed that point; subsequent research confirmed that the subsidies to retain nukes have gone through the roof in the last two years. Presently, as was the case then, the offer is US$90,000 for four additional years - a length of time that would not require another sea tour. I hadn't even reached four years in before firmly deciding that this wasn't what I wanted to do for good. Extending to 2013 puts me at 32 years of age and ten years in, the point at which many folk conclude it's easier to do ten more and collect a monthly retirement check for life. No amount of scratch will convince me that it's worth giving up one more hour than I've already agreed to.
A ready justification for what we go through is that the nation is at war, and these are the sacrifices that need to me made to prosecute the global campaign against terror. Not so at all. Notwithstanding the technical question of whether we're actually at war (though not declared, the actions in Iraq in Afghanistan were authorized by Congress), the situation on the sandy and mountainous front lines is far different from that of a submarine in port. I can much more easily justify going without sleep or pushing oneself to the brink of exhaustion, if the alternative is to be cut down by a hail of bullets or an improvised explosive device. These are concerns we don't face on a daily basis. The brave (much more so than myself) men and women on the ground over there also endure long-term separation from their families. We, on the other hand, at least have the opportunity to go home to loved ones - be they wives and children, or fellow guild members on a World of Warcraft server of choice.
A glimmer of hope presents itself in the form of Task Force Life/Work (TFLW), a venture that seeks input from the Fleet on ways to make our service more flexible - and, it could be argued, truly bring the Navy into this century, where it has to aggressively compete with the private sector for top talent. But even TFLW admits that "life on the tip of the spear is demanding," and they may not be able to do much for those of us on ships. I'm even more skeptical about the potential impact on the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. The task force seeks input pertaining to new ways of thinking. The NNPP, in contrast, is an organization that boasts its pristine safety record, and that it's a direct result of stalwart adhesion to principles more than a half-century old. Our program isn't run out of a building in Washington, Schenectady, Pittsburgh, or any submarine or carrier homeport. Its real headquarters is a gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery, where Admiral Hyman G. Rickover has laid in rest since his death in 1986. Rickover was the ultimate asshole prick; he routinely shut down ships for anything he believed could compromise the safety of their reactors. He was also as paranoid as he was accomplished; in holding onto the directorship of NR for thirty-three years, and serving for a total of sixty-three, he torpedoed anything and anybody he thought capable of wresting his baby from him. What Rickover established has been an unquestionable success, so there's definitely resistance to anything that could threaten such a record, even if it improves quality-of-life and quality-of-work.
To anyone considering enlisting in the armed forces, I do not reflexively scream, "NO! DON'T DO IT!" The fact that the Navy turned out to be wrong for me doesn't mean that it's wrong for everybody. What I will say is that you should do your homework about the branch and job specialty you want. Also, most importantly, understand that the government owns your ass for as long as you serve. If you're okay with that, and are willing to accept that in return for what the military has to offer, then jump right in, by all means. I'd also say that if patriotism and/or love of country isn't one of your top two reasons for joining up, then you really need to think long and hard about what you're getting into. The experiences really do run the full spectrum. Some, like my previous Chief, were gung-ho, and saw it as a labor of love. For me, it was a practical necessity born of the factors I detailed here last night. And at the far end, you've got people totally ruined by it, like the guy who wrote the hilarious "McDeploy in the McNavy." Though I'm committed to separating in three hundred ninety-six days' time, I'm not trying to actively dissuade people from joining - unless I get stop-lossed myself. When people have plenty of information from both sides, they can make more informed decisions. I'm convinced this will create a military more able to withstand any change - something that benefits every single American.