Re-Entry: One Soldier's Transition to Civilian Life
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
Commentator Christian Bauman made the transition from solider to civilian and remembers it was not easy.
CHRISTIAN BAUMAN reporting:
I got out of the Army in 1995 after a four-year enlistment that took me to Somalia and Haiti. The Army offered classes on networking and resume writing and job interview skills, but like most former grunts, I wasn't headed for corporate America.
Back in my hometown, I scoured the want ads and found an opening for a records clerk at a local hospital. They agreed to see me the next day. I figured no other institution could approach the slow, blood-thick, papered bureaucracy of the United States Army. They gave the Army a run for their money at Hunterdon Medical Center, though, sure enough.
In the bowels of the records room, the dark tools of clerkdom were laid out on a long worktable like little bureaucrats neat in a line; two-hole punch, three-hole punch, standard stapler, industrial stapler, staple remover, white-out, highlighter, and at the very end of the table, business end up, an electric paper shredder. A clear progression across the table, a progression in the life of paperwork. Punch it, staple it, fold it, file it, unfile it, rework it, throw it out. The paraphernalia of this profession made me uneasier than even my army rifle had.
The workplace tour and job interview were conducted by a pale hospital administrator in a gray suit. Toward the end of the interview, this man paused, squinted at me, then said, It can get pretty tense in here, you know, a lot of pressure. I'm wondering if you'll be able to handle that kind of pressure.
One year prior to this, I'd been in a foreign country with a rifle in my hand, the second of two wars in two years. I'd had people above and below who counted on me, friends who without hesitation would have given their life to save mine. I'd lived days without sleep, weeks without a shower or hot meal.
Now I looked around the dusty records room of this hospital and at this administrator in his gray suit. The Army had paid a basic but living wage with 100 percent healthcare for my family. This job would pay me nine bucks an hour, with a third of that gone if I wanted benefits.
I wanted to answer this man's question by standing up and walking out, never to return. I wanted to walk all the way back to Virginia, where there was a platoon of guys who knew what I was worth. Truth is, though, when you have a family to support, what you're worth is often not the point. I didn't walk out. Instead, I just looked down and said simply, I think I'll be able to handle this job okay.
(Soundbite of music)
ELLIOTT: Writer Christian Bauman's new novel Voodoo Lounge is set during the American occupation of Haiti in 1994. He lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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