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Nine Months = Never

Posted by Liz on January 18, 2018 in Interest, Thoughts, Words |

Nine Months = Never

A few weeks ago, people in Eugene held a ceremony to remember Thomas Egan. I served with Major Egan, then Captain Egan, in the Oregon Army National Guard. My husband and I both did. After we moved to Coos Bay and my husband retired from the National Guard I never saw him again but we thought about him occasionally. After his death and the creation of the warming centers I think of him more often and wish that we had kept in touch. At the time of his death there was mention of how much he had qualified for in Army retirement and someone wondered why he hadn’t collected. I wondered that myself until my husband reached the age where he could collect his. Now I think I know why there are “Thomas Egans” in the world. Men and women who are eligible for military retirement who haven’t gotten it. With today’s combined forces and the reserve component participating more and becoming deployed for extended periods I hope that things have changed, but when I was in, and during the time when my husband put in his twenty-plus years, things were different for the Army National Guard. We were the bastard step-children of the military. All one had to do was enlist and attend basic training to be reminded how those who served “one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer” lacked the integrity and honor to really enlist. The sad story of Vietnam still hung like a fog in history, and so did many stories about men who had joined to “beat the draft” because they didn’t want to go. There were stories also about soldiers who joined because the National Guard would take people who “couldn’t make the grade” to become career soldiers. All our equipment was third generation hand-me-downs from the regular forces. Some of it had been made workable by combining several into one good reliable unit. That was just how it was. I remember when our battalion got its first Hum-Vee. Everyone, from the infantry to the headquarters office staff found a reason to go look at it. I never learned to drive one because I was “attached”, and women didn’t go to combat back then. But I did get to ride in the ambulance version. It had a working heater – something our poor second-hand gamma-goats never had.

There were always sad stories about soldiers who were injured on weekends and during annual training who couldn’t work their regular jobs when they got back home and lost jobs, homes, and families as a result. The system didn’t seem to care back then, it simply wasn’t created to help in any way and if you injured yourself while on a drill weekend you were just out of luck. There was only so much the full-time staff of the battalion could do and after that it was up to the military department – who was pretty much guaranteed not to do anything. For some reason I thought it would be different when it came time for my husband to claim his retirement. My husband, like Major Egan, put in over 20 years so that he qualified for a partial military retirement. When we decided that it would be good to start getting it he was told it would take over nine months to get it – IF (and I emphasize IF) the military department decided he was worthy. So, he applied and waited. When he hadn’t heard anything, he asked and was told to wait longer and heard nothing. I think he even contacted our representative to see if they could inquire about it. After a year and another birthday, he decided to re-apply. He went to Salem and spoke to the Army National Guard full time person who handles those things. Again, the paperwork was completed and filed, this time the liaison (a different one than before) carefully checked and covered everything. Taking time to dig through old records stored away in a different place to make sure that he had everything. He also told us that not only my husband but myself could have ID cards and medical care and that we could get them both in a matter of weeks. Something we hadn’t gotten before. But the retirement – it would take at least NINE months and perhaps longer to get. This time, because the liaison had put in so much work to make sure everything was perfect before sending it back he was sure there would be something. Although they couldn’t tell us how much. So again, we wait. I’ve researched on the web and decided that perhaps, maybe it will be enough to be rent and utilities each month – and maybe a little extra for food if we are conservative with spending. Plenty to keep us from being homeless, if my husband’s health doesn’t change and he continues to work until then.

So, I think back on Major Egan and a few of the times I drilled with him that stand out in my memory. I remember the time when he had been told that he needed to find a Major position, or he would have to leave the Guard before he had the 30 years in that he was planning. Then to read that he had not been collecting that retirement he had worked so hard to get was disturbing to me. I wondered why he hadn’t gotten it. That was until my husband wanted to get his. I think now I understand. I also wonder how many other reserve component or perhaps even regular service retired military folks are not getting paid. A lot can happen in nine months if you don’t have a job and are hurting. How many homeless people could be getting retirement medical and pay if they had someplace they could stay safe for a year and have an address? How many more Thomas Egans will there have to be before people who served their country in the reserve forces get their retirement and benefits in a reasonable time? I don’t trust anything about the homeless census that is going on. Do they ask if someone might be eligible for retirement or benefits IF they had a place to live? I’ve already been told that the federal government takes the numbers submitted by the states and cuts them in half because, “they always pad them because they want more benefits” I know in Coos County they are being extra careful to be accurate so that nobody can say that they exaggerated about what is an epidemic problem here.

I’ve remembered often about the first time I met Captain Egan. We had formed up the convoy to take us back home from our two weeks at Hunter Legit in California back to Cottage Grove and Eugene. Several folks had used chalk to mark their trucks with slogans such as, “Oregon or Bust” and, “So Long California”. I was just a fresh recruit and didn’t know anyone outside of my own unit and was looking for a piece of chalk to put my own graffiti on my truck. I walked up to the only officer I saw and said, “Sir, do you have some chalk I can borrow?” He got a pondering look on his face, the expression is hard to describe but classic Egan, and he slowly put his hand in his pocket and brought it back out with his fingers wrapped around something. “No,” he said, “I don’t have any chalk, but I have a horseshoe nail.” He opened his hand to reveal a brand new, never been used, horseshoe nail. It’s hard to forget someone who carried a nail with him to remind him of the importance of little things. “For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost, And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.”

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