I truly believe that ALL Soldiers should deploy to a combat zone at least once during their military career. What I want to do in this post is explain WHY I believe that. Please keep in mind that this information is geared for Army National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers, not Active Duty Soldiers.
# 1 The Mission of the Army – First and foremost, the mission of the Army is to fight and win our nation’s land wars. I understand that not everyone is combat arms or infantry, and that’s fine. But, there is a role for everyone on the battlefield, from human resource specialists, to mechanics, to cooks, and fuelers. Everyone should spend SOME time in operational units during their career (preferably a lot of time) and everyone should deploy, no exceptions.
# 2 Combat Experience – Combat experience is vital for personal and professional development. You can only learn so much in a garrison environment. Things are much different when you are in a high stress and dangerous situation. You take your job and career much more seriously when someone is trying to kill you. That experience teaches you LEADERSHIP and it also gives you mental toughness that you can’t get anywhere else.
# 3 Combat Patch – One of the first things I do when I look at a Soldier in uniform is look at their right sleeve. I want to see if they have a combat patch. Having a combat patch gives you instant credibility with your peers. It shows that you did your time and answered the call when needed. It doesn’t mean you are a better, or more competent Solider, but perception is reality. And if you haven’t deployed to a combat zone in today’s Army, it’s highly unlikely people will take you very seriously. I’m not saying that people without a combat patch are less worthy or less competent, but I know of very few leaders who DON’T have one. If you want to move up through the ranks, it’s imperative.
# 4 Upward Mobility – Deploying helps with upward mobility. It shows you are serious about your career and didn’t try to cop out of the deployment. You also get to meet new people, get opportunities for schools, and new career opportunities when you return from your deployment. I truly believe that deployments are great for upward mobility.
# 5 Real World Experience – One year on a deployment is about the equivalent of five to seven years just doing one weekend a month and two weeks a year. An Active Duty Soldier with three years experience has about the same “military experience” as a Reserve or National Guard Soldier with 20 years of service. As a part-time Soldier, you want some full-time experience. You can only learn so much training a couple days a month and a couple weeks a year. You can learn more about your MOS and specialty in a combat deployment than you would in five to ten years of drill weekends.
# 6 Retirement Points – Another benefit of a combat deployment is the retirement points. The average Soldier gets between 50 and 75 retirement points each year. Do a year long deployment and you will get 365 points. That’s about the save as five to seven years of just going to drill weekend. These added points can give you a higher pension when you retire.
# 7 Post 9/11 GI Bill – Many Soldiers who don’t have the post 9/11 GI BILL can qualify for it with a combat deployment. I used up my original GI Bill earlier in my career, and then qualified for the post 9/11 GI Bill because of my two deployments. This is a really good deal and is worth thousands of dollars to you, if you choose to use it.
# 8 Networking – Deploying to a combat zone offers lots of opportunities for networking. You will meet people from different states and different units. You can build professional relationships, and friendships, with these folks. Many of these relationships will continue throughout your career.
# 9 Travel – In many cases, you will get to visit several countries while you deploy. On my deployment to Kosovo I went to Macedonia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Kosovo, and Germany. For my deployment to Iraq I went to Kuwait and Iraq. These are countries I probably would not have visited otherwise.
# 10 Perspective – As I see it, this is the biggest benefit of deploying to a combat zone. I’ve to deployed to two combat zones (even though the Kosovo deployment doesn’t really count as one to me) and I can tell you that I gained a lot of perspective on my Iraq and Kosovo deployments. I learned how important my family was to me. I learned how good I have it as an American. I learned how much poverty there is in the rest of the world. I realized how much opportunity I had in America. Simply put, these two deployments made me GRATEFUL for everything I have. Once you deploy, you will know what I am talking about.
As a National Guard or Army Reserve Soldier, you should make it a point to get at least one combat deployment under your belt during your career. The benefits of doing so greatly outweigh the drawbacks.
What do you think? What do you believe are the best reasons to deploy? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.