A few months ago, casting about for some form of activism that would both benefit military veterans and bring to bear my own fairly extensive military experience, I signed up for a course called ETS-SP run online out of Columbia University. Several years retired from the Marine Corps and my job at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, I had been busily writing and trying to write, always about the military in one way or another, whether fiction, non-fiction, even a screenplay and script in the works. But I felt increasingly cut off and even unworthy of my writerly milieu. ETS-SP was a way to close the gap and to continue to serve, as befits a military retiree.
Army veterans will know that ETS stands for Expiration – Term of Service. The SP stands for Sponsorship Training. The program has the following mission statement. “ETS Sponsorship successfully transitions service members/Veterans to their post-military hometowns in order to prepare them for their next ‘mission’.” The training involved some facts and data on the transition to civilian life and some practical methods to help the new veteran make decisions and navigate the challenges of employment, education, work and relationships. Some emphasis is placed on connecting the vet with other veterans or veterans’ groups. Never far in the background is the specter of veteran suicide, statistically unlikely but far too common and of course devastating in its effects.
As it happened, I was assigned to help, not a recently separated veteran, but a former Marine who had served in the 1990s and had since compiled a record that mixed impressive accomplishment with failure. I’ll call him Max. A four-year college graduate and union member, Max had lost job and family, had spent time in jail, and was now on probation with the state veteran’s court, his troubles often traceable to abuse of alcohol. By the time I met him, he was attending AA, participating in compensated work therapy, and spending weekends with his son. He was in some ways recovering, but he was still struggling with anger issues and occasional bursts of non-compliance that could have landed him back in jail. Max is lucky to be in veterans’ court. The court is intended to be more therapeutic than punitive. (Why shouldn’t all minor offenders be treated this way?) The judge is a veteran and generally sympathetic. My title is mentor. On the one occasion when we met in person, the judge assigned Max to anger management, which he probably needs, although I am skeptical about its usefulness. Anger management therapy when conducted in groups brings together people with problems controlling or letting go of anger. A lot of angry people together in a room may not be the best setting or cure. In the case of the group to which my protégé has been assigned, this seems to include the counselor, whose alleged habit of frequent swearing is not a good example for Max, who sometimes lapses into “Marine-speak.”
At the hearing at which Max was referred to anger therapy, it had been revealed that Max went out of bounds by leaving the county. I was able to convince him to acquiesce to the therapy with as good grace as he could muster. I also encouraged him to get a printed read-out of the terms of his probation from the probation officer, which he did. About a week after the hearing, Max casually revealed an additional, though minor parole violation. I remonstrated with him on this. He was resistant, even defiant about this at first, but he later texted to thank me for an “old-fashioned Marine Corps ass-chewing.” On this and on other occasions, I’ve sometimes wondered whether Max means it, or if he’s just placating me, another authority figure to be managed.
To be continued…