The Officer Separation Board and the Junior Officer Exodus

“Also, how I distrust neat designs of life that are drawn upon half-sheets of note paper.”
The Waves

The line above is from the play-poem The Waves by Virginia Woolf. It is one among many great lines, but that one reminded me of something I had written about before, which is the dismal realization that a successful military career fits neatly on a single sheet of paper or PowerPoint slide. That is to say, a military career places you on a rail cart that has very few deviations along the way. One can predict with reasonable certainty, the next twenty years. In order to stay on that rail cart, you simply have to outperform most of your peers and make zero mistakes.

For twenty years.

The fallout from this summer’s Officer Separation Board is pretty much over, as far as I can tell. A few articles were written about it, the most prominent, I think, the back and forth that occurred on The Best Defense in, uh, defense of or against MAJ Slider.

And it looks like there will likely be more “force shaping” events, like Officer Separation Boards, in the future.

It creates an additional consideration for junior officers whose initial service commitments usually expire within 4-to-6 years of joining. Part of the equation of whether to “get out” or “stay in” will likely be where they think they’ll stack up in a potential, possibly fictional, future Officer Separation Board – something I’m sure the group that just went through it didn’t think they’d ever have to face – especially not during wartime. Not only will the junior officer have to weigh things like job satisfaction, benefits, and service when considering whether to get out or stay in, but how he or she thinks they stand when everybody is considered for separation and someone has to go.

A majority of those who were cut had something derogatory in their file, as seems to be the case with MAJ Slider. Getting promoted and moving along the rail cart is no promise of suddenly having that rail cart kicked over by Uncle Sam if the need to reduce numbers comes along.

Future OSBs may not have the luxury of cutting the low-hanging fruit (derogatory marks on file). Cuts might need to be made much deeper, especially if the force reductions become more severe.

Back to the pondering junior officer, the calculus that goes into whether to stay in or get out not only considers if you’ve messed up, but includes a calculation as to whether you can maintain zero-defects and glowing reviews indefinitely. Otherwise, the axe may be inching nearer.

Among military circles, the military “brain drain” or junior officer exodus has been a recurring topic of discussion. To a junior officer trying to determine if it makes sense to stay in for a full career, the prospect of future OSBs will surely factor into that decision making practice, likely tipping the decision towards getting out.

I’m of the mind that military service is just that – service – and there should be no hard and fast expectations of what one is “owed” in terms of future employment. That said, it would be foolish to ignore the things going on in the background and making the best decision possible given all of the relevant facts, with a little bit of voodoo and reading the tea leaves when appropriate.

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Saving Catiua

Catiua Suicide
Catiua’s suicide.

I’m still slogging through Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. I’ve finally reached a point in the game that I remember reaching the first time I played it and abandoned it. I know I am nearing the end. Or, at least, I think I am nearing the end. When I played originally, I followed the Law route (which means you know what I did at Balamusa). I eventually got to the part where Catiua kills herself in front of you. It was pretty heavy stuff for the the fifteen year old me. Shortly thereafter, I stopped playing.

The other day, I finally rescued Catiua only to see her kill herself again. The game let me save just before the dialogue and I was presented with a couple of choices on what to say, which hinted at alternate outcomes. I took a deep breath, and before I continued with the game, I decided to reset it and see what would happen if I chose a different dialogue option.

Given the two options of dialogue, I chose the “other” one, which kept the conversation going a little longer opening up a second pair of dialogue options. I chose the option that I thought most natural, and she killed herself a second time.

I reloaded again, a lá All You Need Is Kill / Edge of Tomorrow and went through the dialogue again, choosing the “other” option again, which resulted in Catiua collapsing and apologizing, and most importantly, not committing suicide.

A new cut-scene appeared and Catiua joined the party. I saved the game and went to lunch.

There, I started to regret resetting the game (twice!) in order to make sure Catiua joined. One of the things I love about Tactics Ogre (and Mass Effect) is how your in-game decisions have lasting effects. The in-game dialogue options hinted to me that there may have been a way to save Catiua – whom I assumed always killed herself on the Law route from my first play through over ten years ago. As I finished my lunch, I felt guilty for having made the wrong decision that led Catiua to kill herself and not accepting that fate and replaying it for a more favorable outcome.

The game, now, feels a bit skewed. I’ll finish it out, and once complete, there is an option to go back and make different decisions to “see what happens” and fully explore the game. That’ll be the first thing I do. But I feel a bit like an impostor.

The whole episode is similar to the death/saving of Shadow in Final Fantasy VI, which gets a great write-up over at the A.V. Club. In the era of GameFAQs, it is getting harder and harder to be surprised in video games anymore. Perma-death and game-changing decisions are still too easy to avoid or double-back over. Despite resetting the game to get the result I wanted, I know I would have enjoyed this part more if I would have accepted the consequences of my initial decision, which is why I did what I did at Balamusa, by the way. It’s also why I will forever “Tell them I held the line…

It’s all a bit complicated. I thought it interesting and I wanted to get it down here before I forgot about it. There’s so much to say about Tactics Ogre – a very adult game, way before it’s time.

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