In the Army, you can’t call in sick


I’m feeling a bit under the weather, which inspired writing this.

One of the stranger features of military life is the fact that, unlike most civilian jobs, you can’t call in sick. You can be sick, and you can even be excused from work for a few days after being put on “quarters,” but you cannot wake up in the morning, decide you are too sick to go to work, call your supervisor, and ipso facto, enjoy your sick day.

“Calling in sick,” for most Americans, is one of those fantastic little benefits where it is generally understood that if a person is sick, getting to work is too much of an ordeal, and if the person is in fact sick, coming to work would be a bad idea, as others might also get sick. And of course, after a day of partying, it is a wonderful tool to be used in the event of a terrible hangover. “Just call in sick,” your friends will say, which sounds like a great idea late the night prior, but an awful idea when you actually have to make that call to your boss in the morning.

But, the fact is, if you call in sick, and you don’t abuse it too often, your supervisor will likely take you for your word, wish you well, and then hang up.

This is what the conversation is like if you call in sick in the Army:


“What’s up, it’s 0545 in the morning.”

“Ugh, Sergeant, I’m sick.”

“Ok, get your ass in here and go to sick call.”

“…but I’m sick, I don’t think it is safe for me to….”



You see, in the Army, you’re not sick until the medics say you’re sick. And you’re not staying in your room drinking hot cocoa and playing video games until you get put on quarters (as mentioned earlier, a very rare event).

Perhaps the worst thing about being sick in the Army is that if you are legitimately sick, sick call hours are usually around 0600 in the morning. And you can’t just show up wearing your sweat pants and Ugg boots. You need to be in a proper uniform (albeit the physical fitness uniform) which means you also have to shave. The idea of looking at your gross face in the mirror at 0500 in the morning and shaving while nauseous and pukey is probably enough reason to keep most people from ever considering enlisting.

Most soldiers would never even consider attempting to call in sick, because they know they will be told to come in and go to sick call. Still, I’ve seen it attempted, always with the same result.


Interestingly, in all the years I’ve been in the Army, I’ve never been “sick” enough to even warrant calling in sick in the way I might out in the civilian world. I’ve been sick, sure, with colds and headaches and maybe even minor nausea, but never the level of sick that would actually make me consider calling my boss and trying to call in sick. Probably a result of having an immunization sheet that never ends and the Army’s zeal for preventative medicine.

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