Tough Lessons

Running the APFT
Photo Credit: Spc. Mike MacLeod

I want to take a little time today to talk about a few good lessons I’ve learned over the last few months.  Over the years, I’ve written a lot about various technical lessons and skills that I learned but recently I learned a few lessons about managing your career, and what life after the Army is like.  So I haven’t put this out to many people but not to long ago, I was in the process of being chaptered out of the Army.

A semi long story relatively short…..A little over a year ago, I was taking my twice annual APFT and failed.  The run has always been a tough event for me, especially over the years as I’ve gotten older.  This was not the first time I had failed over the years (it has happened once or twice before but they were always close calls that I was able to pass a few weeks later).  This time though, I was way off my pace.  Without going into all of the details I will say that there were a variety of factors that contributed to this happening including an extended high priority mission, 14-hour shift work, and other work related things.

But I was also very much at fault here too.  I will be the first to admit that I am lazy when it comes to working out, and when work stuff made working out hard to do, I was perfectly happy saying screw it, I can work out later (which would be met with the same excuse).  Additionally, like many of you, over the years, my body has gotten worn out and surprisingly enough, I can’t do today what I used to do.  Also like many of you, I have never really admitted that.  When I was hurt, I took a few motrain and pushed on.  As I got some rank and some flexibility, if I was hurt, I would just reduce what I was doing on my own.  Either way though, I never really treated injuries medically (more on that in a bit).

Anyway, I knew that I obviously needed to pass this thing.  I stopped with my excuses on why I didn’t need to work out today and started to hit it hard.  One of my CPTs who is a great runner took the time out of his schedule and started to run the hell out of me.  I made substantial improvement but when you fast forward a bit, I still failed my second test.

Looking Over the Edge

This was truly an “Oh shit” moment.  At this point, I had probably about 17.5 years in the Army, was a 2-time APFT failure and had just had a separation action started.  I am fortunate in the fact that my sister-in-law is a JAG warrant (yes JAG has warrants, I had no idea until she put her packet in).  When this started, she was my very first call.  She referred me to one of her lawyers who was very helpful.  I was in a unique situation with this because she worked in JAG.  For anyone else going through a chapter, they eventually get to the step, but not until further in the process.

One of the first things that was beat home by the lawyer was that at this point the Army wanted to get you out, it was your job to figure out how to prevent that.  They would use the regulations against you, it is your job to use the regulations against them.  Right off the bat, the orderly room had screwed up my chapter.  Apparently, they don’t chapter officers very often (go figure) so they weren’t particularly familiar with the process, but knew how to do it for enlisted folks.  They figured that the process was pretty much the same and went with the cookie cutter method that they knew.  They were wrong.  The processes are very different, and for officers, there are a lot more hoops to jump through and you have to use them to your advantage.

I downloaded a copy of AR 600-8-24 and read the relevant sections many many times.  As an officer, there are some very specific required steps that need to happen.  You also have some very specific options and it’s important to understand them.  During this process I can honestly say that I didn’t drag my feet on the steps that I needed to do, but I was also not particularly proactive (I see no reason to help the Army kick me out).

While all of this was going on, I was still working on passing the APFT.  My command was very supportive and wanted to be able to recommend retention if I was able to pass the test during the process.  I was finally in a place where I was ready.  I took an informal test and passed the run with time to spare.  We scheduled another record exam and two days before….A lady decided to turn left in front of me.  I T-boned her at 40 MPH.  Both air bags deployed (my wife was in the car with me) and my car was totaled.  No one was seriously injured but I had severe back pain and my wife tore a shoulder muscle.  Any thought of taking my test were killed.

Looking Towards Tomorrow

Part of the separation process is attending SFL-TAP training to teach you how to survive on the other side.  I was in the unique position of I was only a couple of months shy of hitting 18 years which meant that I was just about 2 years shy of my retirement date (I have had the intention of retiring at 20 years for a while now).  By regulation as a retiree, you can start SFL-TAP 2 years out anyway so I was doing training that I would be doing very shortly either way.

While the SFL-TAP training was a little boring at times, it was a TON of great information and I honestly wish that I had gotten some of the training years and years ago as a private.  I won’t go into most of the training but the part that I wish I had heard years ago was from the VA guy.  Part of the separation/retirement process is your final medical exam and the disability evaluation.  During this time, they look at your entire medical history and figure out how broke you go while you were in the military.  This is where everything I wrote earlier about sucking it up, and pushing through injuries came back and smacked me in the head.  I have back and knee injuries over the years that I generally dealt with.  The car crash turned out to be the final straw when it came to my back (6 months later and I am still having issues).  Because I had sucked it up and pushed through all of this, it would be much harder (not impossible) for any of this to be properly rated when it came time to get my disability evaluation.  The VA guys advice from when he was a soon to be retired CSM….if he took Motrain for something for 3 days, it was time to take a trip to the TMC.  Yes, they would probably just give you more Motrain to continue taking, but at least there was a record in your file now about it.  The moral of this chapter, you are only screwing yourself when you decide to suck it up.

Another thing that SFL-TAP brought up was one day, we all will leave the Army.  Hopefully that day will come on our own terms but it is entirely possible that it can come a lot sooner than you expected (APFT/height/weight, injury, 2 x non-select, etc).  When that day comes, you still have to be able to pay the bills which likely means getting a new job.  In order to get that job, you’re going to need a resume.

Resumes are how we convey everything we have done and know about to someone that we are hoping are going to pay us to keep doing it.  When I first started SFL-TAP, I thought I had an ok resume.  I was wrong.  I am not going to turn this into a resume post, but sufficed to say, you’re resume likely doesn’t exist, or is not what they are going to look for in the civilian world.  So start one now, and work with some of the services on post that can help you get it refined.  That way when it’s time to actually need the thing, it’s ready.  There are a number of services available on post that can help you with your resume.  Even if you have no intention of getting out soon, it can be useful to have a resume current and available just in case.


So, after completing the VA training, I decided to do things the correct way.  Since the accident, I continued to go to the DR and kept on profile (one to document what is going on and two to protect myself and my career).  We were able to work with my Dr to get an alternate event authorized and I passed my bike ride (In case you didn’t know you no longer need to be on a permanent profile in order to take an alternate event).  The chapter has gone away.  It turns out that being a stickler to the regulation really worked because every time I pointed out somewhere where they had screwed up and had to start over.  Combine that with a new commander and a variety of other factors and eventually no one was really sure where the hell the packet was.  Once I passed the APFT, it kind of became moot point and it was dropped.  On top of that, as of last week I have now gotten a permanent profile.

Through this entire process I have learned a number of lessons and had others that I already knew reinforced (in no particular order):

  • The Army is only looking out for the Army. You have to look out for you.
  • When the Army decides they are done with you, but you’re not ready to be done with them, you have to be proactive and figure out how to protect yourself.
  • Don’t suck it up….you’re only screwing yourself.
  • You may be the best guy at your job, but it still doesn’t protect you.

Final Thought

I seriously debated about writing this article for a while.  Many people within the Army like to think that anyone who fails an APFT is a dirt bag.  While many of you know that I am many things (a dirt bag is not among them), it is still odd putting this out for everyone to see.  In the end, I wanted to make sure that a lot of the younger warrants and NCOs who may read this learned what I should have learned a long time ago.  Most warrants are notorious for putting mission first…..find a way to make it happen no matter what.  But at what cost?  Do we put ourselves and our future at risk by doing that?  We have to strike the balance and keep an eye out for ourselves.

25 Responses to “Tough Lessons”

  1. Will

    I can definitely feel age catching up with me, not even going through injuries or other stressors. There’s only one You, the Army will find other Soldiers. So take care of YOU first.

  2. Sean

    Granted I was only in 4 years but I did the same shit with my knee “We have to much going on right for me to be on profile” Then once I was on profile I got it 2 weeks at a time no perm profile. With how my leadership changed in how they treated me I knew the Army wasn’t the right place for me. I really wished I had gone to the TMC every time I had an ache or pain now. With most people in technical jobs in the Army I am sure your XP is great and very relevant it comes down to the wording and emphasis. I’m glad you’re still able to push forward for 20.

  3. Troy this took guts. Glad you shared this. I’m guilty of being a profile-shamer, and when my paratrooper days caught up with me I had a rough go of it. Got to take care of yourself, the Army will have your position backfilled before the week is out.

  4. SFC(Ret)

    I was in a very similar position when it came time to face the facts that my knees no longer could handle the repeated runs to maintain a passing score. I worked with my PCM to get a perm profile and walked my last 4 APFTs (all in the last year of my career) for a GO. As for going to the TMC to create a “record” of your injuries. This is way over rated for those of us who “sucked it up” and kept going it may be difficult to prove to the VA that your injuries are “service connected”. I spent the last 3 years of my career fixing that wrong by going to the doc for every ache and pain I had. Resulted in a permanent profile, prescriptions for high BP, chronic back pain, and others. Physical therapy which Yoga was the best medicine combined with monthly Chiropractor visits. All of this “free Army health care” was taken for granted. Once I retired even with VA and Tricare for Life I came to realize many of these “free” benefits are out of pocket on the outside. As for the resume, get it done well in advance of leaving the Army. I was applying for jobs about 5 months before I was available to test my resume and it helped me land my “dream job”. Use the free Premium LinkedIn account and join the “Veterans Mentor Network.” Buy and read the book “The 2-Hour Job Search: Using Technology to Get the Right Job Faster,” best $15 I spent in preparing for retirement!

  5. Good article and spot on. Only thing I can add is if you wait to do this right before or after you get out it can, and more then likely will, take years to get everything documented and the correct information just for your VA exam. Read ALL of CFR 38 parts A, B, and C (not just C) before doing your VA claim. Don’t solely rely on a Veteran Service Officer from some organization to do that for you. It should be a colaberative effort vs just giving them your records and putting it together for you. Lastly WHEN you do finally retire and want to start a second career look me or one of my counterparts up. All that knowledge and expertise floating around in your head would be a terrible thing to waste!..LOL.

  6. Self reflection is always worthwhile, thanks for sharing.
    Sometimes when we expose our tough times we ensure others can avoid similar experiences. Way to be bold and thanks for allowing us a quick peek behind the curtain.

  7. Completely agree. Exactly what I did to stay until I couldn’t take any more BS. I am now happily retired and will probably die before the VA decides my disability claim (no, not really, but I have been waiting for about a year now). The grass is about the same on the other side. Maybe a little bit greener. I have a civilian job now, and I feel human again. But the benefits are nowhere near as good as what we receive in the Military. Nonetheless, I am happy now. No more mandated PT tests, AR-350-1, nothing. It’s great. Who am I kidding, civilian life is awesome!

  8. Ray Navarro

    Troy I can totally relate and thanks for sharing the knowledge. I learned a lot from you as my OC at NTC. I feel the Army will ride horse until it dies then move to the next. Luckily it’s the people that makes that journey easier. Also your QoS write up is the best breakdown I have seen Army wise. Take care!

  9. Thanks for sharing, Troy!

    It took getting hit by a semi-truck 11 years ago, which ended my excellent state of fitness, for me to realize some of the same things you shared. I make a daily effort to share lessons learned with everyone I come in contact with, so that they can understand how to better respect the Army system and live successfully within that system. I’m sure many will take your words seriously and adjust fire on what they have been or not been doing. I’m glad everything worked out for you!

    Big Ruck

  10. First, thank you for the article. Many good lessons inside. I will offer up two things for those of us who may be approaching the retirement mark and are having some issues with things like running. Knees go. It is isually a combination of weight gain and sedentary habits. Running is something I have done most of my life. Im 41 now and trying to get back into it again after taking an extended break. The only way to increase speed that I have found in my research and experimentation is intervals and some weight training. Intervals are easy.. 30-60s, 60-90s, 90-120s etc.. Sprints with extrended rest in between. Weight training is another story. The best thing i have found, and this is coming from the mouth of the Chief Sports Training Officer of Nike is hex bar deadlift.. start with about 60% body weight and only come to the knees.. once there “drop” the weight. Should be something like 5 sets of 5 reps. Try throwing some plyometrics in the workout. take very long periods of rest between sets, 1-2 min. As you build strength you can slowly increase weight. You can also look up Barry Ross, a high school sprint trainer who consistently produces mutant runners in his school. Lastly I would say for weight mangement, because lets face it, the lighter you are the faster you can travel. 30 grams of protien within the first 30 min after waking up. I usually do 3 eggs with spinach and black eyed peas (you can also do black beans). be careful with the beans because they are the other half of the protien equation. You dont have to change anything else in your diet except this, unless you want to. You may find that you are not really hungry for lunch because of the kickstarting if your metabolism first thing. If you dont feel hungry dont eat. You will increase fat loss tremendously by doing this. Try to steer clear of white starches if at all possible… this will help as well. Lastly let me say something about resumes. I may be wrong but I feel from the comments I have read that my resume skills might be slightly above average. I have been continuously maintaining my resume since 2002 when i came off of active duty the first time. I spent the last year on active duty getting to know the ACS staff, especially the resume people, very well. Since then, even after coming back on active duty, I have continued to update my resume at least every quarter. I strive to show on my resume a continual path of growth through education and job experience. I do at least 1 certification test a year in order to show I am staying engaged. I also put as a final entry below all of the certs “Continous ongoing emerging technology training” on my resume as a final open ended thought. My resume alone has saved my ass in many situations allowing me to maintain multiple contracts while I was on reserve duty. The resume as well as trying to go above and beyond what was expected and create immense value add in my work. It brought me many returns. I hope this comment wasnt too long and was helpful. thanks again and feel free to reach out if any if you need any resume or exercise guidance.

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