Best Defense

On leaving my old A Team: Is it so wrong to leave a job when it starts to suck?

It’s right there on your DD214 (the discharge paperwork) -- “honorable discharge.” It doesn’t feel like honor — not at all.

Tricrab 2016


By Noah Smith
Best Defense Council of the Former Enlisted

It’s right there on your DD214 (the discharge paperwork) — “honorable discharge.” It doesn’t feel like honor — not at all. It feels more like, “good luck out there finding what you’re looking for.”

You’ll never have a relationship like the one with the Army. It’s probably the only thing that won’t quit on you. That’s the sacred duty of other people, to remind you how alone you are. You can only quit or retire from the Army.

What’s more, I was in special forces, which is made up of OD-As — that’s as in “A Teams.” They are unique. They’re difficult to fill and tougher to keep intact. When a member leaves the team, it’s a big deal — same goes for when someone joins the team. It’s such a small club that on the walls of my old team room, on the staircase leading up from our storage hanger to our team room, are the names of every member that’s ever served on the team. Can you do that in your division at GE? I don’t think so.

When I left the team I wasn’t alone. My friend, Jeff, with whom I served with on the same team for the duration of my time in special forces, decided to leave, too. Jeff was looking to be a lifer, but he pulled the plug. Now, he’s going to be a medical doctor. He chose something different. A third member left as well, but he was kicked out because he got a DUI earlier in his career, but in the same pay grade, and the Army was looking to get rid of people. Before he left, he told me that he never wants to even see the uniform again. He gave his adult life to the Army, deployed everywhere they asked, lived a hard life at war and in the end, they asked him to repay his bonus because he was caught once driving drunk.

I don’t need charts showing me the retention numbers, I know what is happening where I came from. The morale was not high and while retention might be fine, the ranks have been filled with new young guys, and many members aren’t satisfied. In my unit, our area of responsibility is the Middle East and what we’re asked to do right now sucks. It’s demoralizing to go forward, think about stuff, and sit on your hands and just observe, while everything that’s been created rots and falls apart in front of you.

Iraq has failed. Most of it is now owned by Iran, with the rest occupied by terrorist descendants of al Qaeda. How’s that working out for you, Uncle Sam? I spoke to my old “team daddy” not long ago, and despite that fact that he was speaking to someone whose experience does not hold a candle to his, he asked me, “What did we even accomplish there?”

Guys leave in different ways. Some just fill out the paperwork. Others employ direct action. One of our more experienced guys took his own life. Years back, we had a guy kill himself in the parking lot.

I don’t know if it was always like this, but I heard it was not. I can’t help but think it’s related to a loss of a sense of purpose post-war. Except, in SOF, the war is never over. So, a part of the problem might just be a lack of purposeful employment. I know that emptiness propelled me to look elsewhere.

Noah Smith, a former Green Beret, is a business consultant in Washington, D.C. This represents his own views, which are not necessarily those of his former employers in the U.S. government. He holds the Special Operations chair in the Best Defense Council of the Former Enlisted and is the Veterans Fellowship Chair of Service Corps ( He can be reached via email at

For more from the Council of the Former Enlisted, read this, by Alexander B. McCoy, co-holder of the Council’s Marine chair. And even more

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at @tomricks1
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