In 2005 I was in the Army and had fulfilled my four year contract. I wanted out. But there was a war in Iraq and was told my job was mission critical. Despite being a Korean linguist, my contract would be extended indefinitely. So I forced the Army to kick me out with full benefits.
Because of what I did, my fiancée, who was deployed to Kuwait, was able to come home to me instead of a storage unit. And it continues to pay dividends to this day. In fact, it directly contributed to me being able to go full-time on my startup. But the biggest advantage was showing me how people limit themselves in the name of not rocking the boat and doing what they’re told.
Since I couldn’t leave voluntarily I needed the Army to kick me out. Without consequences. Those consequences ranged from losing my benefits all the way up to execution during wartime.
Enter “adjustment disorder” or failure to adapt. It means that someone is going through a period of high stress making it difficult for them to cope. In the civilian world it’s a description not a diagnosis, but the Army uses it as a catchall way to kick people out. It is mostly used during the initial entry training to get rid of troublemakers and others who can’t cut it. While it must be initiated by a psychiatrist, it is considered an administrative discharge with no consequences.
From the Army’s point of view it’s inconceivable ? for someone to use this to their advantage. Military machismo and, historically, draft dodging makes it impossible for all but the most severe cases to even see a psychiatrist.
To achieve this I needed three things.
1.) A legitimate stressful situation that wouldn’t blow over.
2.) Visibility - a lot of it - so my unit would send me to see a psychiatrist or be seen as unreasonable if they tried to handle it quietly.
3.) Avoiding any negative labels such as “a danger to myself or others”.
Number 1 was easy. I could point to a number of things - my fiancée was unexpectedly deployed to Kuwait with missiles being fired her way, I was her main emotional support, and I would be deployed to Iraq before she was sent home. Numbers 2 & 3 however fell into catch-22 territory.
My solution was to neatly and cleanly cut my uniforms into squares.
In basic training you are taught that your uniform is your most basic piece of equipment. It is both a work uniform and a symbol of your membership in the United States Army. Being on duty is nearly synonymous with being in uniform.
After cutting them up I carefully placed them into a trash bag and reported to my company commander the following morning. I informed him I literally could not report for duty and explained how I was feeling. He seemed sympathetic, but also warned me I could be punished and charged with dereliction of duty and/or destruction of government property if it came out that I was faking it. He then set up an appointment with our behavioral health specialist, an unlicensed entry-level counselor.
I was being glad-handed. While appearing to help me he was trying to contain the situation and set me up to take the blame. I knew several people this happened to in Korea after getting depressed and attempting suicide or similarly self-destructive behavior. Most of them were kicked out with various excuses placing the blame squarely upon themselves. Those that weren’t kicked out were “successfully treated” and “allowed” to return to duty after “unrelated corrective action”.
While waiting by myself in the hallway for my appointment and knowing nothing useful could come from this meeting I set off a fire extinguisher in protest. That did it - I couldn’t be ignored any longer. The next morning I was on a bus to Seoul to meet with a psychiatrist. After talking through my state of mind and my situation he agreed there was nothing they could do and the situation would not improve if left as is. He then submitted a recommendation that I be administratively separated for adjustment disorder.
I landed in Colorado December 21st, one month past the original end of my contract, with a full honorable discharge.