Why This Military Family Won’t Be Raising Their Right Hands Again

decline military service
U.S. Air Force photo/Lt. Col. Ann Peru Knabe, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The United States military sure is desperate these days. With recruiting numbers in the dumps, the next generation of young Americans is either uninterested or unable to enlist because they are disqualified from service.

The military branches have instituted remedial academic and physical training to prepare young Americans for military service. They’ve tapped into social media influencers to try to make the military seem more appealing and reach an audience primarily found in the depths of TikTok.

Still, their efforts seem to be in vain. Now, my old service is bringing back an old and failed tactic to try to boost their ranks…begging retirees to come back.


Last week, I came across an Air Force Times article discussing a program coming out to try to boost service numbers. The Voluntary Retired Return to Service Program aims to fill about 1,000 mid-career commissioned and enlisted positions ranging from pilots and recruiters to air traffic controllers and contracting officials.

The program would allow those who have retired from the Air Force to rejoin for 48 months of active duty service. This isn’t the first time the Air Force has tried this tactic.

In 2017 under the Trump administration the Air Force tried this program to fill pilot positions during a pilot shortage. Back then, the Air Force only received 125 applications, with 50 of them for pilot roles.

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Something tells me they will find this push just as unfulfilling. The opening line of the article is simply the best:

“Regret retiring? Here’s your shot at a second chance in the Air Force.”

I don’t know anyone who regrets retiring from the military. I quite literally laughed out loud when I read the line.

I laughed even harder a few days later when I received an automated email from the Department of the Air Force offering me the chance to hang up my civilian attire, ditch my post-retirement blue mohawk, say goodbye to autonomy of thought and much-deserved free time to raise my right hand once again and don the uniform I wore for over 20 years.

Hard Pass

In addition to the email that I laughed at before deleting, my husband, who served in the Air Force as a Security Forces member (for those not familiar, that’s essentially a military police officer), received a text message from a Navy recruiter asking if he’d be willing to enlist. Keep in mind, my husband has been out of the Air Force for about five years and is 46.

To be fair, my husband is still in incredible shape, particularly for a 46-year-old man, but is he in ideal shape for military service, let alone possible service on a Naval ship? Doubtful. But I suppose when desperation calls, a middle aged man with back and knee issues is a better option than a mentally unstable non-binary overweight 20-year-old.

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Needless to say, my husband politely declined. That didn’t stop the recruiter from shooting a few more text messages begging him to reconsider promising all sorts of incentives, such as bonuses and more rank.

So why would my husband and I, patriots of our generation, both of us highly decorated for our service to our nation, living in a time when providing for a family of four is increasingly tricky, turn down a life we used to know – military service? Precisely because we do know it, and we know it’s gotten worse.

No thank you

My husband and I are proud of our veteran status, and we earned our pensions with blood, sweat, and tears. We gave our nation everything we had, putting our service above ourselves, each other, and our kids.

Combined, we deployed a dozen times to various war zones, fighting for what we were told was freedom, democracy, and against terrorists. We watched our friends die in combat, we went to funerals for friends who took their own lives under the weight of PTSD, and we bear the physical and emotional scars of combat veterans who have been through Hell in service to their country.

We also witnessed our beloved Department of the Air Force bend the knee to mediocrity and liberal ideology. As a senior military leader, in the last few years of my career, I was forced to sit in meetings where I was told I was inherently racist because I am white and that I should elevate those in my charge based on the color of their skin versus their actual abilities and achievements.

I was told by those few who outranked me that I was a racist if I didn’t publicly acknowledge that I was a racist. On the other side of the coin, I was forced to put up with white male bosses who refused to show me the respect my rank and prior combat achievements afforded me but instead chose to relegate me to “unit party planner” given my biological sex.

These white men were given a pass for being sexist and often actually racist because of the flight suits they wore, the privilege they actually enjoyed. The straw that broke my back, which convinced me it was time to retire, was when I was turned down for a selective position after being told that despite being the most qualified for the role I just didn’t “look diverse enough.”

Gee…why would I choose not to rejoin that environment?

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A thousand other reasons

But truth be told, it’s not just the DEI garbage or the actual unchecked discrimination that happens in the military that has my husband and I choosing our retired lives over that of more service to our country. After giving up so much of ourselves in the last Forever War only to see it fall apart like a poorly baked flan on national television, the idea of fighting another Forever War just isn’t appealing.

I spent a fair amount of my young adult life fighting the war on terror and spending some of that time in Afghanistan. My husband sustained injuries in a prison riot at the same detention center that the Taliban overran in 2021.

As we watched and heard of some of our allies being hunted and murdered by the Taliban and the terrorists my husband guarded those many years ago set free, our eyes filled with tears, and our souls felt and continue to feel the weight of our lives misspent. What was the point of our sacrifice?

Why should we or our children have to sacrifice for a political elite that uses the military and foreign policy as pawns to better their stock portfolios and pad their campaign speeches? If that isn’t enough, the fact that the defense industrial complex can’t seem to build and maintain military equipment worthy of the men and women charged to defend this nation is enough to stay as far away from military service as possible.

No, we did our time and served our nation with distinction and honor. Those appointed over us; the retired generals and four-star leaders who continuously fail at their jobs as strategic military leaders with zero accountability and a political ecosystem that uses those failures to either increase defense spending on more failed projects or claim to care about the troops without actually doing anything meaningful to hold those who fail us repeatedly to task, they didn’t serve with the same level of distinction and honor.

If the Department of Defense wants to get to the bottom of its recruiting crisis, it must look internally at those they’ve put in leadership positions before relying on an aging albeit wiser veteran population. So, United States Air Force, thanks for the offer, but I respectfully decline. Thanks, but no thanks.

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USAF Retired, Bronze Star recipient, outspoken veteran advocate. Hot mess mom to two monsters and wife to equal parts... More about Kathleen J. Anderson