June 02, 2004

Can't Go Home Again

With the troop rotation under way, many soldiers are finally returning home after a year (or more) of serving in Iraq. But after a number of returning soldiers killed their wives at Fort Bragg, the army is now enforcing a psychological debriefing session to reintegrate them into home life.

Still, when he drives, he says, he finds himself scanning the roads, imagining bombs in bags of trash and potholes. Sometimes he studies Junction City rooftops for snipers. And he often wakes from dreams with the rattling boom of an explosion right beside him.

I guess it's not so easy, even with a supportive family. For those without an external support system, the VA might not be enough help. I still remember all the homeless vets holding signs on street corners near the UCSD VA Hospital. Most of them were Vietnam-era guys, but how many of the soon-to-be veterans from Iraq will meet the same fate?

This is the often-unacknowledged postscript to military service. According to the federal government, veterans make up 9% of the U.S. population but 23% of the homeless population. Among homeless men, veterans make up 33%.

Their ranks included veterans like Peter Starks and Calvin Bennett, who spent nearly 30 years on the streets of Los Angeles, homeless and addicted.

Or Vannessa Turner of Boston, who returned injured from Iraq last summer, unable to find healthcare or a place to live.

Compared to war veterans, mid-20's slackers boomeranging home to their Boomer parents seems like a chicken-shit cop-out of a phenomenon. Of course, I personally identify more with the latter than the former scenario.

Marooned in sun-fried Coalinga, his white Bronco piled with everything he owned and breathing its last from a blown transmission, Christopher Jones took stock of his 25-year-old life: No job, no girlfriend and, in the cruelest stroke of all, he was moving back to Burlingame to live with his parents, two younger siblings and Spunky, the cat.

I've done my share of driving through Coalinga on I-5, and believe me, it's not a place where you want to get stranded. Thankfully I do have my parent-paid-for AAA membership so I could at least get a tow out of the hellhole should it be necessary. On the other hand, if you try to zip through Coalinga too fast, there's the CHP station right there to nail you to the wall.

Christopher's presence has necessitated other adjustments. The food bills have soared. Bob Jones has learned he can't leave beer in the fridge if he wants to be sure he's the one who gets to drink it.

Dude, not paying rent is alright, but you can't take another man's beer when you're living in his house. That's just not cool. Now, if Christopher is moving back to the Bay Area in search of a job, he can freakin' forget about it. Companies are shoving their IT guys out the door as fast as possible, as part of their "Workforce Management Program," and the few survivors are asked to dig their own graves by training their outsourced counterparts.

For months, Cotterill had watched as foreign IT personnel began occupying cubicles in his work area. They were employees of Satyam Computer Services Ltd., the Indian firm hired to take over most of Agilent's IT operations. Some stayed in Santa Clara, and some went back to India to oversee the work of other programmers. A Satyam executive declined to discuss the firm's work at Agilent.

Last month, Cotterill received a memo informing him he would be taking part in the Knowledge Transfer process. "Hello All," it began. "Attached is the first draft of the training calendar for the KT. If you are being sent this message, you are one of the trainers."

Once the knowledge transferring is done, it's out the door for Mr. Cotterill, three months short of qualifying for early retirement. Gee, what a coincidence.

Friday afternoon, Cotterill cleared his desk and turned in his computer gear. His manager approached him and apologized for not arranging a department luncheon. They talked for a few minutes, then the manager began preparing a Functional Exit Interview Memo he wanted Cotterill to sign.

"When he started filling it out, he asked me how to spell my name," Cotterill said. "I've been working for him three years, and he still didn't know how to spell my name."

I am the absolute worst at remembering people's names. But then I don't have anybody working for me, either. So the hard-working 54-year old is now in the same shape as the slacking 25-year old. No girl, no job, wondering what to do with their lives. Except 54-year olds don't have understanding parents with paid-off houses to go back to.

Posted by mikewang on 08:33 AM