A Haitian immigrant who enlisted as a teenager, he deployed three times to Iraq, missing so many birthdays and Christmases that he sometimes felt he barely knew his four children. He hid symptoms of post-traumatic stress so he could stay in the Army, because he loved his job and believed that after 20 years he could retire with a captain’s pension.
Then this summer, on the day Captain Saintjuste reached his 20 years, the Army told him that as part of the postwar downsizing of the force he would have to retire. And adding insult to injury, he would have to retire as a sergeant, earning $1,200 less per month, because he had not been a captain long enough to receive a captain’s pension.
“I worked, I sacrificed, I risked my life, and they took it away like it didn’t matter,” Captain Saintjuste said as he brought groceries into his house near Fort Bragg. “It wasn’t just losing a job. It was like having your wife leave you suddenly and not tell you why. It’s your whole life.”
For the first time since the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, the Army is shrinking. Faced with declining budgets, the Army, the largest of the services, cut its force this year to 508,000 soldiers from 530,000, with plans to trim an additional 20,000 troops next year. If funding cuts mandated by Congress continue, the Army could have fewer than 450,000 soldiers by 2019 — the smallest force since World War II.
The cuts have largely come through attrition and reductions in recruiting, and have, so far, mostly affected low-ranking enlisted soldiers who have served only a few years. But this summer, the cuts fell on officers as well, 1,188 captains and 550 majors, many who were clearly intending on making a career of the military. More are expected to lose their jobs next year.
And for reasons the Army has not explained, the largest group of officers being pushed out — nearly one in five — began as enlisted soldiers.