Today I met a maintenance sergeant, a tall, very upbeat guy from the New York City area. He has "sleeve" tattoos: colorful ink all the way from his shoulders to his wrists. He recently turned 26 and is new to helicopter maintenance, but likes his work. He may try to get civilian work in this field after the deployment, but also hopes to get work as a National Guard technician. Or maybe he will find another unit that's deploying.
That would make four deployments.
This current deployment is his third. In 2004-5 he was in Iraq as a medic. Within 12 months he had a tour in Afghanistan as an infantryman, returning in 2007. He could not find steady work in 2008, so he volunteered to deploy again, which included retraining as an aviation mechanic. And you should not feel bad for him. By all indications I could get, he thinks this is a perfectly good way to make a living.
I have talked to many soldiers in their 20s on this deployment who have no ambition to higher education and simply want honest work with their hands. One of the reasons this long war could be fought is the years and years of declining employment opportunities for blue-collar workers.
If President Obama manages to end the two wars he inherited, he will add new pressure to the unemployment bubble. It seems pretty sure if the wars don't end and blue collar jobs with a living wage don't return to America, this young sergeant will turn 30 in Afghanistan on his fifth deployment.