Meat for the officers

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Last night, as I was falling asleep, I remembered something about one of the student meetings at the University in Yoshkar Ola.  Usually, during my meetings with the students, I started off by giving them a brief biography of myself.  I told them a little about my work, home, travels.  After a while, the students asked me questions, and later, I asked them questions.  I asked the students what their plans were after they finished university.  One young man said that he had used a military deferment to attend university and now he would be required to serve his conscription.  The topic turned a bit and we talked about corruption in Russia.  The students all said that you could get out of military service by purchasing a card that showed you had already served.  I guess this would be akin to buying a U.S. military veteran’s ID card.  The card costs about 30,000 to 50,000 Rubles (about a thousand US dollars).  No small amount considering a salary of only a few hundred dollars a month.  We talked about the various forms of corruption that plague Russia.  In some schools, students pay for grades, almost everyone pays the police to avoid tickets, payments to get choice jobs, bribes for business and business licenses, the list went on and on.  It is no wonder that the Russian economy is so tight despite the country’s enormous natural resources.

I asked this student if he would be entering the Army as an officer since he had a college degree.  He said that no, in the Russian military, an enlisted soldier serves, and eventually makes sergeant, and when he reaches a higher sergeant rank, eventually becomes a junior officer.  It may take 15 years to become an officer.  There is no Non Commissioned Officer Corps in the Russian Army.  This is a distinct advantage that American and other Western militaries have over the old Soviet Bloc militaries.  So, I asked, “What rank will you come in as, with your college degree?”  He looked at me in a puzzled manner and said, “Conscript.”  I suppose that this translated to buck-private.  “So, you’ll be just another soldier with the rest of the conscripts?”  He answered affirmatively.  The students then went on to tell me horror stories about their friend’s military service.  Some had to give their pay to their sergeants, others were beaten; some were tortured.  I commented that they made it sound like prison.  “Yes,” one girl replied, “They’re all meat for the officers.”


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