Google Ad

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The military isn't family friendly...

I have another post on my blog about how the military really doesn't give a hoot about its members or their families. It seems to get a lot of hits and it's encouraged me to write some more about it.

If you've read my other post about the military, you know we are very much a military family. My husband is retired from the Air Force as was my father, when he was still alive (he started out in 1944 in the Army/Air Corp as a member of a tank batt) and my two oldest sons are in the Army, Matt as a helicopter pilot, Billy as a member (now) of the Arizona National Guard.

Having been through so many years of the military as a child, wife and mother, I have seen what the military does to their members; they change them unalterably, and not usually for the better.

See, the military spends ALL its time breaking you down, to build you back up as a new person, one who is devoted to their military. While this really works for war, building that esprit de corps, it doesn't carry over into the real world very well. However, when you are dealing with a large group of 18, 19, 20, 21 or older kids who are looking for an identity, any identity, the brainwashing begins very early and it usually takes very well.

I'm not saying being in the military is a bad thing. On the contrary, it's a good way to grow up a little and gain some life experience. In my book, that's never a bad thing. It does a good job of introducing young minds to life's little lessons and makes one better able to deal with the surprises life can hand you sometimes. Also, while you're in the military, it's a really good life. As a military member, you travel, you make decent money (now) than you could in the outside world, you get 30 days vacation a year and if you're ever in trouble (and I'm talking the kind of trouble you can get in that affects your day-to-day life like a financial shortage, no food, needing diapers, newly married with no furniture, NOT criminally) the military is there for you ALWAYS. It's like I told both my sons, when sending them off to Basic Training, is that they were joining a community that had a great capacity to love, it you would let them.


There's always a "but" isn't there?

As a military member, you will have it drummed into you that they can't live without you, that you are just as important to them as the next guy, that YOU are a vital member of their well-oiled machine and were you to fall in your duty, the ripple effect would be great and catastrophic, not just to the unit but the world as a whole. The nation's security depends on you and you alone. That's actually kind of nice to hear, isn't it? For a young person just entering the world as an adult, who wouldn't want to hear they are doing something so vital, so important, so life-affirming?

Here's the reality, though... The nature of the military is war. They train for it, they plan for it, they are supposed to be ready for it at any given moment. The first rule of war is that people die. The military is ready, at all times, to replace someone who is no longer able to perform their job. In fact, when a member's enlistment is coming near to a close, the military is already planning months ahead of time, to replace them. Each year, the different branches of the military plan losses of personnel. Ideally, it's through attrition, meaning they know they are going to lose a certain percentage of members to ETS'ing, retirement, and sadly, death. These loss numbers are converted into "recruitment numbers". Every year, the military knows they are probably losing these people and they PLAN for it.

Suddenly, you're not as irreplaceable as you once thought, huh?

All this being said, is it any wonder the military enjoys such a high divorce rate?

Being a military family member is not easy and it's not for everyone. The deployments are long, the hours suck and it's hard to play second to something as omnipresent as the military. To know that you will always be second in the life of the person who is number 1 in your life is hard. There were many nights my husband had to crawl out of bed to go to work to put out the latest fire, since he was the crew chief of a room full of children. There were several times he was gone when something bad happened at home. I had a miscarriage early in our marriage and he was gone. I had to go through it alone and scared. Our youngest broke his arm once, I had to deal with it alone as my husband was gone. One of our older boys put his hand through a glass window and I had to sit there with him in the ER by myself since the husband was, again, gone. He missed birthdays, births, weddings and funerals of people he loved because he was... gone.

And you know what? The military doesn't care that they brainwash people to the extent they will choose the military over their family - every single time.

Okay, to be fair, military members sign a contract that for four years, they belong to the government, subject to the whims of the people at the Pentagon who make these decisions. However, it goes too far in the demands made of military members. The military expects everything to stop being just because they want them to. Also, because they meet every need of the military member (and I'm not exaggerating either. The military pays for food, clothing, shelter, medical and dental) it's a hard life to leave behind. What makes it harder is that the military is kind of a closed community. You eat, sleep and live with people just like you - all day, every day and night. It's drummed into you, and the families of the military members, that this is how life is and how it will always be, if you just remain loyal to the military. They hold your hand through every step of life if you'll just let them. The military works very hard to assimilate you to this life, if you'd just be willing to submit to this utopia that exists. Life is perfect in every way.

When my husband was Active Duty, life was good. We lived in nice base housing, we shopped at the commissary and save a lot of money. We had easy credit because of my husband's commitment to the military and we lived well. We didn't have to pay for any health insurance of any kind and we were all healthy as a result. We lived in exotic places and saw some wonderful things. Life WAS good.

But, then he retired. Heck, we even retired to a military community near Wright-Patterson AFB, where I was raised, and we still had problems. Suddenly, my husband didn't matter after two decades of being told he did. We were no longer eligible to use the military medical facilities unless we paid for the privilege. For two decades, we were told to suck it up on the low pay because the military was going to take care of him for the rest of his life. My husband made very low pay and we were told to "suck it up". My mother went through the same thing while my dad was in Vietnam for three years. The base they were at, England AFB in Alexandria, LA, would have a "spouse's commander's call" where the greatest complaint was low pay. She said it was their mantra, "But think of your benefits!"

My husband has been retired for ten years and all I can think is, "What benefits?"

Once you leave the military, you cease to matter. You are no longer important to anyone but those who love you, if you are lucky enough to still have them around after ignoring them for who knows how many years. Like I said, it's been ten years since my husband left the military - he has yet to hear from anyone he served with over the years. Not one, not ever. Not even a posting on a board anywhere.

My dad stayed in touch with a number of people he served with over his time in the military. We took vacations with them, we grew up with their kids and some of them came to his funeral. Now? There's no sense of togetherness after you leave. My guess is the bitterness over being abandoned so flagrantly by the military is too great to WANT to see anyone you served with anywhere.

In closing, I'm not saying don't serve in the military. I believe it's the responsibility of every single American to give at least four years to a country that has already given them so much. However, don't plan on making it a career unless you just really want a retirement check when you're done and not much else. The government has chiseled away at the other benefits so much there's not much else left to speak of. But DO give back... DO join the military to show your appreciation for living in the greatest country in the world. BUT, do it with eyes wide open that you are going to be told one thing but another is the reality. Don't let them convince you that it is the military that supersedes all else in your life.

The military will come and go, your family is there for the duration, if handled right. Love your country, be a patriot, but love your family more and devote your heart to them.