After 18 years as a military spouse, I should be able to let the common annoyances of military life roll off my back. Hey, even salty old wives like me need to vent sometimes! I think most people in the civilian world get it that when service members deploy, life is hard. Really, really hard. What I think many people fail to understand is that life can be pretty hard even when a service member is manning a desk stateside. Here’s what I wish everyone knew about life in the military (in no particular order):
- Weekends mean nothing. Yesterday (Sunday) my darling husband had a meeting scheduled for 7:00 AM. A service member is on call every day at all hours, no matter what day it is. There’s no overtime pay or time-and-a-half, either. The service member works until the job is done all for the same pittance of a salary.
- All that earned vacation time (“annual leave”) people say service members are so lucky to get goes away if he is unable to use it because of his unit’s schedule. Many folks end up losing leave days every year because they never had the opportunity to take time off. And a lot of us end up begging the airlines for refunds because we had to suddenly cancel a vacation due to unexpected changes in the ship’s schedule or unit exercises, etc.
- Free housing is a myth. Even my in-laws often remark that we have nothing to complain about since our housing is free. There are 2 parts to this myth. First, government housing (base housing): It’s scarce with often insurmountable waiting lists. It’s usually really small and frequently located in the worst school districts or high crime areas. Second, housing allowance (BAH): For those who choose to or must live off base, the amount of money the government provides as an allowance rarely covers your monthly rent or mortgage payment. There is some strange calculus used to adjust the rates periodically, but they just don’t keep up with real world housing costs.
- Free medical care: you get what you pay for. Get ready, America. The same health care system military families have dealt with for years is coming to you soon! It’s the HMO gatekeeper system; it’s rationed; and it’s frustrating at best and a real danger to your health at worst. Waits for routine care like mammograms or school physicals can be ridiculous, not to mention trying to see a specialist. You might never see your Primary Care Provider or even the same person twice; and your “doctor” is usually a Physician’s Assistant or Nurse Practitioner. (That’s not always a bad thing.) And you had better love generic prescription drugs or be prepared to pay for name brands at a civilian pharmacy.
- No one gets used to moving. This is HUGE, and I hear it all the time: “You must be used to all that moving by now.” Even though we do it often, it doesn’t get any easier. Changing schools is still extremely tough on military kids, as is leaving behind great opportunities on sports teams, in orchestra or choir, in scouts, etc. Every move means a child has to start over to establish herself in these activities as well as in school. For middle school and high school kids, this can be nearly impossible and can impact college admissions. And plenty of spouses will tell you that they have watched job opportunities disappear as soon as the potential employer finds out you’re an active-duty military family. We may get better at saying goodbye, but that’s only because each move makes us a little more detached or harder inside.
Yes, indeed, our military is an all-volunteer force. But ask yourself: If they didn’t do it, would you?