A recent column by one of my favorite writers/bloggers on military life caught my eye. JaceyEckhart wrote “Service Members Shouldn’t Be Expected to Control Their Wives” in reaction to a news report about a Fort Bragg Army wife who was banned from all interaction with her husband’s unit and its family members. Apparently her treatment of her husband’s subordinates and their wives was damaging morale.
Eckhart was surprised by the number of comments on the story calling for the service member to “lay down the law” and “keep your house in order.” She recalls the Bad Old Days when the family of a service member could make or break his career. She then writes:
The cultural demand that family members be “controlled” or that family members are a danger to your career is very offputting to the current generation of military spouses. We need to cut that out or risk hemorrhaging the norm.
Jacey should know better. It is a fact of military life that the family has an effect on the service member’s career. “Offputting” as it may be, families have a huge roll in the service members ability to do his job, and a service member who is not deployable is not going to advance in his career. Would you want to be on patrol with a soldier who is preoccupied by his party-girl wife who just got a DUI or Drunken Disorderly? What about the pilot who can’t stop thinking about how his wife maxed out their last credit card or how his kid got picked up for shop-lifting again? Would you want to be in the cockpit with him? Families that are out of control affect readiness, and readiness is what the military is all about.
Like it or not, the service member is owned by Uncle Sam. He has voluntarily accepted an obligation not just to do a job but to live it, 24/7 at times. In order to do that safely and effectively, he does have to have his house in order. And if he can’t keep his personal life from interfering with his obligation, he will be “encouraged” to separate from the military either blatantly or by keeping him in dead-end billets and passing him over at promotion time.
A large part of the problem is that modern spouses often react to this reality defiantly. No one is going to tell them what to do or how to behave. And the service member is unwilling or just not strong enough to establish the command’s or his own expectations early on before crises arise.
Is it fair that a wife has to mind her P’s and Q’s at the peril of her husband’s job? Maybe not. Although the expectations for families is that they simply conduct themselves in a “normal” fashion. But then again, no one ever said life–especially military life–is fair.