LOVE AND THE ARMY – HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY

This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri February 14th 2018. If you would like to see the current articles as they are published, you may subscribe to The Belle Banner by calling 573-859-3328, or email tcnpub3@gmail.com, or mail to The Belle Banner, PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013. Subscription rates are; Maries, Osage, and Gasconade County = $23.55 per year, elsewhere in Missouri = $26.77, outside Missouri = $27.00, and foreign countries = $40.00.
Happy Valentine’s Day! The day to talk about love, so this is about love in the Army.
When I enlisted in the Army, in 1961, most soldiers, including the sergeants were single. There was a saying; “If the Army wanted you to have a wife they would have issued you one.” Now over 60 percent of soldiers are married with children. The soldier’s family has become an integral part of his unit, through his company’s “Family Readiness Group” (FRG). Every company has an officially sponsored FRG, which is comprised of the spouses of the soldiers. FRG leaders receive formal training and are designated as the point of contact to keep the wives and house husbands informed about what training and deployments are upcoming, and especially about what is happening when the soldiers are deployed. The FRG’s have monthly meetings, and during deployments the wives look out for each other, if one is sick there is usually another to help with kids and house.
There is much discussion about the “problem” of soldiers marrying too young, and the marriage doesn’t last. It is a problem. There are nearly 40,000 Army soldiers who are single parents, and have custody of children, but that is also true in civilian life. The Center for Disease Control reports that 48 percent of 18 year olds who marry will divorce within 10 years. That doesn’t mean that the other 52 percent lasts forever, it just means that they made to the 10 year mark. A single parent cannot enlist in the military, but if a soldier becomes a single parent, while on active duty, they can stay, but there are rules. There are also almost 20,000 dual army couples currently serving in the army. That is nearly another 40,000 soldiers married to another soldier. Throw in the Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard and that figure grows to over 80,000 dual military couples.
Soldiers in the Continental United States do not need their commander’s permission to get married. Officers and enlisted cannot date. That is fraternization, therefore they cannot marry. However, if two enlisted people are married and one becomes an officer that is OK. People, especially young people, fall in love. I’ve read several comments from young soldiers warning others not to get married in AIT (Advanced Individual Training). That may sound funny or absurd to some, but consider that many of those young people, in the army, are away from home for the first time, and they are thrown together in training with the opposite sex. The longer AIT’s that are more relaxed, are where many of those marriages happen. The “Health Care Specialist” (Combat Medic) AIT is 16 weeks long and fairly relaxed, I’ve read several comments from medics warning new recruits not to get married in AIT.
The Army has an official program called the “Married Army Couple Program” (MACP). When two soldiers marry, each has to apply to be placed in the program, then the Army makes every effort to assign married couples to the same location. When a dual military couple or a single parent soldier arrives at a new duty station, they must submit to their commander, within 30 days a written “short term family care plan” and a “long term family care plan”. Short term care is some local, non-military person at that station, who can pick up and care for the kids for a few days. That is usually the civilian wife of a soldier. The longer soldiers are in the Army the easier it is to find short term care providers, because they usually know people at new duty stations. Short term providers must agree in writing to care for the children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in the event the soldier is called to duty or deployed with no notice. Long term care providers do not have to be local, but transportation must be prearranged, as well allotments for financial support of the children, powers of attorney, etc. Designated care providers are given access to post facilities, such as commissary, post exchanges, hospitals and clinics, in order to care for the military dependent children.
Occasionally young soldiers get married for the wrong reasons. Army life is easier for married privates and specialists than for single soldiers. The married soldiers live at home, off post or in government family housing, and if two soldiers marry both receive basic allowance for housing (BAH), and money for meals. Any marriage for any reason other than each being insanely in love with the other will probably not last. Sometimes young married privates and specialists get themselves into money problems, thousands do not. A Private E-2 (slick sleeve) married with one child, at Fort Leonard Wood, but living off post, will take home, after taxes and deductions, about $1,400 on the 1st day of the month and another $1,400 on the 15th of the month, and when the soldier goes over two years in service, as a Specialist E-4, those amounts go to about $1,575 each time. In civilian terms that translates to $650 to $725 per week take home pay, certainly enough to support a wife and child, if finances are properly controlled.
Having discussed the dangers of marrying too young, if you visit the commissary on Fort Leonard Wood you will find dozens of retired military who have been married 20, 30, 50 years. Soldiers get married young. That’s just the way it is. On November 12th, 1965, I was a Sergeant in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Betty was a Registered Nurse working at Greenville General Hospital in Greenville, South Carolina, they are about 240 miles apart. She came to Fort Bragg that weekend to visit one of her classmates from nursing school, who was married to a friend of mine. Over the next six weeks, I was on alert part of the time, but visited Greenville a couple times. Betty was working full time, but visited Fort Bragg a couple times. When the holidays came we drove out here and got married on January 2nd, 1966, 52 years ago. The first five years we were married, we moved ten times, that included two one year tours in Vietnam. The next ten years we only moved four times. After our first, Sara, came along in 1970, Betty never worked again until I retired from the Army and the kids were older. We were a typical couple married to the Army, she ran the house, raised the kids, and controlled the finances while I got to go play Army.
Marriage in the military can be difficult at times. Multiple deployments cause strain on any marriage. My observation is that deployments are harder on the wives and families than on the soldier. There was a recent study of 1,200 couples from all services with a military husband and a civilian wife, who had been married more than 15 years. These couples moved an average of 8.6 times in 20 years of marriage, which is about average for the military but twice as high as the civilian rates of moves. Of all the reasons studied about why these military marriages lasted, two were more significant. Those were how the soldier viewed his career, and how the wife constructed the home front.
The soldiers thought of their work in the military as much more than a paycheck, many called it a “calling” or a “career/calling”. There was the promise of retirement plus a pattern of achievement, they kept getting promoted. Martial satisfaction was much higher with those couples than in those who thought of the military as a “job”. Wife after wife said in interviews that their life in the military was worth it because of how much their husband “loved” his job, or how he “didn’t want to be anything else”.
Long married military families are structured around separation. Soldiers train for deployment, deploy and return all the time. That profoundly affects family life. The wife is always present. The wife creates “normal” family life, it doesn’t just happen automatically. She maintains the “normal” family, and when the husband returns from deployment she brings him back into the family. Over and over interviewers in the survey reported that in the strong marriages when the husband returned from deployment he went back to helping with the house and kids, doing laundry, vacuuming, or cleaning up the kitchen after dinner. The wives saw that as a signal that the husband wanted to be back in the family.
The Army comes first in a soldier’s life, but since Iraq and Afghanistan started, his family has become a much larger consideration by the Army. The just past Army Chief of Staff, General Ray Odierno said in his retirement speech; “The strength of our Nation is our Army; the strength of our Army is our soldiers; the strength of our soldiers is our families. That is what makes us Army Strong.”

Us at a company party in Italy 1978.

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