This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri January 23rd 2019.
I recently wrote about a fictional couple of young lovers, Jack and Judy, who got married after high school and Jack enlisted in the Army. Well this story starts with the same scenario, but with a different twist. Buck and Becky are two adventurers who get married and both enlist in the Army. Although the Army does not guarantee that married soldiers will be assigned together, it has a program to try to insure that they are. The only couples I found not assigned together were where one or both had weird jobs only performed by a few in specific locations.
Their plans for life are to get good college educations, get good jobs and live a good life. If they both spend three years in the military, their education will be paid for with the GI Bill. It would also mean they could get married, live comfortably, and have a great adventure. Buck wants to jump out of airplanes and have some fun and Becky wants to go along for the ride and be part of it, and they don’t want to be separated. Becky doesn’t want to do some of the things that Buck is thinking about, and Buck doesn’t want anything tame. They considered different jobs, which would probably mean training at different posts. Buck would really like to be a grunt, but infantry training is basically 22 weeks of basic combat training at Fort Benning, Georgia. That plus processing time, plus three weeks of airborne school equals almost seven months, and Buck really loves Becky so that is just too long. They have been told that if they chose the same job it should be a “high population” job so that being assigned to the same place wouldn’t be a problem. The “high population” jobs trained at Fort Leonard Wood are military police, truck drivers, combat engineers, and CBRN (Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear). The only one that they would consider was CBRN. There is a CBRN Sergeant in every line company in the Army, whose job is to maintain the CBRN room with all the protective and detection gear, and conduct and supervise CBRN training in that company. Some support units don’t fully utilize their CBRN Sergeants, but they do in the 82nd Airborne Division. The AIT (Advanced Individual Training) is 11 weeks long with a lot of brainy classroom work and homework, which doesn’t please Buck, but at least they would be close. On the positive side, promotions are fast. Soldiers are currently being promoted to Sergeant at or around the two year mark. They want to be in the best unit with the best of people on the best Fort on which to live. That would be the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The 82nd is about 10 percent female with women in most jobs in the division.
If they ship together, they can be assigned to the same basic training company and go through basic together. As an old Drill Sergeant, I can tell you they would be in different platoons, as far apart as possible. It would not be comfortable seeing your wife or husband being treated bad, which does happen in basic training.
So, marriage, honeymoon, ship to the reception battalion, then 10 weeks of Basic Combat Training. Graduation then move down the street to MOS 74D CBRN Specialist AIT for 11 weeks. Another graduation then travel to airborne school at Fort Benning for the three week school.
In their planning they studied the Army’s Married Army Couple Program (MACP). They learned that they each have to submit written applications for that program while in AIT. Both will tell their AIT Drill Sergeants as soon as they arrive at AIT that they each have to submit an application for MACP. As “Future Soldiers” they will set up their AKO account (Army Knowledge Online), as soon as they have their ship date to basic training. Then as soon as they can get to a computer, after they are issued their military ID cards (now called Common Access Card) (CAC), they can set up their full access AKO account. That may be when starting AIT. Also in AIT they will go to the ASK (Assignment Satisfaction Key) on their AKO account and list their assignment preferences, the first being Fort Bragg. When their MACP packages are received and entered at Human Resource Command, they will be officially registered in the MACP, and considered for assignment jointly.
When their tentative assignments are listed on their AKO site, they will request a reporting date to their first assignment which allows them 10 days of leave after airborne school. Providing their reporting date allows it, their company commander in airborne school may approve up to 10 days leave before reporting to their unit. They will need the time to come home and get their cars and personal items and then arrive at Fort Bragg a few days before they have to report in. Fort Bragg always has on post family housing with “move in specials” immediately available, so they can get a house and arrange to get anything else they need before reporting in to their units. They plan to have sufficient savings, at that point to get whatever furniture they will need.
When they get married they will open a joint checking account. Along with birth certificates, marriage certificate, drivers licenses and original social security cards, they will take blank checks with them to process in to the Army. The military only pays by direct deposit. They will both be issued $350 debit cards to purchase necessary items. That money will be deducted from their first pay. The base pay in 2019 for a Private E-1 with under four months service is $1,554 per month and the military pays twice monthly. On the 1st and the 15th. Both would claim married with one dependent (themselves) on their W-4 when they process in, and assuming that they don’t take the full $400,000 Serviceman’s Group Life Insurance (SGLI), but only $200,000 each, after all deductions their net pay would be $659.56 per payday, with the $350 deducted from the first, after which each would have $659.56 deposited in their account twice monthly, or a total of $2,638.24 per month while in basic training. Shortly after arriving at AIT they would go over four months service, which would automatically increase their base pay to $1,680.90 per month. After 60 days in the Army they would automatically be enrolled in the Army’s Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), in which the soldier may contribute up to 3 percent of their base pay, which is matched by the government. So then, while in AIT even contributing three percent to the TSP, their net pay would be $679.94 per payday, or a total of $2719.76 per month.
They may or may not be advanced to Private E-2, whose base pay is $1,884.00 per month, at the end of AIT, but certainly when they arrive at their unit. Private First Class E-3, with a base pay of $1,981.20, would come within a month or two of their arrival. Married Army couples have another monetary advantage. They both receive Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), which is determined by the location. At Fort Bragg, the with dependent rate is $1,134 per month and the without dependent rate is $984 per month. A married Army couple with no children both receive the without dependent rate. Living in on-post housing, Buck’s BAH would go to pay for the house, which includes all utilities, lawn maintenance, and trash pickup, and Becky’s would be theirs to keep. Plus, not living in the barracks, each would be paid $369.39 per month for meals. That is Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS). BAH and BAS are not taxed, airborne (jump) pay is.
Both being Private E-2, with $150 extra airborne pay, and living in government family housing, Buck’s pay would be $997.63 per pay day or $1995.26 per month, while Becky’s would be $1,489.63 per pay day or $2,979.26 per month, making their combined take home pay $4,974.52 per month.
Assuming that they each are promoted to Private First Class E-3 within a year, and to Specialist at about 18 months, and leave the service after three years, they each would have around $5,000 in the Thrift Savings Plan which could be rolled into an IRA.
I made Buck and Becky airborne because that is the proudest unit in the Army, but if they were not airborne, jump pay is only $150 per month each. So, wherever they were assigned in whatever job their take home pay per month would still be $4,741.48.
So how does a young couple prepare to do this? GET IN SHAPE. Get in the best possible physical condition. Start running, doing pushups, situps, pullups, and lifting weights, not presses, dead weights from a squat that uses your whole body, and walk, in boots – army boots if you can get them – if not good lace up boots, and walk carrying a rucksack with increasing amounts of weight. Basic Combat Training is hard, prepare for it. Also in preparation, study for the ASVAB. It may be easy for you, but study anyway. We don’t know the future, so you should score as high as possible on that series of tests.
This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri January 23rd 2019.