This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri December 4th 2019. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.
One the most common arguments I hear, against enlisting in the Army, is “I don’t want to leave my family”. That is a valid argument, I cut my Army career short to spend the last years of my Dads life with him.
Family, for young people getting married and starting life, is you and your wife or husband, and it grows as the kids come along. You go visit his family or her family, but your family is your family. Baxter Black once wrote that there are two kinds of people in the world. Those who do what they have to do to live where they want to live. That applies to many people here. Those who live where they have to live to do what they want to do. That includes soldiers.
For young couples, in love, who are still in high school, and expect to get married sometime after high school, I encourage you to consider the Army. Some will both try to get as good a job as possible, rent a one bedroom apartment, and start life. For some, both will try to go to college before marriage, and some will get married, one will work while the other goes to college. In last week’s article I mentioned that a married Private in the Army living in family housing, on post, has a take home pay of over $2,000 per month, which considering a free house with all utilities and free health care, translates to the equivalent of a civilian salary of around $45,000 per year. If both are in the Army, they are taking home around $4,500 per month. That is a take home pay of $54,000 a year, plus the free house and free health care.
I don’t discount young love. Love is love, without regard to age. I have written before, that there were 52 of us who graduated high school in my class in May 1961. Eleven married each other or someone one class up or one class down. All but one couple stayed together as long as they lived, and that couple separated late in life after their children were grown.
Over the past 60 years the Army has transformed from, “if the army wanted you to have a wife, they would issue you one”, to a total family orientated organization. The Army is family.
I was a Sergeant when we married, six months later I went to Vietnam, and Betty moved back in with her parents. Three years later, I went back to Vietnam, and we were able to rent the house next door to her parents. Our oldest, Sara, was born while I was on leave before leaving for Vietnam. Betty has said often since, that she wished that she had stayed at Fort Bragg with the other army wives. Her mother didn’t understand why she didn’t get a letter every day, or why it took two to three weeks to get an answer, and she heard, “you poor thing”, way too often. During Vietnam, the Army had an insane individual replacement policy where units stayed in country, and replacements rotated in and out on one year tours. Units were continually losing experience and gaining inexperience. If the soldier lived in family housing on post, the family had to move out when the soldier was reassigned to Vietnam, although many of us came back to the same post.
By the early 1980’s, the percentage of married soldiers had sky rocketed and families became a serious issue. Family Readiness Groups started forming, which consisted of the spouses of the unit’s soldiers. They had meetings, but they really didn’t have their running legs yet. Then came September 11th 2001. Units immediately started gearing up to deploy, and the wives wanted to know, “what is going on, and what is going to happen?” Now, starting with Iraq and Afghanistan, complete units, that have trained together for months, deploy together. If the family lives in family housing, on post, they can stay there because it is not a reassignment, just a temporary unit deployment.
Every company in the Army now has a Family Readiness Group (FRG). A company is the basic unit in the Army, commanded by a captain. All soldiers are assigned to a company. The FRG’s are command sponsored, which means that the company commander is responsible for seeing that the FRG exists and is working. It is operated by the unit spouses. The wife of the commander is often the FRG leader and there are committees and projects, all volunteer. The FRG meets at least once monthly, and in many units’ single soldiers are invited to attend, along with the husbands. They are kept informed about upcoming training and possible deployments. During deployments, they are kept up to date on all non-classified information about what their soldiers are doing.
If you want to get married after high school, the Army is a great start in life. If both of you plan to enlist, get married before you enlist. There are over 20,000 married army couples. There is the Married Army Couple Program (MACP), which you both have to apply for while in AIT (Advanced Individual Training). The only rare occurrence’s when an Army couple is not assigned together, is when one or both have rare, weird jobs in remote locations, other than that they are always assigned together. If only he is going to enlist, get married before he enlists, otherwise you miss out on thousands of dollars.
So, this story is about being an Army family, particularly about being an Army wife. One wife wrote, “Whether you come from a big family, a small family or no family at all, rest assured that you just joined the biggest family in America. Really. Your family is now more than a million strong – Army strong. There is no black, white, brown, red or yellow in the Army – just Green. It doesn’t matter if you’re from the north, south, east or west, educated or not so much, fresh out of high school or edging towards retirement. I come from a big, tight-knit, family – and I love my family – but more than once I’ve cut short my visits “home” to go back to my Army home because I needed the support and understanding only my ‘Big Green Machine’ family could provide. My Army wife sisters were my newborn daughter’s first hospital visitors, they met her months before her own father did. They opened their arms wide to me when I told them my dad was dying of cancer. They sent flowers to his funeral. They’ve helped me pack, clean and hold yard sales. They’ve, quite literally, picked me up when I was too weak to stand on my own. And they have laughed with me – oh, how they have laughed with me. We have watched each other’s babies grow, sometimes from afar, and we have shared so much of each other’s lives that the word ‘friend’ is simply not enough anymore. We are family.” Another wife wrote, “Being part of the Army Wife community is amazing. You can have immediate, life-long friends who will come to your aid at any time. Seriously, they will be there in their pajamas at 2 am if need be. You have a sense of community within hours of arriving at a new destination. You live among some of the strongest and most dedicated people in the world, and despite differences of opinion, rank, or economic situation, you band together in an emergency. Why wouldn’t you want to be part of that group?” Another wrote about moving on post, “We had this crazy idea of moving on post and after being here for 2 months, I can honestly say it has exceeded our expectations. We love living here. It’s such fun to drive down the street on any given evening and have to creep along because entire families are out on the sidewalks and in the street talking and playing together. I’m thrilled when my good friend says, “I’m out walking and I’ll be at your house in a few minutes. Want to continue on a walk with me?”
I’m not suggesting that it’s all kumbaya, deployments are harder on the wives than the soldiers, and they don’t get easier, just more experienced. Army wives have to do a lot on their own, without their husband, which makes the FRG’s a great, valuable organization. During deployments or long field training trips, the FRG wives look out for each other, if one gets sick, others help with the kids, clean the kitchen, or whatever. Army wives also have to learn a new language. The Army speaks in acronyms, PCS, AKO, ETS, TDY, DFAC, and the list is endless, after a time, their civilian friends won’t understand them.
The negative comments from wives were primarily about deployments, and the husband soldier being away from the family so much. That is the down side. In my research, to my surprise, I found one thing that a majority of the wives mention as one of the things they loved about being an Army wife. The Military Ball. Almost every unit has at least one Army Ball once a year. One wife wrote, “Most people get to go to the prom once, maybe twice in their lifetimes. We get to go every year. And there’s booze. And decent food. And we can slow dance without being separated by a chaperone, and we’re even encouraged to get a hotel room. Military balls give us excellent reasons to go shopping, get our hair and nails done, and have our pictures taken with our spouses. Or, if nothing else, to give the yoga pants a night off.
Next week I’ll talk about health care and housing.