Although I knew nothing of military life until I married into it, I can say firsthand that there are so many amazing things that this life brings.
It has afforded opportunities that many in the world do not get. At the age of 30, I had already lived in seven different states and have managed to visit all but six. My children have experienced different cultures, tried unique foods, and made friends from all over the world. This life has built a solid foundation for my children to have open minds and be accepting of things that so many do fear. It has shown me a world I could have never imagined, growing up in a tiny one-stoplight town. It has allowed me to grow as not only a spouse, and mother but also as an individual.
After spending over a decade navigating through this life there are a few things I have noticed that have fallen short. Here are six ways the military is failing military families.
1. Education for Military Children
The average military family moves every two to three years. Moving states or even countries regularly. This puts a heavy burden on our children. For example, my oldest son has already been in six different schools and is only in the 6th grade. Each state has different standards and not all military installations have DODEA schools. Even those that do, there is a major transition when each child hits the prime school age and has to move to either middle or high school which is commonly located off the installation in the local public school system, often providing a different quality of education than they were previously receiving. Every state has standards that are different, and moving so frequently puts a huge strain on the education military children are receiving. It is very rare to find a child that is right on par with what they are learning at their new school. You will often find that military children are either behind or quite a bit further ahead after each move. Many times, children require IEP’s to catch up, or they must attend summer programs to make up credits for high school graduation they are required to have in the new state.
2. PCS Moving Companies “Taking Care” of your Life’s Possessions
Of course, the options are there when it comes to how your stuff gets moved. You can choose to do a full DITY move or have one of the many companies the military chooses to move your belongings to your future home. The fully DITY move was something we chose to do the first couple of times. But once you have added to your family and accumulated a lot of possessions, moving yourself is often no longer an option. Moving has become a major stress for most military families. It is difficult to find comfort in the companies that are supposed to take care of your life’s possessions. It is usually impressive when you come out on the other side of a PCS move with all your belongings accounted for or intact. Your life that is taped into hundreds of boxes could go missing or get destroyed only to be offered over a month later an amount of money that is usually laughable for replacement. The fast pace and lack of care a lot of these companies have with your life’s possessions is a major concern, but without other affordable options most families are stuck with playing that 50/50 lotto.
3. Lack of Affordable Childcare
This issue is one that is seen at just about every single military installation. It’s common to have waitlists over a year for the daycares on the installation. There are little to no affordable options that allow you to have a job that pays for more than the care you need for your children. Hourly care needs to be booked for weeks in advance. Mothers having doctor appointments they can not bring their children too are forced to cancel because they cannot afford care for their multiple children while their spouse is working. Fort Wainwright, Alaska is one of the only places I have seen a program at their hospital that gives support to those mothers. You drop your children off before your appointment and they give you a slip that the doctor has to sign and date. You bring that slip back and pick up your children only having to offer a tip if you can afford it. This was something that was praised and should be implemented at every military installation.
4. Family Friendliness
This one is clearly hit-and-miss depending upon where you are stationed and can cover a variety of subjects. There are some places that hit the ball out of the park. The MWR and other organizations put in time and effort to bring some of the best opportunities for families. Offering indoor playgrounds, laser tag, and community pools. My personal favorite is Fort Wainwright MWR offering Women of the Wilderness trips. These trips include paddle boarding, backpacking in the tundra, and ice climbing. Fort Stewart and Fort Benning having huge indoor playgrounds, and splash pads. Not to mention their outdoor recreational areas that offer fishing, boating, and swimming. But then you have some places that just miss the family friendliness train altogether, with limited summer recreation and random parks that are placed throughout the neighborhoods. Those places that offer activities are the places that most families enjoy being and would not mind going back to. For those places that really lack in this department, it is usually due to lack of funding, or no real concern for those families in their community.
This issue will get a variety of opinions thrown at it. Of course, this is your service member’s job. All deployments are something to be expected during the time of service. However, the way the deployments/rotations have morphed is an unstable train wreck of no stability once so ever. I think it is safe to say there are more than just a handful of people that would agree. Those yearlong deployments sucked…yes, they sucked more than anything…well, except for those rapid deployments and rotations of your service member leaving for 3-6-9 months to come home for 3-6-9 months only to leave again and again and again. Causing this wave of on-again-off-again family life. The reintegration period when your service member comes home is tough as it is. But doing it this many times so frequently can cause major issues. Not only with your marriage but with your children.
6. Parts of the Exceptional Family Member Program
EFMP has a point! Making sure your child or spouse has the proper care wherever you go next, and opening the window of treatments and care for your family to make sure their medical needs are well taken care of. But there are some issues when you are a family that is constantly uprooted from one side of the country to the other. You get doctors who take care of you for a couple of years, have surgeries, and get medication that works, only to move and get a doctor who decides to change things up. Finding the perfect doctor for your frequent visits only to stockpile a significant amount of debt because you are short their reimbursement mileage by 5 single miles. The hotel bills, meals, and gas alone on any person let alone a family of five can cause a huge burden.
All of these issues are things that military families struggle with and leave a profound impact on their lives! We can do better!