The picture you see above is $25.65 in quarters, dimes, and nickels. This is money my husband and I had to scrounge around the house for. Our sweet four year old daughter even pitched in to help us. Why did we have to scrounge for this change? Because two kids in diapers is expensive. Because feeding three very hungry and growing mouths is expensive. Because feeding two adults, a dog, and a cat is expensive. Because living on an E-5’s wage while in housing doesn’t stretch as far as so many would think. We needed milk, eggs, butter, bread, and some spices and in order to get those things we had to find any change we could. Because we have bills to pay and it’s not pay day.
Enlisted Military members with family are not rich. We are not rolling in money and the spouse is usually only able to work if you are willing/can afford to put your kids in daycare or if they’re already in school (or if you simply don’t have any children). Well, maybe if your spouse works one of the more normal jobs. Mine is a cook. He’s working with a different unit now which is why he’s on night shift, but he is a Culinary Specialist in the Navy. Cooks have some of the worst hours (right next to nukes and engineers) so they are gone a lot. And I’m not talking about deployment right now. For the longest time, especially while I was working, I felt like I hardly ever saw my husband and our children had an emotional breakdown everytime he left the house. There were times he went days without seeing them because he left before they woke up and came home after they went to bed.
“But you get free medical and stuff like that, that makes up for it.” Oh yes, free medical is great and all, but the quality of care we get isn’t always good. We do not get free dental, the active duty member does, but not his family. In fact, their dental “coverage” is horrible. Vision coverage isn’t so good either and my son and I both need glasses. “You live in housing, so you don’t have to pay bills. I bet you’ve got some extra cash.” We don’t pay for utilities/water/trash/sewage, but the reason we don’t pay those is because housing takes the extra money away. If we didn’t live in housing we would have that “extra” money for those bills and to help with food. We still have to pay for cable/internet if we want those things and we don’t have that help with food costs.
We are a family of five with two pets on a single income with no government assistance. We are barely keeping our heads above the water. I want to go back to work, but in order for me to do that we would need to put our kids in daycare. I am not willing to do that. The cost alone is outrageous, but what’s worse is the sanitation at these places is so below sub-par. Over crowded and understaffed to boot. We have no familial support out here and our friends have busy lives of their own (not to mention we can’t afford to pay them).
“Well, you went out for coffee twice in two weeks. Sounds like you can’t be that bad off.” Yes, I did go out for coffee last week and the week before. Wanna know the last time I went out for coffee before that? Honestly, I can’t even remember. This has not been a regular thing. This is a very recent development because I am drowning at home and I need time to get away. Grocery shopping doesn’t really count as getting away.
I am not writing this to gain sympathy. We will be fine. We will figure shit out. No, I’m writing this because it is a common misconception that military members and their families are sitting pretty in their coops. Officers and their families maybe, but not enlisted. Not when you have a family. The work enlisted members do is pathetically underpaid and underappreciated. My husband’s daily struggle is having to go against his instincts by putting the military before his family. For him it’s torture. He has missed so much because of the military so the comforts we’re afforded (medical coverage, housing privileges, etc.) come with a high cost.