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Military Wives Deserve More Respect From Inside the Military Community

April 11, 2011

*cross posted from Wife During Wartime*

There’s no denying that the budget crisis which almost resulted in a government shutdown and a stopping of military pay was ugly, and unnecessary. But the stress of that situation exposed some of the vitriolic scorn and derision that military wives face from within the military community as well as outside of it.

After all, the stereotype of the military wife as a lazy, money grubbing, high maintenance woman who stays home and spends all her soldier’s money while not lifting a finger in work that is so pervasive in the civilian community came from military culture itself. Oh and the wives are always described as overweight “cows”, “pigs” or other animals too, because we all know in American culture there is absolutely no greater marker of worthlessness than to be overweight.

Is it part of the overall misogyny of the military culture or does it reflect something deeper, a real hatred of the poor that is entrenched in US culture. I say Army or military ” wives” in particular in this piece because male spouses are largely left out of the scathing statements heaped upon military wives.

As soon as military wives, particularly those with deployed husbands, started to voice their concerns about how they would get by if soldiers did not get paid the derision started. On blogs, on Facebook, and all over the Net the comments flew fast and furious about how military wives would have to get jobs, stop spending their husband’s money on designer bags and other trinkets. And the smug, self righteous comments about how these wives should have saved money for emergencies were everywhere. Totally unsympathetic rants saying essentially that Army wives deserved to get their possessions repossessed or their utilities shut off because they live paycheck to paycheck.

Was some of this class related? Well sure, there will always be some paternalism and classicism on the part of officers and their families looking down on “those enlisted schmucks” and judging them for how they spend their paychecks, how many kids they have, and so on. But what I witnessed last week when we all thought that no military members were going to get paid was an all out assault on the wives left at home while their husbands fight overseas, and it was appalling. How can we expect the public to sympathize and empathize with what military wives go through when we show through example that it’s ok to attack them, castigate them, and judge them?  The wives of the deployed are already under a huge amount of stress, why are we adding to that by treating them so poorly?

I find it incredibly ironic that our husbands are overseas fighting for the rights of the oppressed, including fighting for the right of women among cultural attitudes that proclaim killing a woman to restore a man’s honor is not only ok, it’s necessary while here at home Army wives/ military wives face the same kind of oppression. The “honor ” of their soldiers depends on how the wives act at home while they are away. How they dress, who they talk to, where they go are all under scrutiny and reflect on the soldier. They are not supposed to speak out or give their opinions or say anything critical of the military or they risk hurting his career. And this oppression is perpetuated by other women, who tell women like me all the time to be careful what we say since everything we do reflects on our soldiers.  Wives at home are viewed with suspicion by husbands overseas who fear coming home to an empty house and empty bank account, a fear that I have found to be nearly universal among deployed soldiers who have wives waiting at home but when I press for details I have not found  single soldier who could name one person he actually knows who had that happen to him. It’s always a “friend of a friend” or a ” guy I heard about.”

We can’t expect the government to make military pay  or military issues a priority, or expect the civilian world to empathize with our problems and help us make the changes that need to be made when we can’t even be sympathetic to other military wives and accept those that are different from us.  And we all do it. I did it yesterday. But somehow we have to figure out a way to stop attacking military wives and be more tolerant of each other and more supportive. The military community is one of the most diverse in the nation, because there are people from all over the world and spouses from different cultures at every post. And we’re all facing the same issues and the same problems. We should be working together to support each other, not sniping at each other and judging each other and adding stress to the shoulders of already stressed out wives who are just trying to get through deployments and military life with sanity and soul intact. The change has to start with us, and slowly it will filter through culture in general. Hopefully it can spread as quickly as the anger, the derision, and the scorn that already exists did.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. April 11, 2011 7:30 pm

    I think that as adult’s we’re responsible for having a back-up. I think that it’s just smart to having a savings. However, I’m guilty of not having a savings or always choosing to put money away over purchasing a new TV or Computer. On the other hand, I felt embarrassed that the majority of the posts I saw on the issue wasn’t about the principle of not paying the soldier down range but about the fact that “we can’t feed our family” or ” my baby needs diapers”. In all fairness, this is currently a time in my life where I’m lucky enough to have a savings and if all else failed I have a credit card- to buy food or diapers (as the example stated- I don’t personally have kids).

    I also don’t think it’s necessary for people within or outside the military community to say they should have had their belongings repo’d- that’s just hateful and unnecessary.

  2. April 11, 2011 8:30 pm

    I agree that people should try to have savings or some kind of back up, but that presupposes a wage that allows that to be possible. Military families use food stamps at nearly TWICE the rate of civilians. More than 24 million dollars in food stamps were collected at commissaries in 2008, before the worst of the recession. How are those families supposed to save if they can’t afford food? Promotions are entirely dependent on a soldier’s command. If a soldier gets stuck in a bad command they can sit without being promoted for years, meaning their wages are not commensurate with their skills. Soldiers very often could make a lot more money becoming contractors or working at civilian jobs but they choose to stay in the service to help the country. Their families shouldn’t be berated for their sacrifice, and neither should they be judged for not putting any money into savings.

  3. April 11, 2011 8:54 pm

    Also, what people seem to have forgotten during all of this is that it’s not always the soldier’s fault, or his wife’s fault. When DH and I got married it was six months before we started getting his BAH. Six months. Because one person in his command didn’t sign one form, and no one would lift a finger to correct the mistake. Could you go for six months without a major chunk of income? Now at that point I had been a freelancer, supporting myself, for five years and I had a decent savings socked away but we went through that in less than two months because I had to pay for the first months rent/deposit/pet deposit for the apartment, the utility deposits, all the assorted costs of moving, and I had to pay for his commuting costs. I had savings, and we were still broke, because of the Army red tape. When you move every 18-24 months you spend a lot of money even when your household goods are moved for you, that can make it tough to save. Red tape and other people’s mistakes can make it difficult to save but automatically the blame is always placed on soldier or his spouse.

  4. April 12, 2011 2:17 am

    As wifeduringwartime points out, it isn’t always the soldier/family’s fault… you are NOT always in control of what happens to your pay. Not wanting to insult the admin folk who ARE capable and professional, (THANK YOU!), but I have to say, when I was active duty I was often not impressed with the skills or basic education of many of the HR folk who handled my important documents. The military could probably save everyone a lot of grief and cost if they made sure that ALL of those handling the finances of our military personnel, are actually capable of doing so. Tighten those standards! (I’m grinding my teeth just thinking of all the times I had to redo and resubmit paperwork because of stupid errors on the part of HR!).

    We are older, and better paid civilians now, with savings. We have back-up, we have savings, we have good credit. We can handle not being paid (fiscally… my attitude though… ) Many young military families cannot skip paychecks!

    Speaking of young soldiers… Basic training ought to include a serious course on banking, saving, credit cards, buying cars, etc. I enlisted at 17yo, but I had already had a job for a couple of years. I had a checking and savings account, paid taxes, worked in retail so I understood credit cards, and while I hadn’t bought my own car, I was responsible for gas, insurance and maintenance of the car my parents let me use. Many of the soldiers I met in Basic, AIT, and my follow-on units, had never had a job, or had a bank account… nothing!! At 17yo, I was counseling my peers about writing checks and balancing their accounts. That counseling of the un-trained was a CONSTANT job for me through the years… and I was shocked at the incredibly foolish things I saw ignorant kids doing. When these ignorant ‘kids’ got married young, the ignorance was multiplied by two. Starting off ignorant is not a shameful thing… that’s LIFE! When you’re young, you learn; as you age, you teach. We must learn somewhere and not all parents are capable of teaching. Staying ignorant, or not doing what you can to help others move beyond that ignorance is shameful.

    As an NCO, I had to deal with spouses who would call me when they ran out of groceries, their hubby deployed, and they didn’t have access to the checking account to go shopping. I had to teach a number of spouses how to drive so they could GET to the store, or the bank, or to the doctor! I was never angry at the spouses… I’d get mad at the deployed soldier for not making arrangements because honestly, I did not mind helping or training. I just hated being called in the middle of the night by spouses in tears because they were at the end of their rope and didn’t know who to turn to. (I was told a number of times that they called me simply because I was one of the few female names on the unit roster). siiiigh….

    Most family support groups I encountered, were NOT very supportive. They were all about raising money to host an easter egg hunt, but mention holding a basic financial class regarding entitlements and responsibilities, for soldiers and family members, or try to organize a spouse-run group that could be self-sufficient outside the grasp and control of the command, and I’d be shut down (btw, I had this issue as the NCOIC of the FSG in 3 units!).

    As the article mentions… rather than tear down, we need more building up. One of the best ways to start that is to foster an atmosphere that encourages boat rockers, whiners, and complainers… even the loud ones or the ‘never pleased’. If you do not hear what the problems and gripes are, you cannot even begin to fix them.

  5. April 12, 2011 6:19 am

    You’re right. As it’s been mentioned, we’re sometimes at the mercy of some admin, or even the computer system. Like right now, we’re waiting on travel pay because the system was down before my husband had to leave on a TDY trip. In the meantime, that money for travel comes out of our household budget. Sure there are gov’t travel cards, but guess who’s responsible when the military doesn’t settle travel pay on time? We are.

    You can just never assume someone’s situation. Look at all of the soldiers who are probably just joining the military after being unemployed for months, even years because it was the only place they could earn some sort of living to help support their families, among other stories.

    But really, forget the money. It’s the principle. When push came to shove, our politicians were going to leave the military community out to dry. Our soldiers are the ones fighting their wars. Those politicians were still going to get paid while our deployed soldiers got shot at for free until the budget issue was resolved. THAT is the real issue. The politicians need to be the FIRST ones to not get paid. No one else is getting rich serving the country except those in Congress.

  6. libarmywife permalink
    April 12, 2011 8:01 am

    After 9/11, husband was a National Guardsman – and was doing Active Guard work. I was in school, and working some part time jobs. The guy at the unit – screwed up the pay for 7 weeks. That’s a lot of time and money – and we were getting the You owe the Army Credit Card letters and phone calls at the same time! Savings were being used up for mortgage, food, electric bills – and all we kept getting from the unit clerk was ….. Oh, I had a doctor appointment, or I had car problems – he couldn’t GET the fact that without his input, no pay was going to be released.

    I remember, vividly, living payday to payday – floating cheques to buy diapers! a day’s delay in pay made us very nervous and we didn’t have a big TV or a fancy car. We were overseas, no jobs for spouses, no possibility to make some extra cash.

    Now some of the hysteria was silly – yes. The “we will get evicted” and “our electricity will be turned off” etc.. very silly.

  7. April 12, 2011 8:07 am

    wow look at the great comments! Thanks everyone for your thoughtful input, it’s great! I know a lot of companies said that they would work with military families if the shutdown happened, which is great. I contacted some of the companies we do business with and they were all incredibly helpful, especially Progressive who we have car insurance through who had a supervisor call me personally to assure me that Progressive would never cancel our insurance during a period when we were not getting paid. AT&T was also extremely helpful. But, some friends here at Fort Campbell reported that the local utility company, when contacted about people paying bills late and such, said that they were not responsible for soldiers not getting paid and anyone who didn’t pay their bill on time would have their service cut off just like any other customer. I don’t know if it’s just this post or what but people here seem distinctly unfriendly towards the military.

  8. April 13, 2011 12:09 am

    Don’t get me wrong I know full well how the military can screw over a family in regards to pay and how things take time… I was raised in a military household and run a military household now, as my husband is active army, deployed to Afghanistan (on his 4th deployment). I get that things happen. But I also know that at no point in my life has my family received food stamps. So I know it’s doable if the military ensures one is paid properly to manage a household’s funds without requiring government aid.

    I was pissed last week that my husband wouldn’t receive hazard duty pay while in Afghanistan. And while I don’t love the “suck it up” mentality we’re often forced to adopt it’s what gets me through. I accepted long ago the military will screw us from time to time… it’s a fact of life. Life isn’t fair and neither is the military… but I chose to marry a soldier so I knew what I was getting into. I found that acceptance is key to my mental stability.

    I just think it was the principle of not paying the soldiers down range that was most upsetting. Even though I do have a mortgage to cover without BAH (since we were PCS’d to Germany and couldn’t sell our house in this economy)and other financial obligations.

  9. April 13, 2011 6:00 am

    So because you married a soldier you foresaw that Congress (not the military, Congress, they are separate in case you didn’t know) would use soldier pay as a bargaining chip to push either for or against the spending cuts that the GOP wanted depending on what side of the aisle the reps were on? Well dear, with that kind of psychic ability you shouldn’t have any trouble paying your mortgage, you should be able to give psychic readings to make up the difference.

  10. April 13, 2011 2:22 pm

    I don’t think stating my opinion on an open forum is worthy hateful or sarcastic rebuttals. I may have an unpopular opinion, but that doesn’t automatically make it invalid or uneducated.

  11. April 13, 2011 2:25 pm

    Didn’t say it was invalid. But, when you speak up on the Internet you are inviting commentary. It’s not always going to be the kind you want.

  12. April 13, 2011 5:58 pm

    Ditto… It’s nicer to be nice than it is to be mean. I

  13. Cindy-Cope-Denton permalink
    May 17, 2012 9:19 am

    I was 19 years old and two months pregnant when my husband SSGT. Robert Anthony Denton from Wichita Falls ,Texas was drafted. I worked and lived with my parents. My allotment was $100.00 a month. I was never on Food Stamps and if not for my parents I could not provide a home for myself and my baby. I resent the disrespect because my husband gave his life for his Platoon to be saved. He chose to fight for Our Country.He was offered a chance to go to Canada and would not accept it. He was in the fire base 11/2 days. I didn’t even receive his first letter before I was notified he was killed. He had not even been in Vietnam for two weeks when he was killed. Please Stop disrespecting Our Military and the wives.

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