Photo courtesy of flickr user Mantaya.
Most families experience up to 12 months of absence from a military family member on deployment.
Concern is abundant in any service member before they are deployed; they may feel anxious about what is in their future, on a base several hundred miles from home, and they may feel lonely or restless once they have been stationed and away from their family. However, few consider the emotional aspects of that family that no longer has a parental figure in the house.
According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, 43% of active duty members have at least one child at home. Younger children may travel to and live in foreign countries for extended periods of time, or go years without seeing one of their parents, which is an experience unique to military sons and daughters. To gain an insight into how this can affect childhood and adolescence, Sharon Dodson gave her own unique perspective on this, as she was the daughter of Air Force Commanding Officer Roger Brockhoff.
“When we were really young and he would leave for extended periods of time, he would come back and we wouldn’t really recognize him,” she said, “but that’s really just part of having a military dad.” Her father’s attitude also molded her own mannerisms to reflect what the military taught him. “You learn a lot about discipline and a respect for authority. We lived on a military base in Germany, and one time my brother and I rode our bikes down to the local village. We went down into the stables and fed some horses, but got caught by some other Air Force pilots. Our father wasn’t too happy about that, but it was a chance to learn, and understand respect for your superiors and elders.”
However, there are some definite downsides to living on a military base. “The medical and dental benefits simply weren’t good enough” says Dodson, “and, since we lived on a base around the same time as the conflict in Vietnam, there were a lot of very inexperienced doctors and nurses at our hospital. You were better off going to get care off base, into a local town, but that took time and energy that some people don’t have.”
However, much of that seems to have changed over the years. Today, medical care is provided to military members and their families through a program called TRICARE, which assigns a primary care manager that handles the whole family’s medical records and can refer them to any specialist if needed. According to the United States Naval Institute, the amount of money put into a military member’s pay and health care has risen 90% since 2001, and the retired veterans system is on track to spend $2.7 trillion by the year 2034. The nation’s budget has adjusted significantly to favor our service members, especially those in high command.
“For a commanding officer, like my dad, veteran benefits were great” says Dodson, “much better than those that didn’t have a high ranking.”
The biggest advantage that can come about on a military base was already in effect; being married. Married couples get better benefits and amenities than anyone else on a base, so it’s no wonder why Marine Corp Member Alex Bernth looks forward to his own wedding this summer.
“You get your own apartment, no longer have to have a roommate, more space, and you’re away from the barracks,” Bernth told me, “so you don’t have to live where you work any more. Otherwise, it's basically like living with your coworkers 24/7. Getting to go to an actual home at the end of the day is much better.”
There’s also a lot of great opportunities for the wife that lives there. “They don’t have to worry about rent or utilities anymore, because the base covers all of that. They don’t need to worry as much about sustainable income, because the husband’s check is coming in every 2 weeks. There’s also free memberships to gyms and discounts for restaurants.” These are all things that single military members have to put their paychecks towards, and Bernth looks forward to the comforts that will come at a lower cost.
However, there will always be some dissent from others who don’t agree with the benefits being married provides. “I’ve ran into some guys who think getting married while still serving isn’t worth it,” says Bernth, “but a lot of them are just saying that from an outsider perspective. They’ve see marriages that go bad, and assume that’s the way they will all end up.”
If there’s anything the troops can overcome, though, it's the opinions others have about the challenges they will face.
“You can’t be afraid of being a family member at a military base” says Dodson. “You learn to entertain yourself and others. There’s a great feeling of community, and because of that, there will always be someone there for you.”
Truly, being a military family comes with enormous responsibility and a position unique in this country. However, it comes with a lot of people willing to provide and support; the service member, the military itself, and the families surrounding you.