Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Reflections of a Military Brat

Yesterday I heard a fascinating a story on NPR (co produced by Youth Radio) about young soldiers, sailors and Marines who are seeking to move up financially by getting married, in some cases to complete strangers. At first blush this idea seems bizarre and curious, but as Sophie Simon Ortiz points out describing one Marine's story:
By getting married, he would get a housing stipend and permission to move off base. And as his legal wife, she would get health coverage and a cut of his extra money. Benefits like these are standard throughout the U.S. military. Married service people can sometimes get more than 1,000 bucks extra every month to support their dependants. And spouses share some of the most comprehensive health benefits out there. At a time when more than 30% of young Americans are uninsured, that makes marriage look pretty good! Even if love's got nothing to do with it.
According to Ortiz, this trend is on the rise. And considering how little military service personal get paid, this sounds like a remarkably progressive arrangement!! Dr. Morton Ender, a sociology professor at West Point agrees :
If I were a commander and someone came to me and said, "Sir, I don’t necessarily love my spouse but we got married for financial reasons, " I don’t necessarily think a commander would have recourse against that. There’s not a rule in America that says (heterosexuals) can’t get married for financial reasons.
Now this got me thinking about my own experience growing up in the 1980's, son of a career Marine. Looking back it was a great childhood, being a military brat. Sure, we moved every three years, but that seemed normal. In fact, I find myself feeling a bit nostalgic as I recall what a good life it was. There were lots of advantages.

First of all, every post we lived on had a pool, golf course, tennis courts, gyms, soccer fields et al. Having safe and abundant places to play is an ideal environment for any kid to grow up in. Also, the Department of Defense provided my brother (Adam) and me with a first-rate primary school education. I went to school on base until 8th grade and recall being challenged academically that whole time. My classmates and I had access to top-flight facilities and equipment and we all enjoyed access to robust arts, athletic, and after-school programs.
I did after-school gymnastics, played soccer and was in the band. As I recall whenever the band would perform we'd usually do patriotic numbers and maybe one or two other tunes. One year, in 5th or 6th grade, we did a program which included the anthems of all four branches of the military followed with the theme from "Ice Castles" for the finale. How funny is that?

Anyway, there was also a strong focus on the emotional needs of "student-brats." For example, students whose fathers were deployed abroad got to join the "overseas club." The group would meet twice a week and have a chance to talk about how we were coping having Dad away from home. Military kids are a hearty and precocious bunch, mostly we coped just fine . But the idea that there were social workers there for us seems reassuring in retrospect. My Dad spent about 1/2 time overseas, usually in Okinawa, Japan or South Korea. All credit to my Mom who did an awesome job raising my brother and me while Dad was off defending the country. At least my parents never had to worry if Adam and I were getting a good education. They knew we were. Money couldn't have bought a better education. I am grateful for that. Afterall, my education was a teesny part of Ronald Reagan's Coldwar defense budget. That's your tax dime.

I suspect Mom and Dad also took great comfort knowing that if we got sick, we'd be covered. Growing up, healthcare was never a problem for my family. In fact, we were covered from head to toe: doctor visits and prescriptions, eyeglasses and contact lenses, full dental, hospitalization and even my braces were included! When my little brother was diagnosed with juevenile diabetes at age 6 my folks were able to focus on getting him the best care they could find without having to worry about how to pay for the care he needed. Can you imagine a health care package like that today? It seems inconceivable! My father earned these benefits with his service to the country of course, but it still seems like one helluva safety net.

Keep in mind I grew up during the Reagan Administration and (unlike George W. Bush today) it was an era when little expense was spared to accommodate the needs of Veterans, active duty servicemembers and their families. I believe my family managed to cope so well with the hardships like moving all the time and being sepatated because we were taken care of by the military village.

I certainly hope that President Bush will realize the moral and patriotic imperative of taking care of our men and women in uniform and their families and Veterans the way President Reagan in the old days. When I read stories like this of War Veterans losing benefits, it really bums me out. It makes me wonder if the "overseas club" even exits anymore.

I went to this school 4th-6th grade while my Dad was stationed at Parris Island, S.C. in the mid 80's.
Photo courtesy of the Department of Defense website.

Peace and Semper Fi


konopelli/WGG said...

Shorter Jay: It takes a camp...

ilona said...

What a great ode to your special childhood experience growing up in a military family. I share your concern that our military families receive the full support they deserve -- especially while their troop is deployed overseas.

Thanks for pointing me to this great piece in your comment over at PTSD Combat!

Anonymous said...

Military pilot who had sex with an 11 year old boy when he was 17 year-old virgin!!!
How long did he masterbate and think about having sex with this pre-pubescent child? In boot camp? Into his flight training? 20, 25 YEARS OLD??? OLDER???
"Creepy rotten grape attached to an otherwise normal bunch."