Being married to someone in the military often brings with it stress from being separated. This is particularly true to the newly wed couple we discussed in the last article. The stress can often be compounded by the low military pay level for newly enlisted members and the prospect of going through pregnancy and delivery on your own. The communication networks set-up by Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) Radio Network in the Middle East with VOIP and “Help Our Troops Call Home” program have made things a lot better, but it is still a long war for both the soldier and the wife left behind.
In the battle zone the husband faces the realities and horrors of war. The pressure is on 24-7, except for brief periods of R & R between missions. At home the wife deals with the pregnancy and making ends meet, but even with housing and dependent allowance it would be a challenge for the most mature and seasoned marital relationship to get by under these conditions.
Eventually the war tour ends and the soldier returns home to the warm welcomes we have seen on TV, but now new challenges face the average young couple. The soldier has mentally aged and might even have the onset of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The wife has learned to live independently. The couple now has to struggle with learning to communicate all over again and find intimacy, which might be awkward at best. If they are successful bridging those barriers and finally get settled in, many find that the next deployment is just around the corner.
This cycle is often repeated over and over for the entire enlistment period, and for many a soldier, the struggle with PTSD increases with each deployment. At the end of the line for this enlistment period, a decision must be made on re-enlistment or “going civilian”. Either choice builds-in complexity to a relationship which might be tenuous at best.
Re-enlistment might mean more deployments, but “time and grade” will more than likely mean promotion and more money. With re-enlistment the family has the assurance of military benefits which includes medical and dental coverage, PX privileges, and a support community of those in similar circumstances. Going civilian offers the opportunity of school and employment at far more money than military pay, and freedom from the disciplined structure of military life and the prospect of more deployments.
The choice is not an easy one, particularly if elements of post traumatic stress disorder have begun to appear. The job market in the US has ballooned to nearly 10% unemployment, and even to keep those jobs, there might not be time to go back to school to take advantage of those GI education benefits. Without PX privileges, will the income go as far? Would the private employment package include medical and dental coverage? These are concerns that require the agreement of both husband and wife, and what if that communication barrier mention above, hasn’t been totally bridged?
The decision is not easy. In the next article we’ll look at what’s down the road regarding both options.