Army National Guard Special Forces is a unique, often misunderstood component of the military. These units are a well-utilized, effective force, but are threatened by current policy on generating orders and timing of compensation. In turn, families, like mine, are subject to a financial hardship not experienced by the active duty components.
This continued financial strain drives many conversations within the four walls of the home on whether to stay in or get out. It is a dirty little secret in our circle — one that is not discussed in public forums, but absolutely must be addressed as it threatens family readiness and troop retention.
Our military life
We have been a National Guard family since 2004. My husband has almost 19 years of active-duty service, with the majority of that time spent in the Guard. There have been many blessings and wonderful people along the way, but the financial struggle imposed by this lifestyle has left a lasting mark on us.
Special Forces operators have a significant time commitment for training, schools and deployments, which is far from the “part-time soldier” stigma that we fight so hard against. It truly is a full-time job with less pay. And if you speak to any team sergeant, he would concur that time spent in that position is full-time with daily responsibilities and obligations, but only compensation for official drill time.
In the past five years, there have been three years in which my husband was home for a total of four weeks during the calendar year. While this was not solely due to deployments, it was time that was required for training, schools, deployments and JCET.
Barriers to civilian employment
The intensive time requirement to maintain mission-ready status has prevented my husband and his teammates from securing civilian employment. Missed interviews, or news of upcoming deployments, quickly changes the conversation and becomes another dead lead. This lack of civilian employment then compounds the problem as operators look for military schools or opportunities to get back on orders, not because they want to leave again, but because the mortgage is due.
Decorated men who are heroes in war are left seeking work in fields they are grossly overqualified for, such as bartending or Uber, to provide for their families in between orders. This is wrong on so many levels. Our family moved to our current home five years ago with the intention that my husband would be able to secure civilian employment and we could live a “normal” family while he continued his commitment with the National Guard. Despite his college education and impressive resume, this has not happened for us.
Time for a bigger conversation
I am employed as a physician assistant and make a good living. For a while, I thought our struggles were due to our choices, our fault. Eventually, last year I left my ego at the door and started to speak with other families and found that they, too, are experiencing this same hardship — not only in our state but other states as well. Things need to change and it starts with communication.
Fifteen years as a military spouse, and it was only recently that I met key people in our state — at a Yellow Ribbon Event — who could have saved us from so many crisis situations. Knowing who you can call is paramount. As an example, I have driven away from a pharmacy window leaving medication behind because I did not know our TRICARE lapsed or status changed based on how the orders were created. Another family received medical bills from a foreign country when her husband was hospitalized there on a military assignment. His orders were generated in less than 30-day increments, so it was not covered by TRICARE while deployed. If these types of insurance issues happened once, I would regard it as an honest mistake. But this happens several times a year for many households.
Orders created for less than 30 days for schools or assignments that exceed that time period create financial hardship for families. Waiting 30 days for a LES until the orders are satisfied, and losing hundreds of dollars due to BAH Type II is significant. This also makes establishing a budget for a National Guard household a nightmare. An excerpt from The Balance Careers offers a layman explanation of the allowance:
Guard and Reserve members on active duty for less than 30 continuous days receive a different type of housing allowance than active duty members. This type of housing allowance is known as Basic Allowance for Housing, Type II, and pays less, on average than Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) Type I, which is based upon a member’s rank, dependency status and location of assignment.
BAH Type II, on the other hand, is not dependent upon the location of assignment. It is the same regardless of where the National Guard/Reserve member is stationed. It does differ based on the rank of the military member. National Guard and Reserve military personnel who are on active duty for 30 days or longer receive BAH Type I, the same housing allowance received by active duty members.
Why is BAH type I not pro-rated as many of the other special pays are? Why do we have to wait until orders are fulfilled before receiving pay?
It is not the separation from our spouses that brings us to the breaking point because we are strong, independent women; rather, it is the financial strain and the worry of how to provide for our family when we feel that we continue to do “all the right things.” We are seeking fair and timely compensation for the work and sacrifice our soldiers are giving. These men are driven by love of country and love for their comrades, so it is heartbreaking to have a discussion of whether to retire or continue based on if we can afford his “Army habit.”
Our family’s plan has always been based on the idea to stay in the Guard at least 30 years, but the reality now is that I’m just not sure. Losing experienced, skilled operators because of these reasons is a travesty. We can and must do better for our Guard families. It’s time to start the conversation.Read comments