Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Home Front

Most Americans are concerned about the safety and well-being of the troops in the two war theaters. The public is also (and finally) aware that some of the wounds the soldiers come home with are invisible but still need competent treatment. What most of us have forgotten, however, is that war also takes its toll on the families of those soldiers. In an op-ed piece in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Tanya Biank, an Army wife whose husband is currently on his second year-long rotation in Afghanistan after one in Iraq, lays out some unique problems that those who are left behind face.

Here's a message from the military home front: Our volunteers are tired and need hired help. While husbands (the U.S. military is 85 percent male) crisscross the ocean for second, third and even fourth tours in Iraq, military wives (the overwhelming majority of volunteers are wives) are burdened not only with running households, caring for children and holding down jobs, but also with assisting families of deployed soldiers.

Almost 30 percent of all Army wives volunteer in a formal capacity. We run quality-of-life programs and serve on boards that take hours of dedication. We are the liaison between the commander and the soldiers' families, we refer people to various resources like the Red Cross and military-sponsored programs, we raise money to support family programs and in our informal roles, we are on call 24 hours a day to help families deal with divorce, child abuse, suicide and bereavement. Our work is expected, underappreciated and often goes unnoticed.

To give you an example of the magnitude of volunteer service, for fiscal year 2005, volunteers with various family programs that the Army offers logged 632,897 hours of service. Our service to the Army is valued at more than $11 million.

But what happens when the most dedicated and experienced of military spouses say they are worn out?

Needless to say, in the Army, if your volunteers are overwhelmed, you've got a big problem. Military recruitment and retention levels are directly linked to spouses, who are often the deciding factor in whether a soldier reenlists or keeps a commission. If families are cared for and content, soldiers focus on their mission and are more likely to continue serving.

The Defense Department needs to set aside money in its budget to provide for more paid professional support.

At larger military installations, a pilot program with paid family readiness group assistants that took the administrative burden off volunteers has been successful. But the jobs are only funded a year at a time, and a consistent financing source is needed.

The Army should also consider starting a community pilot program that pairs deployed brigades with civilian clubs, organizations, businesses and schools willing to donate time to fundraising, baby-sitting and otherwise supporting the brigades' full-time volunteers.
[Emphasis added]

We have asked a lot of our soldiers. It seems only fair that US keep their end of the bargain in taking care of the soldiers' families. That the families themselves have had to take on the responsibilities of that care-taking in addition to coping with the problems caused by deployed spouses is outrageous and right out of the logic bending Alice in Wonderland world that charges soldiers for their armor.

Given the size of the Pentagon budget, surely monies can be found for Ms. Bianks' request, modest as it is. She is only asking the US to keep to the bargain. It's only fair.


Anonymous sister of ye said...

I'm afraid the only way Ms. Bianks will see funding is if the programs names are changed to Carlyle or Halliburton and someone funds them by mistake.

By the way, this is a great blog, even if I usually only get here when you blogwhore at Atrios' place.

So many good blogs, so little time...

7:03 AM  

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