When Uncle Sam Calls

What impact does military deployment of a parent have on a family? The United States has fought many wars in the past, but the most recent efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have disrupted families in ways that were not typical in past deployments. The majority of soldiers did not come through a draft of young men. In the Vietnam and Korean Wars, the average soldier spent less than a year overseas and was a young recruit or draftee. In Iraq, much of the burden has fallen on older reservists, National Guardsmen—family men and women (Skipp, Ephron, & Hastings, 2006). As the recent war winds down and deployed family members return home, the Arrendos’ experience will be common across the nation.

Photo 1.2   Family members serving in the military leave more than emotional voids behind them.


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The Arrendos (name changed for privacy) agreed to share their experience with our readers. Kathy and Mike were young professionals with two small children, ages 2 and 3, when Mike was called to duty. Kathy shares how her needs and resources changed during the course of her husband’s absence. Payne’s (1998) five resource categorizations are used as a framework for understanding.

Financial Resources

My husband’s income increased through deployment. He made more money as a major than he was making as a civilian. Our expenses changed, also, with his absence. He was not spending money and was no longer part of the budget for food, clothing, gasoline, and entertainment. I continued to work, and with both of our incomes and this decreased spending, we were able to accumulate a large savings account.

This situation is much different than in previous wars, when young men entered the service at much lower pay rates and, if married, their wives were usually not professional, career women, so money was often tight for those military families. Kathy shared her discomfort initially in this situation.

I met many military wives in a support group. They were in similar economic situations and their spending was unbelievable. I think I tried hard not to increase spending with our savings goal in mind. Some spending, I believe, is tied to emotions. When I was feeling angry about our situation, I spent money. As the savings account grew, I relaxed a little and spent a little more on myself—haircuts, dining out, clothing, and makeup. Other wives were remodeling their entire homes, buying new homes, and getting new vehicles. When my husband returned, we went on a bit of a spending spree, and we don’t feel the same financial pressures we did before we accumulated the savings account.

Not all military families experience such increased financial resources. However, without the draft, enlistment demands have changed the level of incentives currently offered.

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