Category Archives: Ethics in America

Shutdown Blues II — The First 48 Hours

In October 2013 I wrote a post about the government shutdown and the negative impact it had on my community.  Although it was frightening and infuriating at the time, my family wasn’t impacted financially, and eventually I came to look back on it as a temporary discomfort, a bee sting.  Our paychecks arrived on time, we didn’t end up going without anything, and we were mildly inconvenienced.  Other people were not so lucky.  Those tagged as “non-essentials” were put on furlough, and those required to work without pay likely experienced long term negative effects that went unacknowledged.

Now it has happened again, and I am suddenly feeling this unique and devastating variety of angst so easily forgotten after 2013.  I appreciate the outpouring of support from those not directly impacted by the shutdown, who are outraged that the government would once again use its own employees and the military community as pawns in a selfish political game.  However, I’ve also noticed the absence of personal stories on my social media feed about how the shutdown is affecting fellow military families.  Perhaps it’s because we’re experts at staying cool under extreme pressure, or we’re reluctant to share what’s going on in our personal lives to maintain a persona of stoicism in the face of adversity.  So I wanted to show readers what the shutdown is like for a typical American military family.  Here’s my Day in the Life…

Day One     I didn’t know about the shutdown right away.  While my coffee was brewing, I found a Roseanne rerun on TV.  I avoid watching the news in the morning because I prefer to wait until later in the day to lose my faith in humanity.  Rosie was giving her boss a hard time and sassing back when her kids acted snotty.  She’s one of my heroes, a gal who can handle the shit life flings at her.  During the day, I would frequently summon imagery of Roseanne facing up to random bullshit as I muddled through my own interior turmoil.  As soon as I logged into Facebook, an article about the shutdown came across my feed.  That unique combination of panic, dread, embarrassment, and rage overtook me, and suddenly it was 2013 all over again.  How in the entire hell did this sneak up on me ?  I thought, knowing it had been lurking in the shadows all along, a vicious cancer posing as a bee sting.  While I chatted online with friends and family about the situation, I analyzed each emotion individually.  How long had it been since I’d felt so many negative emotions all at once!?

Panic    As a military family, we really depend on the government to pay us for services rendered!  What if they don’t? Will there be enough money for expenses? Will we miss a mortgage payment or a car payment?  If we do, will it hurt our credit scores?  If we end up in financial trouble, how long will it take to recover?!  The cruel truth is that our lifestyle has failed to provide us with a financial safety net in times of major crises, not because we’ve been irresponsible over the years, but because the military life is actually quite expensive.  Many costs aren’t covered.  We go into debt every time we move, we pay out of pocket for things that our insurance should cover, but doesn’t, and we  often don’t actually see substantial savings from military discounts.  There are perks, but we pay a premium just to have perceived benefits and imaginary luxuries.  So when the government doesn’t pull through and support us, we are left with nothing but what-ifs.

Embarrassment      Why in the hell am I embarrassed?!  Maybe because I never imagined that at this point in my life, I would have to bend and flex every which way just to survive the tsunamis created by governmental mismanagement.  I’m embarrassed that I don’t have a clever fall back plan for situations like this, because I certainly should know better by now, shouldn’t I?!  I’m embarrassed for assuming that the government wouldn’t pull this stunt again because it’s so unseemly to do this to any American, not to mention our own military!  Most of all, I’m embarrassed for my fellow Military Spouses, our Families, and our Service Members who have to put up with this, and we deserve better because we’ve earned better.

Dread     I considered upcoming social plans, debated whether or not to cancel, and felt embarrassment all over again.  Can I even afford to go out with friends at this point?  Embarrassment.  Should I cancel my haircut so that the money can be spent on essential items?  Oooh, there’s THAT word — essential.  The government seems to have a handle on who’s essential and who’s not, who goes without and who doesn’t.  Dread.  I should have seen this coming, and the worst part is that I did see it coming, but I didn’t see it coming!  More embarrassment.  I decided to save face by extending my hair appointment another few weeks under the pretense that my hair looks fine (it doesn’t).  My daughter wants her side shave re-done.  It is overgrown by at least an inch, and sticks out in a funny little tuft.  But she hasn’t mentioned it since Thursday, I think she forgot that I promised we’d go to the barber shop.  Maybe she won’t mind waiting as well.

Which brings me to rage.  RAGE.  Why should I feel all these other emotions in the first place?!  Why should my family continue to be jerked around, stretched increasingly thinner while we wait for the government to figure things out?  Why are we dangling like carrots for politicians to either grasp or bat away?  Our leaders haven’t learned anything in five years except how to fine tune strategies for torturing innocent people.  And maybe we citizens haven’t learned much in the last five years either.  There is no question that the rage felt by so many right now is completely justified.

But I wasn’t going to make this about my political opinion.  After my emotions self assessment, I went into damage control mode.  I checked the bank account and jotted down the balance, noted upcoming expenses, changed a few plans (mostly my plans to go thrift shopping for vintage sweaters and get my hair cut) and organized my coupons to maximize savings during my next grocery run.  For at least the next several days, EVERY trip to any store would have to be carefully planned, and EVERY purchase would have to be carefully considered.  I inventoried our toilet paper, cleaning supplies and food.  I made a meal plan to efficiently use food and reduce waste.  I do this every week anyway, but now it’s even more important to conserve as much disposable income as possible in case things get crazy.  We would have to be very well disciplined. I told myself that this is an opportunity to tackle my list of chores.  Chores cost nothing to complete.

I considered the timing of the shutdown.  Every military family knows that PAYDAY is a time of celebration, and for about a week after, we live high on the hog.  Keep in mind that for military families, living high on the hog is not what one might expect.  For my family it means splurging on organic meat and non GMO produce, filling our fuel tanks, and restocking household goods like dryer sheets, Clorox wipes, and maxi pads.  I know, exciting! We also take advantage of not being broke for a few days by paying for kids’ extracurricular programs, out of pocket medical expenses, and all the other miscellaneous expenses that gnaw away at our wallets.   A pretty typical financial strategy for many Americans, if I am not mistaken.

Usually by the following week, we are back to living frugally while waiting for the next payday.  I’m not proud of this cycle, and in thirteen years I haven’t figured out how to break it.  I would LOVE to be financially independent from the military.  Unfortunately, our family has been forced to survive on less income than we actually need in order to be classified as ‘thriving’, and there is absolutely no wiggle room for all the unexpected things in life that cost money.   As humble as our lifestyle is when we HAVE money, our lifestyle when we don’t can be both oppressing as well as depressing.  As payday approaches, my Army spouse friends play a game to compare who ate the saddest dinner; usually something like Saltines with generic peanut butter wins.  Cheetos and wine continues to be my low point as well as my contingency plan.  Even when times are good, we all feel the pinch, from the lowly Private to the high and mighty Colonel.

I spent most of the morning making decisions that aren’t important on normal days, but under the circumstances, they are of utmost importance.  These decisions will set us up for success or failure in the days to come.  Instead of getting a haircut, I can just wear my hair in a pony tail.  I can make simple, inexpensive meals and send leftovers in the kids’ lunches.   I’ll avoid going shopping just to shop, and I’ll get things down around the house.  I felt okay about the plan, still angry, but okay and more confident.  I had Roseanne telling me not to give up, because that’s what the bastards would want.

In the early afternoon, I realized that I’d promised to send a friend German rye bread from a local bakery.  I knew she would understand if I didn’t send the bread, but I had made a promise, and this suddenly because my most important mission, shutdown or no shutdown.  The bread became symbolic of me fighting the system.  I had to succeed, I had to get it.  Roseanne would be proud.  I would be proud.  I needed this victory.  The bakery was already closed, but I could visit a nearby German deli that sold the bread.  If I couldn’t find it there, I would have to try the commissary on Fort Carson.  I did not want to go to the commissary.  The Army wife rumor mill on Facebook was humming with news that the commissary would close by Wednesday.  Another non-essential service, food for military families.  I imagined the hectic scene there and resolved to exhaust all other resources before driving to Fort Carson.

Due to an IT glitch (I was assured that it had nothing to do with the shutdown) my bank account was temporarily also shut down.  I checked my pockets and found $45. That would have to be enough.  I spent $20 on the last two loaves of bread and a jar of rose hip jelly at the German deli, thanked God for sparing me a trip to the commissary, then spent $20 on a box of wine at the neighborhood liquor store.  With $5 left in my pocket, I headed home to check on the beef roast in the Crock Pot.

My husband had been out all day, and I decided to greet him with a positive attitude and creative solutions rather than bitchy complaints about the shutdown.  He has been deployed, risked life and limb, worked long, exhausting hours over many years to provide our family with a good life, and when we hit low points, it’s my job to build him up.  I choose to be with my husband, and he chooses to serve his country.  He’s the best man I’ve ever met, and he does everything, gives everything, to provide for his family.  He has served his country selflessly and inspired countless soldiers along the way.  He is loved and respected, and has earned his reputation as “the guy you always want in your corner”.  So for these reasons, I approached him calmly and offered support, even though my brain was still spinning with countless what-ifs.

Day 2    Still pissed.  The shutdown is a weird type of psychological punishment, a widespread mental abuse, with lingering negative effects that the government will fail to address.  Our leaders want to exploit us and fuck with our lives, then say “Oh we’re going to pay you…eventually…but you’ll do have to work without pay…indefinitely, oh and by the way, thanks for your service.”

The weather here is terrible.  Normally I go to the grocery store for the Sunday papers, but I don’t want to leave the house, so I’m blogging and watching TV, reruns of Monk today.  Monk is my hero too.  He knows what mental abuse feels like, but he refuses to give up.  I can admire that. I’m trying to decide when to put gas in my car.  I still have 110 miles to go before the tank is empty, it snowed last night, and the wind is blowing, so I can procrastinate for another couple of days.  There is almost nothing worse than putting gas in a car when it’s very cold and very windy.

I organized my coupons into a stack for Wal-Mart and a stack for Safeway.  When I tried to print a dozen coupons from the Coupons.com Website, I discovered that our printer was out of black ink.  Apparently black ink is a deal breaker.  It won’t work until I replace the cartridge.  My husband needs to print important documents for the week, so ink is indeed an essential item, and at some point I will brave the traffic, snow, and wind to go to Wal-Mart.  Toilet paper is on the top of the list, but it usually is anyway.  Toilet paper is a constant, shutdown or no shutdown. I have six coupons for toilet paper, so maybe I’ll stock up.  If things get really bad, we can always eat the toilet paper.

My Safeway list is mostly food items.  I’m agonizing over whether or not to just fill my cart to overflowing and let the chips fall where they may.  Money is just money, and shutdown or no shutdown, we will need food!  Or I could just buy enough for the week, which will cost less but ensure another trip to the store later in the week.  As I go over meal plans and grocery lists, I’m also kicking myself for checks I wrote last week for the girls’ school activities.  I could have floated one until late March, but wanted to pay so that I wouldn’t worry about it later on.  But I’m worrying about it now, kicking myself for not using that money to fill my gas tank or pay a bill.

I’m also kicking myself for using a few gift cards left over from the holidays.  I could have saved them for groceries, or toilet paper, but I didn’t.  Well, it’s all water under the bridge now.  No sense in beating myself up for past decisions.  Instead I’ve started itemizing a bill that I hope to send to the government, for my family’s expenses incurred during the shutdown.

It’s the end of the day.  We survived.  I picked up one daughter from a ski trip, and drove the other daughter to a Girl Scout meeting.  Now my car has 98 miles until E.  My coupons are ready for tomorrow and I have a plan to get through the day.  For now, I plan to pamper myself with cucumber slices under my eyes and a glass of wine.  I think I will add the 68 cent cucumber to my itemized bill for Washington.   I also think that I will add that box of wine from yesterday.  Self medicating may not have been necessary if it wasn’t for the shutdown…

Stay strong, people!

G

 

 

 

Advertisements

Ten Years a Veteran

Last week was special for my husband and for me.  To us, Veteran’s Day is as festive as Christmas, Easter, our wedding anniversary, and various family members’ birthdays.  I have now been a veteran for ten years, a little longer than I’ve been married, making this a milestone year in many ways.  I’ve always been reluctant to bask in the adoration of well wishers on Veteran’s Day, but my husband loves free lunches, so he was impatient to get me out of the house.

“Are you ready to go?”  he shouted into the bathroom while I was still shampooing my hair in the shower.

“Absolutely.” I yelled back.   “I think I’ll just go like this.  Naked and sopping wet.”

“Okay, I’m in the truck then.”

We were going to hike in a beautiful state park, eat a picnic lunch, and talk about sentimental things (my idea), but the weather intervened.  The temperature dropped, the wind picked up, and a hike no longer sounded remotely fun.  Van suggested we get as many freebies as possible and take advantage of the Veteran’s Day sales with some early Christmas shopping.  It turned out to be a fantastic day, and tagging along with him, doing everything that made him happy, made me happy.

Photo credits: Stacy Pearsall, Veterans Portrait Project.  I retain no rights.

Photo credits: Stacy Pearsall, Veterans Portrait Project, 2014. I retain no rights.

I haven’t always been able to relate to my veteran status.    When I returned from deployment in 2004, I just wanted to scrub everything about the Army off of me and be a civilian again.  I bought girly clothes, high heels, and lots of new makeup.  I dated a couple guys, one who was also a veteran and actually remembered seeing me working in the chow hall at my camp in Baghdad!  I got a job as a receptionist and shopped at Wal-Mart in the middle of the night when I was really bored.  I didn’t spend much time thinking or talking about my deployment experience.

Five years later, it was time to celebrate five years of marriage to a soldier, and the Army life had become a steady reality.  I’d traded in camouflage and combat boots for formal ball gowns and impossibly tiny handbags that nothing fits inside.  Now here I am again, another five years later.  I wear fewer dresses and more denim.  People tend identify me as an Army spouse rather than a veteran, and that is okay because that is my more active role.  The old guys at the VFW will need a bit more time to process that I earned my veteran status before my husband did, but eventually they will catch on.  I do talk about my service more, but it still isn’t a comfortable topic.  It’s taken time, but I can accept praise, even though, as my sister claims, I am still terribly humble.

My son, the original reason why I went to Iraq: a better future for him.

My son, the original reason why I went to Iraq: a better future for him.

I’ve also become accustomed to the reality that not everyone loves a veteran.  This Veteran’s Day, a man gained national attention after posting a harsh anti veteran statement on his Facebook page.  The rant went viral and incited angry responses, phone calls, and even death threats. It was sad to see, on a day when we veterans should be celebrating our roll as protectors and peacekeepers, so many were caught up in one person’s ignorant outburst.  It’s no fun to read something nasty pointed in one’s general direction, but receiving insults simply for ‘being something’ should never deter us from continuing to be good people, and veterans are the best.   I hope that this man, and others who deeply dislike veterans, could see through our eyes for one day, and look at the world from a warrior’s perspective.

Sharing MREs with a breathtaking view  in one of Saddam's palaces.

Sharing MREs above a breathtaking view in one of Saddam’s palaces.

Although it has been difficult to feel as though I deserve the title ‘veteran’, after ten years I am now proud and grateful to count myself among the courageous and loyal.   If I hadn’t joined the National Guard and deployed to a combat zone, I might not have learned the most important lessons for life. First of all, people in a war zone take care of others before taking care of themselves.  I don’t see that happen very often in the civilian world, but I see it all the time among veterans and military families.  It’s called Selfless Service, and it is one of the Army Values.  While deployed, I also witnessed many acts of kindness and courage that resulted in lives being saved.  Some of these incidents involved soldiers saving the lives of Iraqis, with no forethought to their own personal safety or profit.

In the combat zone, generosity was another lesson learned.  Every day I witnessed soldiers showing generosity to each other and to Iraqi children, often giving away their only blanket or last ration of food or water without complaint.  No questions were asked, but if a need was identified, it was filled immediately.  Soldiers also cultivated deeply loyal friendships with each other, and would do anything to support and uplift their friends.  Ask any veteran if he or she has a lifelong friend from war time, and odds are that veteran will have a very interesting story to tell.  Personal sacrifices every day become commonplace habits for soldiers who work closely together, and selfishness fails to exist.  But perhaps those who go to war are the only people who really understand this system of camaraderie.

A little girl who tugged at my heartstrings, and continues to do so.

A little girl who tugged at my heartstrings, and continues to do so.

Connections also form between soldiers and civilians in occupied regions, even if this is not popularized or publicized.   I was told a story by a weary young soldier who tried everything to save an Iraqi girl suffocating from an asthma attack.  Seeing that he was a medic, the girl’s father thrust her into the soldier’s arms and begged for help.   Unfortunately, the unit had no medicine for asthma, and the girl perished as the soldier held her.  Another young soldier single handedly arranged a massive humanitarian mission to donate school supplies to refurbished Iraqi primary schools in the Baghdad area.  Her mission was so successful it enabled Iraqi children to return to school with the kinds of supplies American children take for granted.  Another soldier tried to adopt an Iraqi toddler when her parents insisted she take the girl so that at least one of their children would “have a rich and safe life in America.”  The soldier pursued adoption through Army legal channels, but was informed that it would be impossible.  She was too young, too poor, unmarried, and Iraq had no political infrastructure for her to make a legal adoption.  To this day she remains brokenhearted over what she views as her failure.

When I deployed ten years ago, I didn’t realize that people who despise veterans actually exist, or that I would be accused of being some type of soulless, mindless government robot trained to create carnage and desolation.  I want to encourage other veterans to remember this: Your service is not defined by what someone thinks of you, and you don’t owe anyone an explanation.   I didn’t serve in the capacity or manner that anyone else can imagine, and  my character isn’t defined by my service or by a stranger’s opinion of me.  I endeavored to serve mostly as a humanitarian, holding my hand out to the downtrodden.  And I continue to do so.  That is the role that I believe every veteran is responsible to uphold throughout life.

The last time I kind of looked bad ass.

The last time I kind of looked bad ass.

One last story, told to me recently by my husband.  This is the kind of behavior demonstrated all the time by soldiers and veterans in my life (and after being around such positive energy, why take any haters seriously?).  A soldier new to my husband’s unit was in a minor auto accident and needed medical attention.  Another soldier saw the accident and could have just driven away in the dark; instead she reported the accident and insisted on driving the injured soldier to the hospital.  She then sat with the soldier until my husband arrived.  She had no obligation to do so, but she put the needs of a fallen teammate first, sacrificed her time and requirements, and acted in the truest form of kindness by saying “Put some of that burden on me”.

Ten years from now I hope that she looks back at her time in service and feels good, the way I feel good, about being a veteran.

~G

Flying Lessons

last summer my children played a made up game they called Flying Lessons. My son would lift the girls in his arms as high as possible, spin them around, let them go, and whatever happened next was their problem. They loved it, no one got hurt, nothing got broken (that I knew of) and they laughed themselves silly. Our flight to San Antonio to visit relatives this week reminded me of the game, only the stakes were a bit higher.

2014-07-11 10.42.14We stumbled into the Kansas City International Airport at 5:00 a.m., bleary-eyed and as cranky as everyone else. It was a madhouse, even that early, with people racing across the ticketing area, pushing and pulling overloaded suitcases and duffel bags. Ticket agents shouted “next!” over the din of fussing babies, tussling siblings, and griping adults.  There was a constant crush of bodies moving to the next point of interest.  Our family got separated briefly when an impatient man pushed in front of my children, who were trying to follow my husband to the ticket counter.  That was when reality hit: no one else cares if my children get lost in this airport.

We were to go through TSA Precheck, an accelerated checkpoint for anyone with a Known Passenger Number, including military and dependents with DOD ID numbers and their children under age thirteen.  This year our whole family would be eligible, if for only one last time! An unpleasant airport employee stopped us at the Precheck line and harassed me because my DOD number had failed to print on my ticket.  Refusing to even look at my military ID, she told me I didn’t have an eligible ID for Precheck, and I must go through regular security.  She spoke to me as though I had done something unseemly.  In no mood to be trifled with, I called her bluff: “I called Southwest two days ago and requested that my number be printed on this ticket.”

“But you don’t have an ID!” she insisted, still looking at me as though I had crawled out of a gutter next to a neon encapsulated whorehouse.

“Yes I do, it’s right here!  This is my DOD number.” I attempted to point it out.

“I’m not going to stand here and argue with you” she snarled, “Go with your family, and see what they have to say at Precheck!”

The TSA officer didn’t give me any static; I didn’t see him even check for a DOD number!  I wanted to go back to the nasty old lady and contemptuously stick out my tongue at her.  But deciding to be humble in my victory, I continued onward.  The Precheck looked easy, too easy, so we must have done something wrong — too many somethings — because we presented as “potentially threatening” and a tall tan middle aged man with his TSA shirt tucked in tight shouted “RANDOM CHECK!” before half my family made it through the machine.  My son had a mostly empty water bottle in his back back, so it was ripped open to reveal other dangers to the nation’s safety.  Like Beanie Babies, packs of gum, and a book about werewolves.  Yes, very dangerous indeed!

And then there was Annie, my eight year old daughter, who was swabbed for bomb residue.  My eight year old daughter.  Bomb residue.  Total nonsense.  It’s hard enough getting my irate husband through security checks.  He gets searched.  EVERY.  DAMN.  TIME.  Don’t tell me it’s random.  Imagine the level of Zen I had to achieve by that point just to usher my angry, now burgeoning-on-threatening family to a wall to squat in the overfull terminal.  I walked my youngest daughter to the Starbucks to get Husband some coffee.  While standing in the slowly snaking line, I posted “Dear TSA, I think you suck” on my Facebook status and silently fumed over x-ray machines and bomb residue swabs.  By the time we got back with the coffee (just in time to board the plane) everyone had calmed down enough to enjoy the flight.

My children insisted on each bringing a big fuzzy fleece blanket on the flight.  I told them, “You can bring a blanket, but you have to carry it, and as hot as it is here in Kansas, add ten degrees. That will be the temperature in Texas.”  When we settled into our seats, and I was sending up a prayer of thanks that we had made it safely onto the plane with no catastrophic mishaps, it occurred to me that the blankets were security items.  Sources of warmth, easily transportable, and reminiscent of home, what better items for the kids to bring along on a trip full of unknowns?  Much like Arthur Dent’s highly functional towel in ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘, they served a purpose beyond that of a mere fuzzy blanket.

2014-07-11 10.43.54We all require specific security items for a successful flight. I brought my favorite flannel shirt and a small bottle of peppermint oil.  The shirt became an impromptu pillow; the peppermint oil kept airsickness at bay.  The peppermint oil came in a glass bottle, so I was relieved that it was not “found out” and taken away by TSA.  During our long layover in Dallas I watched people and tried to figure out their security items. One man sat reading a book with Japanese writing on the cover.  He pulled what looked like a passport from a small knapsack and scrutinized a paper tucked inside.  A handsome but smarmy man in a gray suit (clearly his item) leaned against a wall conspicuously and made intense duck faces, as if auditioning for a modeling job.  Many very well dressed women clutched at large Tory Burch handbags protectively and sipped Starbucks drinks.  I tried to imagine if they had anything more interesting in their bags than what I had in mine.  Probably not.

It’s sad that we — our bodies, items, and lives — must be thoroughly searched and picked over in order to fly.  Sitting in an airport terminal playing a guessing game that involves people-watching and being mildly nosy towards perfect strangers is one thing.  It’s quite another to have your personal life publicly violated by a team of ethically dubious busy bodies in police-y looking uniforms.

2014-07-11 10.45.34Allowing the kids to have their security blankets made the flights — and the entire trip — more pleasant.  Still so innocent and clueless about how big and bad the world can be, they need a way to wrap up in something that feels safe when strange things are happening around them.  I think about the game they played last summer.  Now the girls are too big for my son to spin them around and send them flying across the room.  Now they are big enough to go out into the real world and face real problems, like pushy, rude adults who could care less if their actions cause children to get lost in an enormous airport.  Or insensitive TSA officers who rip into personal belongings and treat military families like potential terror threats.  It’s not easy to watch my kids grow up, but it is a necessary part of life.  One thing we can do is provide them with tools to cope with stressful situations and teach them how to reach for those security items that give them the confidence they need to come out of even the most unpleasant situations with minimal bumps and bruises.

Don’t Panic and Carry a Towel (or Blanket)!

— G

Ceasefire Over: I Have a Bone to Pick With Congressman Ryan

Book given to U.S. veterans in 1919 to help th...

Book given to U.S. veterans in 1919 to help them readjust to civilian life (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before Christmas I decided to write to Congressman Paul Ryan.  It was important that I express my feelings about Washington’s broken promise to veterans who have shouldered a very heavy burden for a very long time.   I debated vehemently with myself for weeks over whether or not to publish my opinion,  reluctant to push that button and add more  anger to the online atmosphere.  After careful consideration, I’ve decided it’s time to show my unwavering support for my extended family, the U.S. Military.  I spent the Holidays in quiet reverence and reflection, but now the ceasefire is over and I will no longer remain silent.

During Christmas Break, my husband and I watched a documentary about the surge in Iraq.   His Brigade Combat Team was instrumental in this operation and suffered massive losses.  Grateful for surviving, my husband has never looked at the world the same since this deployment.  While watching the documentary, I kept asking myself over and over: we upheld our promises to serve this country; why has our government broken its promise to us?  Very telling statements by Congressman Ryan — that veteran pension earnings are “benefits”, implying an opinion that we haven’t actually earned them — reveal genuine disrespect for service  members and the inability to understand how to care for veterans adequately.  The fact that so many colleagues backed Mr. Ryan’s bill indicates  this same attitude is running rampant in Washington.

I actually sent Mr. Ryan a handwritten letter because our printer is broken.  Printers are expensive; has anyone else noticed that they seem to be more expensive than in past years?   Contrary to certain opinions, money does not grow on the trees in military families’ back yards.  But when it comes down to it, the money is not the thing.  The fundamental difference between veterans and politicians is that politicians may worry about who deserves handouts while veterans concern themselves with upholding promises made.  It is the principles, the ethics, intrinsic to breaking promises, ruining trust, and devaluing America’s veterans, that reveals the characters.  Ugly characters.  That is the thing that must be addressed.

A serious problem lies in the very ethics behind the budget bill.  This idea has been presented and accepted, that we take wealth from one entity and distribute it to benefit another entity.  Sure, it has been gift wrapped in a glittering concept that by  doing this we are “saving” America from another government shutdown and possibly larger catastrophes in 2014.  Is anyone really benefiting after this is all said and done?  The idea is now acceptable that our government can and should skim from the earnings of veterans who have given everything to protect our country and the American way of life!  Where will it end?  Who else will be arbitrarily targeted in the coming years?  Agree with me or don’t, but until we lose the right to speak against abusive governance, I will be one opinionated American.  Below are excerpts from my letter to Congressman Ryan, with further thoughts on the matter.

Congressman Ryan,

I am deeply disappointed with your attitude toward the military members who will be affected by your budget plan.  In statements regarding the plan, you have insinuated that military members, who do not pay into their pensions, are perhaps creating an unfair burden to the “hard-working taxpayers” and that it is only “right and fair” that we make further sacrifices on top of our selfless service to this country.  You assume that we will continue working after retirement from military service and cite that we receive ample benefits and pensions considerably more generous than those of many civilian counterparts.  The truth is that we are not protected from politicians like you and we can lose our benefits and hard earned pay on a whim, as you have so masterfully demonstrated.

It is no secret that civilian counterparts doing the same or similar jobs tend to earn higher wages than service members.  Military spouses, regardless of their education and work experience, are often resigned to taking jobs paying substantially lower wages than their civilian counterparts because they are  not ‘geographically stable’.  Service members are also not guaranteed lucrative careers after retirement; while there are programs in place to help them transition into the civilian workforce, as a group veterans are in no better position than anyone else.  Service members and military families are not given unfair advantages over civilian counterparts, and any allusions to this are purely myth.

…If you are wondering about the ridiculous pink paper and handwritten message, my printer is broken.  Printers are expensive, funds are pretty thin, and being a military family – despite what you believe – we simply can’t afford a new one right now. We tighten the belt every year to put away savings, and our family will be directly affected by  your budget plan.

I really wanted him to understand the reason behind the silly pink paper.  Being a military family means making sacrifices and often doing without the creature comforts that make life so convenient.  Military families live paycheck to paycheck like most every other family in the United States, and we struggle to make ends meet like everyone else.  I have no qualms writing a letter to a member of Congress on ugly pink paper if that is all I have.  Reality is — and isn’t — funny, don’t you think?

…My husband and I are OIF and OEF veterans.  Between us, we have worked with and personally know thousands of service members… We are all hard-working, tax paying citizens who have served our country with loyalty, pride and honor.  The family members of these heroes sacrifice more than they are given credit for; spouses often forego lucrative careers because of numerous moves, and watch their children grow up without the service members…due to multiple deployments, long training sessions, and late work days.  To insinuate that we are in some way creating a burden to the rest of the country, or that we have an unfair advantage, or that we are not as hard-working because we have not traditionally been required to contribute to our retirement pensions — and that the “right and fair” thing to do is to take away from us — is ignorant and disrespectful.

The term “right and fair” is so off-putting that it is difficult for me to imagine that Congressman Ryan did not actually intend for this statement to be condescending.  If we veterans are being fed a guilt trip instead of being given basic respect, it isn’t terribly far-fetched to imagine how much worse things could become for everyone.

…It is also selfish and exploitative to assume that the military is a reusable and disposable force that can be worked over and over…This is your assumption, correct? That we will just keep working and earning money that we may or may not be allowed to possess?

The military has already been labeled a burden.  Apparently military families who have been making constant sacrifices throughout the War on Terror Era still present an inconvenience because of our very existence .  Yet possibly most unsettling is the concept of the ‘disposable workforce’, which has surfaced on more than one occasion since I wrote this letter a few weeks before Christmas.   It was scary when, in September/October of 2013 we military families faced the possibility of going without any pay during the government shutdown.  We were spared but I can imagine how detrimental this was for the DoD civilians!  Until then I never imagined that the government could just take away our pay, indefinitely, on a whim, due to its own dysfunction, and let its best and most loyal face the ugly consequences.  A government that plays with the idea of allowing its military families to face poverty and hunger does consider these individuals to be disposable and I dare it to prove me wrong.

…You do not deserve to serve this country or to run for office if it means riding on the backs of the military members who have worked, fought, and given their lives to insure your freedom and security… Military members should be given an immediate and public apology for your insensitivity.  You were quick to pat yourself and colleagues on the back in public; I find this cowardly considering whose money you are using to clean up your mess.  I also find it cowardly to put your bill and yourself on a pedestal while devaluing veterans publicly.

I want you to remember, as you go to your posh holiday parties…there are military families with barely enough money right now to buy one nice Christmas dinner, and they, NOT YOU, have been holding up this country through sacrifice, love and service…You have no comprehension of what the military has done for you.  Stop being so proud and think about the ethics and consequences of your actions.  Where does it end, once the idea becomes acceptable to take away the wealth of the ones who fight to protect your land and your livelihood?  Your victory in Washington is a loss of trust between veterans and a government we swore to serve faithfully.  

Regards,

—G

When I joined the National Guard in 1998, I joined under the impression that my government would always back me up, because I promised to serve my country loyally when I took my oath of enlistment.  When I became an Army spouse in 2004 I was still under the impression that our government was supporting the Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Guardsmen of America.  I will find it very difficult to ever trust politicians again, but I will always be loyal and reliable to my military families.

If you are interested in this topic, any and all of the related articles are incredible.  I particularly like The Right Thing and Why Should Our Military Suck It Up.  

Enhanced by Zemanta

You’re Welcome, America

Okay, I knew that my paranoia after the shutdown in October was not in vain.  I knew that the government was gunning for military families in some way or another, because we are all so entitled and so rich!  I saw it coming; we service members just weren’t miserable enough.  A “fair” solution was found, to coin the term used by a certain Congressman.  Because it wouldn’t be “fair” to the rest of the country if the New Greatest Generation wasn’t struggling a bit harder.  We just have it too good.

Please excuse the biting sarcasm.  I don’t aim it at my readers, civilians in general, or the citizens of America.  I love this country and the people, mostly.  In all honesty, I am not sure how I feel about the military retirement pension reduction that was so easily and triumphantly created to “prevent” future sequestrations and shutdowns.  Maybe the cuts to the military pensions will help.  It would be great, right?  I aim my frustration at politicians who don’t seem to understand that service members do struggle just as much as everyone else.  Reading various statements justifying the decision, it almost seems like we’ve been identified as not having contributed enough to America’s survival, targeted because we’ve been too well taken care of, so certainly we can spare some of our wealth.  A Paul Ryan quote, from the Huffington Post really rubbed me the wrong way:

“We think it’s only right and fair that they pay something more to their pensions, just like the hard-working taxpayers that pay for those pensions in the first place,” Ryan said.

Yeah, because military members don’t pay any taxes, we all live in  mini mansions, we each drive an Infiniti gassed by the farts of fairies, and we all sport purple crew cuts and glitter covered jackboots.  You want “right and fair”?  Let’s do some Military Math.  What is the value of a Warrant Officer father missing his first daughter’s birth?  A First Sergeant mother not being home for Christmas?  How about a child going an entire school year without both parents because  they are dual military and both deployed?  Is that worth 1% of the service member’s retirement pension?  What about scraping brain and skull fragments out of a Humvee?  Or watching your best friend get killed?  Or are all those things simply not adding enough “right and fair” value to everyone’s American Experience?

I will concede that Mr. Ryan perhaps did not mean to be snide and condescending, but insinuating that military members are creating dead weight, with those hard-working taxpayers bearing the brunt of the burden,  is disrespectful.  Service members do pay taxes as well as bills and other out of pocket costs  just like civilians, so justifying a 1% pension reduction through the excuse that we have somehow been unfair towards the hard-working taxpayers is just plain rude.  Times are hard everywhere, including the Army post where I live, and military families are stretched thinner every year.  No one here is going to ride into a magical golden sunset at retirement.

The politicians are definitely Utilitarians, offering as a sacrifice to appease the rhythm of happy commerce the retirement savings of this rag tag group of service members who have spent the better part of their adult lives earning those pensions in the throes of never ending war. After all, it is better to take wealth from one small group that has so much to give and disburse it for the greater good, right?  Nevermind what it looks like (Communism).   I had a feeling that this was coming, because I saw that gleam in their eyes while I watched them fuss over their budget notes on the news these past months.  They were looking for a pig to bleed.  Oink, oink.

So the question remains: does this matter, and how much?  It depends on who you ask but yes, it does matter.  The soldiers who have gone to the Middle East for the last decade have been called the New Greatest Generation, but are we being treated as though we really did anything special?  I see the politicians patting themselves on the back victoriously over this budget deal, but where is the heartfelt apology and gesture of gratitude to the service members who will now be sacrificing money that they “supposedly” earned through years of dedicated service and loyalty to the nation?  This remains to be seen.

I know that my family will be fine.  We will never be rich.  We figure out ways to survive.  We go from one year being the King of the Hill to being the Underdog the next.  We get knocked around by life, the Army, and the government, constantly losing and gaining monetary wealth depending on the mood of entities larger than us.  Our cupboards get thin, but never completely bare.  We never are and never will be rolling in money, so excuse me for saying this but it doesn’t feel “fair”, and I don’t like the word “fair” used so casually to describe disbursement of military pension money, especially when military personnel had no say in the decision process.  I take offense at the word “fair” being used to undermine the character of military members.  Don’t tell me that it is “fair” to take money away from soldiers.  Ever.  Who better than a service member would know that life isn’t fair?

If Congress is willing to play with the idea of not paying the military for an indefinite period of time (and no, they didn’t go through with it in October, but it still scared me), they clearly have no qualms about taking our paychecks hostage and using our pensions as emergency funds.  But instead of apologizing for their poor decision making and subsequent hijacking of the military pensions, the catch phrase of this “solution” is that we military members ought to “pay something more…like the hard-working taxpayers”.  A guilt trip for those who have served with loyalty and dignity…Well, you’re welcome.  It comes down to the fact that regardless of how I feel (angry?  bummed? livid?cheated? anxious? depressed? defeated?) we may or may not see that 1% returned to us.  The money doesn’t matter anyway; it’s the principle.

You know what I really want?  It would be a genuine apology to my husband and every other member of the U.S. military, from every single member of Congress.  NOW.  I want them to personally apologize for treating our military like pawns in a game and using us as their backup plan when they can’t get their tangle of piss poor planning unsnarled.  And I want a personal and heartfelt show of appreciation from those overpaid, snake oiled used car salesmen.  We are the New Greatest Generation, and we deserve to be treated with dignity and respect!  It starts with a simple gesture.  It should never be lauded as a victory when you arbitrarily take wealth from your hardest working and most courageous citizens to clean up your mistakes because you lack the courage to do so yourself.  This is called cowardice.

— G

Hey Kids, Christmas (Probably) Isn’t Cancelled!

Sleigh

All I want for Christmas…

I spent much of the night on the edge of my seat watching the news to find out just how much of  a cliff we would be hanging over after Capital Hill finished with us.  I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel like I survived a war.  I also feel like things are far from over and am going to approach the holidays with a wartime rations mentality.  After screaming at my television, “you stupid jack-wagons don’t know how to balance a budget!” I decided to rethink my holiday budget because it won’t balance either if I take the same road as our leaders.  I just looked at my Christmas list conceived after one too many trips to Keep.com whilst drinking screwdrivers and it totals at least one mortgage so far.  That isn’t counting the other Christmas list scrapped together from randomly whimsical ideas imagined over the last few months.  None of the gifts are even items my family members need, just excuses to spend money.  Hmmm, sound familiar?

Before my family ends up in serious financial trouble, I am going to reprioritize our holiday budget and spending rules.  It would be pretty hypocritical to criticize the government for failing at managing the country’s funds if I am plunging my family into major debt just to buy the shiniest new gadgets.  Besides, what does it teach my kids if I demand that my government straighten up and be fiscally responsible, but then I do the opposite in my own home?  I read a profound statement posted earlier this week that went something like this: you can’t have your cake if you didn’t work for it and earn the money to buy it. Or at least you shouldn’t.  So why am I so tempted to charge all these cool shiny gadgets and toys on a credit card?  Why am I wanting to have my cake and eat it without actually earning it?  But more importantly, why am I tempted to do this knowing that it is so hypocritical when I have been yelling at the smug little faces on my television screen for the last three weeks?

Wondering if in just a few short weeks we could once again be on the brink of disaster has made me really take a step back and reflect on what is actually important.  The holiday season is supposed to be a joyous time when families and friends come together and share happy memories, feasts, and gifts.  The public tone this year may be more subdued after so much disruption and discontent.  But perhaps this year the tone will be more introspective of what truly is important.  I don’t have to think twice about it; if given the choice between shopping sprees, decadent feasts and sumptuous gifts, or time with loved ones, I would prefer the time with those I love.  Besides, no governing body can ever take that away, no matter how destitute they make me.  Remember that, people.  It’s the intangible attributes such as love, loyalty and kindness  that really create wealth and prosperity.

Shutdown Blues

Two weeks into a government shutdown, and I am feeling pretty uncomfortable.  I am not by any means a political expert and there are two things I do not want to bring into my blog: politics and religion.  I don’t want to stand on a soap box and tell anyone how they should vote, pray, or otherwise think when it comes to these two matters.   All I want to say is what happened guys? This is not the country that our founders imagined.  We have made some wonderful advancements over the years as a nation but things are looking pretty dismal right now.  I guess the saying is true: the frog in the pot doesn’t know the water is being heated until it really is too late.  Are we at that point?

I have a neighbor across the street who has now been working on Fort Riley without  pay for two weeks because she is an essential DoD civilian.  This is after several weeks of sequestration in which she had to take furlough days without pay.  So after several weeks of pay cuts she now gets no pay but still goes to work.  She and her husband, both veterans, also face the possibility that their VA benefits will be halted in November due to the shutdown.  They have children to support, and groceries, fuel, and utilities are not cheap in the Fort Riley area.  I am not asking for sympathy or for people to question the fairness of it all.  I am saying “Hello!  This is messed up!”  We are at the point where we are sucking the life out of people who served their country unquestionably, who are now paying the debts of people unwilling to pull their own weight.  We as a nation caused these problems.  Veterans and DoD civilians are just half the story; consider entrepreneurs now facing the effects of government involvement in the normally functional capitalist system.  And now we are all in a position where our government is arbitrarily taking rights and privileges from us without our consent.  Does anyone else feel the water getting warmer?