By Lisa Smith Molinari
I’m just a housewife, what the heck do I know?
Some days it seems my only expertise is how to wipe smudges off the refrigerator door, but it turns out, I’ve actually learned a thing or two in my 21 years as a military spouse.
I’ve learned that being in the United States military is not just a job – it is a lifestyle that requires the commitment of the entire family. Since the 1970s, our military has consisted entirely of volunteers who sign up to serve their country, knowing that their families will face sacrifices and hardships.
My husband has been on active duty in the Navy for 26 years, and our family has lived in nine different homes in five states and two foreign countries. He has spent many days away from home; the longest separation was a year-long deployment to Djibouti. But we’ve been pretty lucky; other military families have had it much worse, with multiple deployments, back-to-back hardship tours and hazardous duty.
Even though military folks could have nice lives “on the outside” with, in most cases, better pay and stability for equivalent work, many have stayed well past their service obligation despite 13 long years of war.
Why on earth do they do it?
Although retirement benefits, compensation and job stability are factors, there has always been a common sense of patriotic duty motivating military servicepersons to keep at it. It might sound clichéd to civilians, but the honor, pride and respect that has traditionally come with serving one’s country has been a key reason why military families continue to volunteer for duty year after year.
Well, at least until recently.
With all the talk of fiscal cliffs, sequestration, budget cuts, downsizing, draw down, veteran unemployment, force reduction, retention boards and the public’s increasing war fatigue, military members are not exactly “feeling the love.” In fact, the armed forces could be facing the worst military retention rates since the post-Vietnam War era.
The 2014 Navy Retention Study released on September 1st examined which factors were impacting Sailors’ “stay/go” decisions. The study concluded that “Sailors are most likely to leave uniformed service because of increasingly high operational tempo, poor work/life balance, low service-wide morale, declining pay and compensation, waning desire to hold senior leadership positions and a widespread distrust of senior leadership, all of which erodes loyalty to the institution.”
The Navy study revealed plummeting morale – only 17.7% of Sailors ranked morale to be good or excellent – finding “a fundamental belief that attainment of senior positions …are not worth the sacrifice.
Other branches of the service are also facing the negative impact of budget cuts and war fatigue on morale and retention of their servicepersons. The Blue Star Families 2014 Military Family Lifestyle Survey indicated that “[c]hanges in the national security priorities have ripple effects on military families that were evident in the responses of this year’s survey participants.
The survey participants perceived that “civilians do not understand the service or sacrifices made by military families.” Blue Star Families recommended that policy makers take note of “the contributions of the military service culture to American life.”
“One of the biggest challenges we face as a country is supporting our military community both so that our all-volunteer force remains a sustainable alternative, and so that a generation of service members, veterans and military family members are both empowered and encouraged to share their sense of service, adaptability and civic mindedness with the nation and within local communities,” the survey concluded.
I might just be a housewife whose biggest mental challenge today was remembering to defrost the rump roast, but I do know this:
On Veterans Day, we all need to snap out of the political buzz of election day long enough to appreciate the military men, women and families who spend years committed to securing our country’s freedom.
At the very least, we can all grab the hand of a Veteran and say, “Thank you for your service to our country.” Now, more than ever, military members and veterans need to be told that their sacrifices are indeed “worth it.”