“Our nation’s military families give of themselves, and give up their time with their loved ones, so we may live safely and freely.”
Former President Barack Obama, 2016
When my son-in-law and daughter went into the U.S. Air Force 16 years ago, I knew that sacrifices would be demanded of the entire family in the name of patriotism, service and security. The sacrifices would be required of the active-duty member, the spouse, children and the extended family — in my case, that of a single working mother and grandmother to a military family.
Right after her engagement to her Reserve Officer Training Corps fiancé in college, my daughter confided that she was concerned about being a military spouse. She did not want to take the role lightly because she knew it would be a role she would have to perform for years.
She would be called to duty to keep her family up and running while my son-in-law deployed to other countries. And frequent moves – every three to four years - would be their new routine.
Six bases in 16 years, starting in the land of leis and luaus
Hickam Air Force Base, Honolulu, Hawaii
After much deliberation and research, my daughter married, and their first military assignment was paradise--Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The sacrifices of time apart as a family and missing most holidays together had begun. So imagine my delight when, after four years across the Pacific Ocean, I was finally able to see my newly pregnant daughter move to their next duty assignment on the East Coast.
Warner Robins Air Force Base, Warner Robins, Ga.
Now only a five-hour road trip from me, I was grateful that my firstborn grandchild was born here. And at the tender baby age of one, she watched as we waved good-bye to her first lieutenant father as he was deployed to Afghanistan.
When her father returned around her second birthday, I discovered that my family would PCS next to Europe. I used PCS as a verb because it has become an action word to many in the military. The goal of the PCS or Permanent Change of Station, according to Military Regs AR 6008-11, is simple, “it is to place the right soldier, at the right job, at the right time.”
This system of moves every three to four years worked like clockwork for my son-in-law’s career but brought a new set of emotions for every new assignment. After a year of being close to my daughter and granddaughter, I would be watching them leave for four years, thousands of miles away and across the Atlantic.
Kelley Barracks, Stuttgart, Germany
When the day arrived for them to leave the country, I was able to drop them at the Atlanta airport and walk to the bus on the tarmac of the domestic side to take them to the international side to catch their flights to Stuttgart, Germany.
My daughter told me later that after they got seated, my granddaughter frantically looked around, and as the bus pulled away, she shouted at the bus driver, “Stop, we forgot my Yaya! Go back and get my Yaya!” As she continued to sob when she realized they were not going back, there was not a dry eye on the bus at the sadness in that little two-year-old’s voice.
Over the next four years, I would visit Europe twice and take the nine-hour flight to stay for a few weeks. A granddaughter and then a grandson would be born on the military base in Germany. Facetime helped ease the sadness of being unable to be with them on holidays and birthdays.
Pentagon, Washington/Fairfax, Va.
The Pentagon and a family move to Fairfax, Va., would be next and I was able to visit more often. My youngest granddaughter was born here, and I was able to take a week and help the family adjust to the newest and last member to make the family complete. My big happy military family enjoyed their time in the nation’s capital, and just as I got used to living in the same time zone, they were on the move to middle America.
Scott Air Force Base, Belleville, Ill.
Being from the Midwest, I thought I would like this base assignment, but I was surprised at how quickly I was tired of the frequent airline trips for holidays or birthday celebrations.
My son-in-law was now a major, and he deployed for a year overseas again. I worried about my daughter being on her own with four children in the middle of a pandemic when she was a 12-hour car ride from me.
The Scott Air Force Base families stepped up, as military families always do. Despite the pandemic and teaching all four kids at home, she had support from one of the safest military bases in the country, with a very low number of COVID-19 cases.
Toward the end of their assignment, I took leave from work and moved in for two weeks to stay with the kids, so my daughter could take a break from the long separation from her husband and visit him in Dubai.
It was the trip of a lifetime for them but a test of sanity or insanity for this working grandma!
MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Fla.
Fast forward to the present day, my son-in-law has been promoted to lieutenant colonel and assigned to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. It will be my family’s final PCS assignment and they will retire in four years at his 20 years of service.
Now that I live in the same state, I have seen my family more in the last four weeks than I had in a full four years at one of their many bases.
With my visitor pass in hand and as I follow my daughter’s van onto one of the biggest gated communities in Florida, I am struck by the beauty of this base that sits on Tampa Bay and overlooks the city of Tampa across the water. My heart is full of pride in the years of service by my military family.
Military family advocate and supporter Joyce Wessel Raezer wrote, “Military families belong to our nation. They are our nation’s family. They are not from one town or one state. They are a part of all of us, and it is up to all of us to support them.”
I have shared my military family with the nation for years, and I was always comforted that my family had their military family on every base they lived. They now have friends, who are closer than family, all over the world.
Protecting what’s important
As I share our story, during National Veterans and Military Families Month, I had time to reflect on the intersection of the physical security that our military provides our country, and the financial security that we strive for as individuals.
With the burden and stress of frequent moves and time apart while military members protect our national security, many military couples neglect their personal security when it comes to their financial future and retirement planning. Understanding their journeys and lifestyles can help better meet their unique planning needs.
Although military couples’ basic needs for insurance and retirement planning are generally the same as those of non-military couples, there are additional considerations that should be addressed with a financial professional.
Consider these tips for your military clients.
Understand what insurance options are available from the military and which ones will continue after retirement or separation. Because insurance tends to be more costly to obtain the older you get, it may be wise to consider affordable options early on when in good health.
Most military couples are young and might not have much knowledge of insurance products — or even of budgeting and saving. Focus your message on education and protection, helping them to prepare for the unexpected.
Many military families have a stay-at-home spouse providing childcare, and our industry still suffers from old-fashioned ideas that non-working spouses don’t need insurance! Help couples understand the financial burden that would be created by the loss of a stay-at-home spouse.
Help them learn the lingo! There are a variety of special programs available to military members, from tax credits, life insurance programs, Thrift Savings Plans (like a 401(k) for government employees, and more. But don’t leave them to only protect the military member — help non-military spouses find comparable solutions.
Military spouses are essentially running single-parent households and have a lot on their plates in addition to the stress of worrying about their deployed partner. With a high frequency of relocation, they also may not have the deep family connections that many of us rely on for advice and support. And with many of the military spouses’ benefits ending when they retire, typically at an earlier age than others retire from the general workforce, their planning needs are different. Take all these factors into consideration and you can offer a great service to those who provide a great service to all of us.
Kim Stringer is an insurance specialist with Truist Life Insurance Services. She may be contacted at [email protected].