The known phrase is – “before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.” This saying is said to be pulled from a poem published in 1895 and written by Mary T. Lathrap. While it may have been written in the 19th century, it has 21st century applications. To fully understand another person, you need to understand what that person goes through. With an all-volunteer military force that makes up one-half of 1 percent of the population of the United States [Council on Foreign Relations, Demographics of the Military], many people outside the military have beliefs about the military that are myths worthy of Sasquatch.
Let’s set the record straight on some of these myths about military life:
MYTH: If your spouse is deployed, they can come for a birth of a child or a death of a close parent.
REALITY: Military orders are just that – orders from the military branch, and by extension the federal government, to be somewhere. When a military service member receives orders to deploy, those orders stand for the amount of time they are listed for. The military service branch can change those orders at any time as they need to, but that doesn’t mean the service member can. If there is a birth or death in the family, the family back home can send a Red Cross Message to let the service member know. But, the service member does not jump on a plane to come back home when that message arrives – that message is just information. The orders are still active. Deployments are overseas and on ships, and the service member is ordered to be there for that time period fulfilling their job. Situationally dependent, the military spouse might get to come home but don’t bet the farm.
MYTH: Once you have done a deployment, it is easy because they are all the same.
REALITY: Buzzzz. Nope. Each deployment can be wildly different. Depending on the service branch, the active duty service member can be on ship or on land. Each unit deploying fulfills different goals. As service members promote and move jobs, their job type and responsibility increases meaning there will be different roles fulfilled on each deployment. If on one deployment the service member was on a ship and able to call home when in port, the deployment to another country may mean no contact except emails on occasion. There is no repeat in type of deployment. And therefore, you cannot compare what one person does to another, and the expectations must be ever evolving. Sorry Uncle Eddie, just because Buddy called home twice a month doesn’t mean Junior will be able to.
MYTH: Moving is easy because it is all done for you, and it happens often so you get used to it.
REALITY: Oh boy is this wrong. Each year, the Joint Travel Regulations are updated. This body of regulations dictates the rules and regulations for all things travel, including a permanent change of station, aka PCS, or move. With each update, there are new rules to adhere by. Then add in a pandemic, and moving each time can look very different. Like their non-military counterparts, military families have children and with the addition of family members comes extra items and furniture. To make a house feel like a home, new curtains and wall décor are purchased or made. The addition of things adds more boxes with each move. With each move, there is a different phase of life experienced, and new regulations like limiting movers, means that some families move themselves completely. Military families take things off the walls, box up their memories, pack up the truck and sometimes drive it themselves to the next duty station. That is not easy. That is a lot of work, on top of the military job and spousal employment and children’s school. So no, you don’t get used to it and it isn’t easy.
MYTH: Every position in the military is infantry.
REALITY: Like the civilian world, there are many jobs and positions within the military. Not every military service member is the infantryman you picture from the World War movies. Not every person is on the front lines, in fact most are not. Some military members work in cyber security, finance, administration, logistics, motor transportation, public relations, medicine, and many more. These positions require schooling specific to that job type, on-the-job training and experience over time. This means not every service member has the same experience or knowledge.
MYTH: That you can take vacation whenever you want.
REALITY: Like other jobs, in order to take a vacation, the service member has to request leave (the military phrase for vacation). If there are training exercises or deployments on the calendar, that leave request will be denied. Worse, if the situation changes that leave can be cancelled. A catchphrase in our house is “I do what I want. And I want to do what I am told.”
MYTH: There is a pay raise with each job.
REALITY: Each branch of military service is based on rank. After enlistment or commission, the military member enters the service at the lowest rank applicable to their time in service. An E1 in the Army and a E1 in the Marine Corps make the same amount. It does not matter what job they have or skills they have. If a billet (the term for a job in the military) is listed for an E5 and a E4 has to do that job while waiting for a E5 or waiting for a promotion, the pay received for that job is still the E4 pay. More responsibility comes with the rank, not necessarily with the job. As mentioned earlier, not every job is equal.
MYTH: Military members are in the military because they had to choose between military or jail.
REALITY: While Hollywood has demonstrated in drama filled shows and movies how judges had sentenced unruly teens to the military service, this is not the case anymore. The military service is an all-volunteer service. There is not a draft where numbers are pulled to fill the military ranks. Those who enter military service choose to do so. They feel ready to join their service branch for their own personal reasons. There are a variety of reasons to join, which this article cannot simply list due to lack of space, but one reason is not to avoid jail time. In fact, in many cases joining the military can be highly competitive!
MYTH: Military members and their spouses are uneducated.
REALITY: According to 2017 DMDC Active Duty Military Personnel Master File, the majority of Active Duty service members hold at least a high school diploma with 21.8% of them holding a higher degree. At the time of the census, 67.1% had a high school diploma/GED or some college. According to a study done by Deloitte, 45% of military spouses hold bachelors or advanced degrees. In the same year, the U.S. Census showed that about 1/3 of adults in the U.S. held a bachelor’s degree or higher. This statistic is flawed as it counts military members in addition to non-military members. However, the point is that that the military force is similarly educated if not have more formal education as the non-military population. Their education varies just as much as their civilian counterparts. Among servicemembers, many have bachelor’s, master’s, or even doctorate degrees – even if they do not need it for their job.
ONE MORE – not every military member is a soldier. Nope. The U.S. Army has Soldiers. The U.S. Air Force has Airmen. The U.S. Navy has Sailors. The U.S. Marine Corps has Marines. The Space Force has Guardians. (yes, look it up). The U.S. Coast Guard has Coast Guardsman. They are not all soldiers.
There are many more myths out there. The main feature is that military members are not all the same. We are not stick figures with cookie cutter personalities.
How do you share the reality of military life with those who may have no experience with the military?