Wednesday, 21 November 2012

What every military family wants civilians to understand

Last night I posted a link up to an incredibly honest and important blog post entitled "Dear Civilians: What Every Military Wife Wants You To Know." It is however written from an American military perspective, and while they have it harder than us in the aspects of open ended deployment, Australian military families do it just as tough because we don't get most of the perks people think we do.

As a military spouse, I constantly feel like I don't belong. I feel that I am somehow neither a married or single parent. I feel that I have no real home, and I can't get attached to this house that I bought my babies home to because I will have to leave it all too soon. I don't get to put height markers on doors, or paint my childrens' bedroom. When I was pregnant I didn't get to nest like everyone else. I don't get to chose where I live. My job interviews get wrapped up as soon as the perspective employer finds out what my husband does for a living. I am scared to put down roots anywhere, because I know that at any point I need to be able to dig them up and move, and pretend that it's all okay.

I'm like a water lily, beautiful and strong on the surface, carrying the weight of many frogs on my leaves, and the rain gliding off me like it's nothing, but underneath I am a mess of tangled, unanchored roots, reaching down into the depths longing for the substrate, and constantly floating along wondering when the water will get shallow enough for me to finally reach.

So here are some additions to the article from an Australian military perspective on not only deployments, but how different our life really is to yours. These things are on top of the struggles with employment, babysitting, and support that spouses and families deal with.

"Bush Trips"

Also known as "going out bush" "going out field" or "going on exercise", this is basically when the serving member goes off for a number of days, weeks, sometimes even months, to the middle of nowhere for a simulated training exercise. For most of us, this means days, weeks, and for the very unlucky, months, of absolutely 100% no contact at all. Sometimes you might get a lucky sneaky sat phone call, but most of the time you're on your own. The other wonderful thing about these trips is that the dates are never set in stone, and even if the unit tells you they are, a seasoned military wife knows they're lying (because they can't even be sure the higher ups wont change their minds), and to expect their partner home when he's home. I have gone 6 and a half weeks at the longest without hearing hide nor hair from my husband, looking after teething twin terrors, trying to keep the house clean, keep us all fed, fixing broken appliances, and generally feeling trapped by my own circumstances, and longing for Thursday coffee walks so I can have another adult to talk to.

For my friend Sian who is currently pregnant, her husband is almost never there for ultrasounds, antenatal classes, and test results. She is constantly told "he will be home tomorrow" but tomorrow means Tuesday next week when today is Wednesday, and so often Tuesday comes, and Tuesday goes and she is still alone and waiting.

A bush trip is like a mini deployment. For me, my husband's job is just as dangerous on home turf as it is in the Middle East, if not more so because they actually fire the guns here more often. That call to say something has gone wrong is just as real with a bush trip as it is with a deployment, the only saving grace is that the time frame passes much quicker.

You would think in the information age they could send out a text message with 24 hours notice of when they are due home, but apparently even so much as a "Private Smith is due to return from exercise in the next 24 hours" is too much to ask.

Things not to ask/say to an ADF spouse even during a bush trip include: "When is he due back?", "He's away again?", "At least it's not the Middle East", and "My partner went on a business trip to Sydney for 3 weeks once, I know how you feel."


People think we get free housing, free medical, great pay, and a whole bunch of other ridiculous free things. Not true.

First of all, we do get reduced rent but we still have to pay for our housing. We also get to deal with DHA, who are far from competent at their job although it isn't entirely their fault. Would you like to have a property manager who was managing half of the houses in town? Millions of houses across the country? They are going to slip up constantly just because it's such a huge job. It took me 8 months to fix a hole in our roof that had been there for 12 months already, and took one roof tile and approximately 10min to fix. Also unlike regular property management companies who you can threaten to sue if they don't hold up their end of the bargain, DHA is a federally run company and as such is protected by the crown, meaning we can't touch them. We also pay for much more water than we use as it is taken out of our pay, not billed to us like electricity.

Second, we don't get free medical. We haven't done for many years now. The serving member gets free medical treatment, however they cannot simply request to see a physiotherapist or chiropractor like the rest of us without a referral from the doctor, who can refuse to give such a referral, in which case they have to pay like everyone else. My husband was told by the orthopedic surgeon he was referred to that a knee reconstruction would be the best solution, but the military doctors said to make it cheaper, so he had an arthroscopy and lateral release instead, and less than 12 months later the problem was right back to square one. We do have access to Defence Health which is a private health insurance fund, but we have to pay for our health insurance just like the rest of you, and it does not come cheap. 

Thirdly, most defence members do not get paid very well. My husband is lucky to clear $50Kpa and we have to support 4 people on that because there is no support here to help me find a job. Some jobs in the military get paid better than others, and some people, like tradies (plumbers, electricians, mechanics) take side jobs to make extra money. To me, good pay is $70Kpa, and great pay is over $100Kpa. There are very, very, few military members who are on great pay, and they worked long and hard for years, perhaps even decades to get there, so don't let the television ads fool you. The only time the pay is "great" is on deployment, and it's hazard pay all the way. Oh, and if he gets injured and comes home early, you start getting taxed on an income you estimated you wouldn't have been, so you end up in trouble with Centrelink, and end up sometimes tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket.

We do get 10% off at JB HiFi, and Athletes Foot, and a few other retailers about town, but really, so do seniors so you'll all get that discount too one day.

Things not to say regarding entitlements: "Yeah but medical is all free for you guys so what do you care anyway?" "Can't he get that done through work?" "What do you mean your rent has gone up?"

So read the above blog I linked to, remember what I've just told you, and don't believe the things you see on Army Wives, or rumours you hear, or stories that your grandparents even tell you because things have changed since the 1940s.


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