Erika Tebbens remembers her early years as a Navy wife, struggling to make ends meet at a new duty station near pricey Seattle.
College educated but unable to find a full-time job in her field, she settled into work as a part-time bank teller and, when she became pregnant, began worrying how the family would make ends meet.
"A civilian co-worker of mine informed me we would probably qualify for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. ... I was honestly shocked. I did not think that any military family in our country would [need to] apply for any type of government assistance," she said.
Tebbens and her new baby qualified for WIC. But later, unable to afford child care, the couple decided she would reduce her hours to one day a week so they could swap parental duties. With bills mounting, she applied for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, but was denied.
Tebbens is one of several advocates pushing to help military families in financial straits, supporting a proposed bill that would furnish a basic needs allowance for service members whose gross household income does not exceed 130% of the federal poverty guidelines.
When Renee Swift, an Air Force officer, married an active-duty Navy pilot, the couple added to their already-challenging careers a third, seemingly full-time job: coordinating their advancements and deployments around the life and the home they shared. “In our marriage, we have lived apart longer than we have together, because of our military careers’ demands,” Swift says. The near-inevitability of physical separations in the military, through deployments or separate assignments, is so common that those who undertake it are called “geographic bachelors.” For all intents and purposes, they live as though they are unmarried and childless.
After her husband was medically retired from the Marine Corps in 2015, Patricia Ochan set aside her career as a lawyer with a cybersecurity degree to become a full-time caregiver to her husband while raising their young child.
The military is facing a growing recruiting crisis: 71% of Americans between 17 and 24 can’t meet the minimum criteria for service, which places the burden of service on an ever-small and shrinking pool of troops with a family history of joining the military.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a new Task & Purpose column called “Swamp Warfare,” in which thought leaders examine the growing intersection of military, politics, and policy in the United States.