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Cheat Sheet

A Family’s Guide to the Military For Dummies

From A Family's Guide to the Military For Dummies by Sheryl Garrett, Sue Hoppin

If your family is embarking on a military career, your life could be unpredictable, stressful, and ever-changing. You'll want to keep your military family happy, ease the stress of making frequent moves, and connect with other military families. To further minimize your stress, learn to manage your monthly finances and the time away from your deployed spouse.

Tips for Building a Successful Military Family

Military service is a demanding way of life for the entire family. To keep your military family together and happy, try to remember and apply the following pointers:

  • Be flexible!

  • Respect each other’s dreams and goals.

  • Manage expectations.

  • Develop family rituals.

  • Maintain open lines of communication.

  • Take advantage of all opportunities afforded to you by the military.

  • Remember that you are just as important to the mission as your servicemember spouse.

Minimize Stress about Moving

Moving is always headache, but many military families have to get used to it. You can turn moving into an art form if you keep the following tips in mind when it’s time to pack up and head out.

  • Pack the essentials you’ll need for your first few days in the house inside a large piece of furniture. It might be difficult to know which box has the linens for the beds and towels for the bathrooms, but if you pack them in a chest of drawers, you might actually find them when you need them.

  • Keep your “important documents” file with you during your move.

  • Carry a bit of home with you. Pack little family mementos in the car. It might be awhile until you’re settled again and those special pictures or touches will help make any hotel room or temporary apartment feel a little more like home.

  • Utilize the lending closet at the family support center on your installation for small appliances and kitchenwares.

Connecting to the Military Unit

When you’re part of a military family, it can be overwhelming to think about moving and starting over every two to three years. During your time at the installation, your unit will become your extended family through shared experiences and deployments. To help with your transition, the military has a structure in place that ensures that you have people, resources, and programs out there to support you from day one.

  • Use your sponsor. When your servicemember receives an assignment, your family will be offered a sponsor from the gaining unit. You can always choose to decline a sponsor, but why limit the resources available to you? Your sponsor will act as liaison to your new installation and unit.

  • Keep contact info current. The first few days to weeks at any new job are spent attending meetings and filling out mountains of paperwork. Why would the military be any different? In the course of filling out all the paperwork, your DH or DW (darling husband or darling wife) will be asked to fill out an informational sheet for the unit roster.

  • Stay in the loop. Good communication is essential to the success of any squadron or unit. At any given time, there are a multitude of support systems and programs available to you. It’s up to you to find them. The best way to stay in the loop is to maintain an open line of communication.

  • Attend Hails and Farewells. This is when you and your family are officially welcomed into the fold of the unit. Hails and Farewells are official functions organized by the unit but well attended by the families. The purpose of these events is to welcome incoming members of the unit and farewell to outgoing members and their families. Regardless of where the events are held, they’re an important time to mingle and get to know other members of the unit and their families.

  • Go to other Social Events. Hails and Farewells are only the beginning of unit activities. This means that you will have the opportunity to attend and volunteer at various parties and picnics, fundraisers, spouse events, and holiday parties which are especially fun for families of young children, so make those a priority.

Determining a Military Family’s Monthly Expenses

You should review your finances any time your family starts on a new career path, and the military is no exception. Know how much money you really need to purchase essentials for your family — food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and insurance. Most of these required expenses are provided by, or supplemented by, the military. The following is a list of the types of expenses incurred by a typical military family.

  • Shelter:

    • Home mortgage or rent

    • Utilities: electric, gas, water, sewer, trash pickup, and basic telephone service

  • Protection: Life, disability, homeowners, renters, health, and auto insurance

  • Healthcare/medical and dental care

  • Prescription drugs

  • Childcare

  • Savings: minimum of 10 percent of gross income

  • Food:

    • Groceries: basic essentials only

  • Clothing and clothing maintenance

  • Basic hygiene:

    • Personal: toothpaste, deodorant, haircuts

    • Household: laundry detergent, toilet paper

  • Transportation:

    • Automobile loan or lease payment

    • Auto maintenance

    • Gasoline

    • Other: tolls, parking, public transportation

  • Legal requirements:

    • Real estate and property taxes

    • Child support

    • Alimony

    • Other debts: school loans, personal loans, credit cards, and so on

You won’t find an expense category for dining-out, entertainment, subscriptions, health club memberships, summer camp, birthdays, charitable contributions, cable television, or mobile phones. These types of expenses, although very common and convenient, are discretionary expenses.

How to Manage Separation Anxiety

When your spouse is deployed with the military and you can watch the news 24 hours a day, it’s easy to let your imagination run wild. Technology’s a great thing, but sometimes enough is enough and you need to unplug. You’re going to have to find ways to manage your separation anxiety or you’ll find yourself coming apart. Try these tips to unwind.

  • Exercise regularly. Even if it’s just a walk with a friend around the block, build some exercise into your routine to let off some steam.

  • Eat healthfully. It’s going to be tempting to not cook meals for one, but it’s worth making the effort instead of eating out all the time. Find the spouse of another deployed servicemember and share meals.

  • Get your sleep. It’s important to recharge your batteries every night.

  • Stay away from toxic people. You’ll recognize them — they’re the ones that generate drama. They will drain your lifeblood — and you do not have the time or energy for this. Do not empower them to take more of your attention than you’re willing to give.

  • Have fun. It’s okay to have fun while your spouse is deployed or TDY. You don’t have to do everything together. If you have an opportunity to take advantage of excursions or a little trip with another spouse and their kids, do it. It’ll help pass the time and keep your mind occupied.

  • Get involved. Don’t spend days alone in the house by yourself. Before too long, the days will string together and become weeks. Without knowing it, you might have cut yourself off from the outside world. If you’re not working outside the home, find volunteer opportunities that appeal to you or find other reasons to leave the house.

  • Remember that your spouse has the best training possible and that he is good at his job. Have faith that he will be fine.

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