Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Living on Base VS living off Base

Q. Do we have to live in base housing?
A. It depends. In some places, particularly overseas, it may not be safe to live off base. In other places, there simply is not enough base housing available, and you cannot live on base. It requires consent from your Sailor's command to live off base.

Q. What are some benefits of living in base housing?
A. The size of the unit you receive depends on how many dependents the sailor has, and his/her rank. Early in a military career, you would likely live in a larger and nicer place on base than off base if you have a family. All basic utilities are included (free) when you live in base housing. You are surrounded by families who are accustomed to the military lifestyle, and can help a new military spouse adjust to the new life. There is usually a good sense of community in base housing. Often your spouse will work with a few of his / her neighbors, there will be kids in a similar age range nearby, and at one time or another most of the people your live near will have many similar life experiences.

Q. Why would anyone want to live off base?
A. Some people get stationed near where they originally lived and may already own property in the community. In addition, they may have friends and or family living nearby and want to be closer to those people. As with any neighborhood, sometimes base housing can feel too intrusive to the military member and his/her family. Working and living with the same people day in and day out can be trying even in the best of circumstances. Also, the military community as a whole is pretty tightly knit. You and your spouse/family may decide you want to immerse yourselves into the culture of the area you are living in.

LES, BAQ, huh?

One of the biggest steps in any marriage is combining and managing your finances. As a Navy wife, I needed to learn a completely new language just to figure out how much money my husband earned. Here is some of the basic terminology associated with military pay.

LES = Leave and Earnings Statement. Also could be called a pay stub. Shows leave (sick leave, standard leave, etc- also known as vacation and sick time) and earnings.
Base pay = standard pay scale. This figure is pre-determined and computed by rank and years of service.
BAQ = Basic Allowance for (living) Quarters. Money given to personnel who are permitted to live off the military base. This is also pre-determined and computed by rank and years of service.
ComRats = Commuted Rations. Food "allowance" - for Sailors with Dependents and those who are not required to eat meals in the mess hall.
COLA = Cost of Living Adjustment or Allowance. Additional money to compensate for a higher cost of living at a particular duty station. Hawaii, for example, has a bigger COLA than Idaho.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

In Pearl Harbor, watching Japanese battleships

Reflections on December 7, 1942. The day that shall live in infamy.

The island of Oahu is a living testament to the damage that was inflicted on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, prior to the US entering WWII. There are abandoned bunkers in the hills and mountains of the island. If you know where to look, or look closely, you can easily see the scarring left in the landscape from the attack on Pearl Harbor. There is the ever present USS Arizona National Memorial and museum.

It was mid June 1997. Jack and I went to the Navy Exchange at Pearl Harbor to pick up some items for his full inspection before shipping out in July. We emerged from the Exchange with our packages and prepared to head back home. We stopped briefly to look at the ships docked in the Harbor.

Directly in front of us, only several hundred yards away was a Japanese Navy ship. Her colors were flying. Hundreds of Japanese sailors in their dress whites poured off the ship for some shore leave. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, I was chilled to the bone and desperately struggled to get my mind around what I was seeing. Japanese sailors freely disembarked from their ship, and walking around the Leeward side of Oahu and looking for a good time.

How could this be? The Japanese military killed thousands of US military [personnel, and countless innocent Hawaiians only one generation earlier. The answer is simple, but certainly not easy to comprehend. Times have changed and the Japanese are now among the US Allies.

I tried desperately to talk to Jack about this very disturbing scene. He would not even pretend to listen to what I was saying. Several months after he deployed, I had the chance to talk with a female sailor about this very subject. She explained to me that death is part of life in the military. Part of the day-to-day life of being a sailor is the knowledge you might have to lay down your life at any time. I am still, to this day, both baffled and in awe of that conviction. I do not think I could do that.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Mrs. Petty Officer, I presume...part two

A few days later, my new husband and I went back to the personnel office. I was photographed and they handed me my shiny new Military ID. Other than my marriage license, it was the first item that had my new married name on it. I was beaming from ear to ear.

It was not until much later that I learned that one cannot do anything related to the military without that ID card. A valid military ID is needed to get on to a secure military base, to do any kind of shopping or activity on base, to go to a military medical facility, to talk to anyone about housing, benefits, school and so it goes.

There are essentially 3 types of military ID cards. The first one is green. It is for active duty military personnel. It is as valid as a passport for travel. The second one is a pink/peach color. That is for dependents. Benefits for dependents vary and are stated on the ID. Yes, that is correct, dependents. Being married to a sailor, I was considered a dependent - more specifically- a dependent wife. I felt weird as an adult woman being called a dependent, especially since I had been raised to be independent. Other people who fall into the dependent category are: children under the age 18 that the service member has a legal obligation to; a parent or grandparent the service member is supporting, a child of any age who has a significant disability and the service member is responsible for and the like. A non-married parent who shares legal obligation for a dependent child is not considered a dependent. For example: My boyfriend is in the military and I get pregnant. I (the not married to the service member pregnant woman) am not considered a dependent, but my unborn child is. I can get pre-natal care for the baby and myself. Once the baby is born s/he gets a dependent ID card, but the not married mother never gets a military ID card. The third common type of military ID is blue. That is for retired military personnel, or disabled and honorably discharged service members.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Mrs. Petty Officer, I presume...

Jumping ahead a few steps....

After a simple civil ceremony, we each signed a piece of paper, (our marriage license) and it was official. Shortly thereafter, we boarded a plane and headed for California to start our life together as husband and wife.

We drove from the airport to our new home, the spacious apartment he shared with one of his co-workers off base. I spent about an hour puttering around my new place, looking in the cupboards, figuring out where to put my clothes and getting a feel for the place. My new husband, Jack, and I got back in the car to take care of business... military business.

Our first challenge was getting on base. Jack, of course, had his Military ID, and showed it to the guard at the gate. The guard raised an eyebrow at me, wanting to see my ID, too. I dug in my purse and pulled out my Texas driver’s license. This was not what he wanted to see. We had to pull the car into the security area and get a pass so Jack could bring me on the Base. I was beginning to feel like a stranger in a strange land.

Properly permitted, we went into the medical clinic where Jack worked as a corpsman (more on this at a later date). We went on a whirlwind tour of the place, where I was introduced to his Commanding Officer (CO), the Chaplain, several of his coworkers, and several ranking Officers in the clinic. I did not know or realize it at the time, but he had to get permission to marry me from his CO, and he had spoken to the Chaplain at length about our marriage. I thought he was introducing me to these people for my benefit (which of course, it was), but he was really introducing me to his Command as part of his duty as a sailor.

Next, we headed off to a Personnel office. We filled out a stack of paperwork and gave the clerk a copy of our marriage license. It was a Federal holiday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, so they were not able to issue me an ID card. The clerk apologized profusely, which I found puzzling. I smiled and waved, and said I'd be back another day to get my ID. The next stop was the Commissary - also known as the grocery store in the Civilian world. Jack, the bachelor, did not have a lot of stuff in his kitchen and we both knew we would have to do some serious grocery shopping if I was ever going to make him dinner. It was a strange place, indeed. I had never seen 30 varieties of rice at my local Albertsons in Houston.

We did a pretty good job of filling our grocery cart and headed for the checkout lanes. Jack had his ID in hand. The cashier asked to see my ID. She had not even started ringing us up yet. She and I both looked at him and started firing off questions. He made at "time out" sign with his hands and we both stopped. Jack told the clerk we had just gotten married and they could not issue me an ID card because it was a Federal holiday. She looked at him and me and him. I was all giddy and giggly... we showed our brand new shiny matching wedding bands. She reluctantly went ahead and rang up our order, which Jack paid for with his debit card. I was beside myself with confusion.

As we were wheeling our groceries to the car I was asking questions a mile a minute. Why did he have to show his ID if he was not writing a check? What was the deal with the clerk giving me a hard time? blah, blah, blah, blah blah.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Before the wedding - part two

During our daily phone conversations, we began to discuss being together. Everything seemed so perfect. We had common religious beliefs; we were three years apart in age (he was 32 and I was 29). Neither of us had ever been married before or had any children, and we both wanted to have kids. I am a very low maintenance kind of woman. I do not require a big house, fancy cars and clothes, or lavish vacations to make me happy. I love the adventure moving around affords. All I wanted was the love of a good man.

Marrying a sailor would be a good fit for my personality. It began to seem quite possible and quite real to me the more he and I talked. One of his concerns about getting married was about his future wife and the necessity of moving every three or so years that goes with military life. I had to laugh at that one. I had moved an average of twice a year, every year, since I graduated from high school. Some years I moved 3 or 4 times. Once every three years seemed like a very stable life to me.

On of the things we talked about early on was his pending change of duty station (in laymen’s terms, he would be moving to a new job site). He was scheduled to re-enlist for four years at the end of January. He already had his orders for his next duty station and he would be moving in June. The logistics were beginning to seem a bit tricky. I lived in Houston and he lived in California. I could move to California to be with him, date him, and see what happened. If things did not work out, I would be in a place far from home where I did not really know anyone. If we really hit it off, I could go with him in June. Problem was, he was moving to Hawaii. It really requires a plane ticket to get a person to Hawaii and a ship to get personal belongings to Hawaii. The military would not pay to move a girlfriend or a fiancĂ©e. We talked about the cost of me making two major moves in a 6-month period. Late one night, after at least 4 hours on the phone, he told me that the military would pay for everything if we were married.

Wait a minute! Did he say married? as in me, married to him? me? married to him? Things got hazy.... my head was spinning. I wished I had someone near by to pinch me.

... to be continued

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Before the wedding - part one

It was a whirlwind romance. I met a handsome, career sailor over the Internet. We corresponded via email for about a month. Finally, we exchanged phone numbers and began talking on the phone. Did we talk on the phone, several hours a day, every day for two months. We cooked together, watched TV shows together, read books to each other and talked about everything under the sun. Often, I would be in bed half asleep, but still talking to him. I held on to the sound of his voice, not wanting the inevitable to happen- the time when we would hand up the phone and go into our separate lives.

To be continued...