portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article

imperialism & war

US soldiers' wives fight bitter battle of their own

"I know several wives of Marines with small children who line up at churches for grocery handouts which are the only way they can survive the month and feed and cloth the baby," said military wife, Natalie Castro, 19.

Oceanside, CA's main street is lined with scores of loan agencies that lend cash strapped soldiers up to $250 dollars on their next salaries in return for a post-dated cheque and a hefty $44 dollar charge on the transaction.

Low ranking privates and corporals - they make up 60 per cent of the US Marine Corps - take home only around $800 dollars a month after tax, or $9,600 dollars annually.
US soldiers' wives fight bitter battle of their own

April 14 2003
 http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/04/13/1050172477656.html

As US troops battle remnants of Iraq's fallen regime, their wives are locked in a bitter struggle against money woes that have forced some to resort to charity handouts to survive.

Low military salaries and the high cost of living in parts of the United States means that families of many of the lower ranking US troops fighting in Iraq live a hand to mouth existence.

"I know several wives of Marines with small children who line up at churches for grocery handouts which are the only way they can survive the month and feed and cloth the baby," said military wife, Natalie Castro, 19.

"Military salaries are so low that they are almost impossible for a family to live on, leaving some women desperate, especially now when we also have the emotional turmoil of worrying if our men are safe in Iraq," she said.

Like many of her friends, the mother of a seven-month-old boy, relies on an American Red Cross program to supply her with crucial baby formula and on additional help from the military community.

Castro, the wife of a 21-year old Marine private, is one of around 130,000 residents of Oceanside, which is dominated by Marines from the nearby Camp Pendleton base and lies near the upscale Californian city of San Diego.

Much like other US military towns, Oceanside's main street is festooned with US flags, patriotic messages for the troops in Iraq and miles of yellow ribbons symbolising the town's vigil for loved ones who are fighting abroad.

Like much of California, the sun drenched seaside town boasts an idyllic beach and a resort town atmosphere. But it also comes with the higher rental and retail prices that go with life on the glistening Pacific coast.

The main street is lined with scores of loan agencies that lend cash strapped soldiers up to $US250 ($A413) dollars on their next salaries in return for a post-dated cheque and a hefty $US44 ($A72) dollar charge on the transaction.

Low ranking privates and corporals - they make up 60 per cent of the US Marine Corps - take home only around $US800 ($A1,323) dollars a month after tax, or $US9,600 ($A15,881) dollars annually.

The US Census Bureau classifies a family of three as poor if its cash income is less than $US14,128 ($A23,371) dollars a year, or $US11,569 ($A19,138) dollars for a married couple.

"We get a lot of young Marines' wives who need things like eggs, bread, vegetables and such items to get through the month," said Manny Garza who helps hand out food to the needy at Oceanside's St Mary's Church.

"It's tough for them because they are so proud of what their husbands are doing, especially now that we are at war, yet they're battling at home," he said adding that many families did not like to talk of their financial woes.

Even a combat pay boost awarded to troops in Iraq has not ended the monthly cash crunch that families of low ranking soldiers feel.

"I've heard of women who are on welfare or use food stamps to go shopping, which adds to anxiety that wives with loved ones in Iraq are feeling," said Michelle Kester, the wife of a Marine recruiting master sergeant.

The Military Outreach Ministry gives boxes of essential monthly groceries, including baby nappies, to around 400 families of personnel at Camp Pendleton and San Diego's naval station.

But it reaches up to 10,000 people a month who need additional handouts of items ranging from furniture to baby formula to medical assistance to household repairs.

"Sometimes we have families which can just afford to move into a home off-base, but who then can't afford to furnish it, not even with a bed," said the ministry's Aline Bradley.

"It is difficult, but the military does have programs, including ours, that provide a major safety belt for service families in trouble - they just have to know how to get that help."

To help families manage their money, the military even provides courses on household budgeting and balancing chequebooks to soldiers' wives.

But even with help from the military community and other groups, times are tough for young military families trying to live the American Dream in sunny California.

"After tax and after paying for the car and its insurance and medical bills for the baby, there's nothing left," Castro said.

"My husband and most of his friends all have second jobs or work whenever they can just to survive, which seems really wrong to me given the job they're doing for is Iraq."

homepage: homepage: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/04/13/1050172477656.html

soldier's pay 14.Apr.2003 10:23

gudulkaman

If soldiers are taking home aobut $9600, that would put their gross pay at about $12000/year. Isn't that about minimum wage?

i have a solution! 14.Apr.2003 10:23

republic of cascadia citizen

i have a very simple solution for struggling military personnel and their families: stop being a pawn for rich men's global chess games, living off tax-payer dollars, and get a job which actually contributes to a better future for us all. a teacher doesn't get paid as much as they should, but they make far more than $9K/year, and they get a chance to help young minds grow rather than explode, and the goddess knows that we need more teachers in this nation of feeble minds that are so easily swayed by corporate whore propaganda.

But They are paid mercenaries! 14.Apr.2003 10:39

xe

I thought they were paid mercenaries?

I thought they were only in it for the money?

telling it like it is 14.Apr.2003 11:14

proud captain

"xe" wrote: "I thought they were only in it for the money?"

oh no, the opportunity for state-sanctioned murder, hollow media propaganda "glory" and "heroism", and a pat on the head from their masters is a much greater incentive than the dollar.

maybe it's that legendary 'college money' 14.Apr.2003 13:40

heimdallr

Or, if you research the demographics of the US Armed Forces, that salary is better than what a lot of them have available to them otherwise. If you sign up poorer people, you don't have to pay them as much to be the best offer in front of them.

U.S. Military "glory" Is A Fraud 14.Apr.2003 18:11

Penny J.

Even for those coming from poor communities, the thing which pulls young folks into the military is the hype. They aren't usually married at that point and their self-confidence is a bit low because when you're starting out it's hard. And there's all that glory you're told you'll be involved with. You expect the military will "make a man of you" or the equivalent. And you'll be "serving your country" -- which, believe it or not promises something meaningful to most people.

And it's really a lie. Not only is the pay too low to make something like family life practical but the first thing the young person experiences is a concentrated brain-washing program. True, it's in tandem with body-building exercise, which always is a lift, but the constant abuse and calous treatment breaks down all but the strongest person's individuality. Some of the standard chants used during marches are mantras intended to morally re-train the way the young people think -- creating a brutal ethos which is not appropriate in civilian life.

And once these young people have actually been through war, do you think their sacrifice will give them the lasting thanks and support of the federal government? NOT. Research the way the government has neglected the Vets from past wars. Those Medical Benefits? Get lucky and you might be helped recover so long as you recover real fast. But veterans have been being swept under the federal rug for a very long time.

And now, folks, if you've been hearing "Support Our Troops" you can reply, "If you REALLY supported the Troops, you wouldn't be pro-George Bush. He's pushing for a Veterans Medical Care cut of 30% even as he's creating more casualties and handicapped vets." See if the flag-wavers really give a damn about the kids caught in that insanity. I doubt it. They're not likely to actually be patriotic enough to go up against the Administration's malfeasance in office!

Just do it. 14.Apr.2003 19:20

Schamunklo

I agree with the notion that soldiers are in this war-dustry for a "pat on the head from their masters." For so many it seems that military vocation is simply what you do...what your father did (and mother), and their father did, and so on. It is like a caste-culture and very difficult to break the mold I suppose. There is nothing like the scorn of one's family.

you little nancy boys 14.Apr.2003 20:23

foad

Sissy boyz! You criticize something you can never hope to obtain. No way in hell could (or would) ever make it as a Marine...so you sit on the sidlines and make sad little comments. Come on fess up, you're gay aren't you. hmmmm?

What century are you living in? 14.Apr.2003 20:38

anonymous

Nothing wrong with being gay foad.

You are wrong 14.Apr.2003 21:47

foad

Yes, there is something wrong with being gay. You should know that from the depths of your very being. Apparently, I'm in the wrong century for you.

Marines? 14.Apr.2003 22:26

lalala

Foad-
that fella who helped orchastrate the suicide attack on the military base in Iraq was a marine. seems he got in pretty easy.
By the way, foad, you'd fit in well with Ossama- i hear he's pretty anti-gay as well. Or you could just give up and come out of the closet... it's a well known fact that about 90% of homophobes are actually gay and scared to admit it.

pathetic 15.Apr.2003 04:52

foad

There is a huge difference between homophobia and distain. I am not afraid of homosexuals or the gay lifestyle, I simply deplore it. Clearer now?

Are you sure your boy was a Marine and not in the 101st Airborne?

Not playing with a full deck are you?

Dear God... 15.Apr.2003 12:38

Lalala

Jesus Christ. I must have gone completely crazy. I totally forgot that the Airborne division has no merit, works for the Iraqi's, and should never ever accidently be associated with the Marines, God's beautiful soldiers.
P.S. so if you got hit on by a gay fella, you wouldn't go into a blind rage? it wouldn't offend your morality??? you wouldn't be forced to kill him for God?????????