ASEAN Defense: Thai & USA troops struggling to get enough food on the table

By Stingray, Thai Intel’s national security journalist

The global economic crisis, left few disagreeing, that there needs to be less guns and more butter. The globe agrees, but what about the military?

A few days ago, Bangkok Post‘s national security journalist, Wassana, reported that the Thai army chief, Prayuth, said that Thai soldiers are not getting enough to eat, and the military have had to cut back, on the amount of food for soldiers, as the prices of food in Thailand is expensive.

Then I came across a report, in a military related blog, and my apology for not remembering the name, said the number of USA troops family, on food stamp, has increased about 300%.

My first reaction to both reports is, for Thailand perhaps all the corruption nonsense needs to be cut-back, and secondly, if it comes to hungry soldiers, perhaps both militaries should cut back on weapons purchase.

However, as some of Thai Intel’s long-time readers knows, Thai Intel is close to the wife, of a senior Thai army soldier, and for a long time, she had said, that the Thai Generals, do not greatly appreciate her husband’s dedication to the service, and often, her husband, just feels like a “Brick in the Wall” and a “Hired Hand.”

And from my following of many blogs on American soldiers, I often come across the same type of sentiment, that the high-up, in the American military establishment, just do not care all that much for the rank and files.

When considering, the sacrifices human beings make, to become soldiers, often having to take the life of other human beings, many times, verging on for political objectives, with the rank and file soldiers, trained to follow orders regardless of how they personally feel about the situation-often, resulting deep psychological scars-at the very least, both Thai and USA military, can make sure, that the soldiers and their families, are taken cared of.

A military blog reports:

Why Are So Many Military Families on Food Stamps?

May 9, 2012 By Cassy

Posted in Military Life, Military News, Opinion, Spouse and Family

Today was the launch of the 2012 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, from Blue Star Families (you can download the survey here.) I found a lot of the information presented interesting, but there was one thing in particular that caught my eye: the number of military families on food stamps has tripled in the last year.

I suspect there will be a few factors blamed for this: poor military pay, and spouses who have trouble finding a job (an issue also presented in the survey). But is that really the issue at play here?

The fact that military spouses struggle with finding employment has been getting a lot of play recently, and for good reason. You marry into the military, and that can have a huge effect on your career. A lot of employers understandably are wary of hiring military spouses, because they know that the employee they just hired very well could end up leaving with very little notice for any number of reasons. This life is unpredictable, and unpredictable doesn’t always mesh well with a long-term career.

In any case, let’s say that the spouse does have a job, one that pays well. The family is used to that extra paycheck, and they live comfortably. But then, they find out they have to PCS, and bam — bye bye, extra paycheck. Now the spouse can’t find a job at their new duty station in the same field or with the same decent paycheck, and suddenly, the family is struggling. It’s a very plausible scenario.

While I have absolutely no doubt that the above scenario does happen, I would be willing to bet that there’s a much simpler culprit at hand when it comes to reasons for military families needing financial assistance: lack of budgeting.

I know that we don’t make a lot of money as a military family. But let’s be honest: it’s not that bad. No, we will never be rich. But we have enough to get by. Most military families probably do, if they’re willing to live within their means. But do they?

There’s almost an ongoing joke about not buying cars at the car dealerships here, and making sure to drive the hour or so to another town. The reason is because the dealerships here will take you for all you’ve got. And why do they do that? Because they know they can. There are always Marines who just got a reenlistment bonus, or just got back from deployment, ready to drop a ton of cash on a nice, new car.The point of that example is that, from what I see, a lot of people don’t live within their means. I’d be extremely curious to know, for example, how many of those families on food stamps also have cable, internet, and smart phones. How many of them bought a new car (or two) within the past year? How often do they go out to eat? Those kinds of expenses can drain a lot of money out of your paycheck, and it makes it easy for people to feel like they don’t have enough money to get by. After all, we’re used to that lifestyle in America. Just about everyone has a TV, cable, internet, decent cars, cell phones, etc. That includes military families as well. (And don’t get me started on how many Coach purses I see walking around Camp Lejeune.)

And while the argument isn’t that military families shouldn’t have those things (we certainly have all of them), it does make me think that the deeper issue here is not a lack of money available for bills and necessities, but poor budgeting and a lack of financial awareness. I also think that when you add in extremely young spouses, that problem is even more likely. Think about it — how savvy were you with your money when you were 20 years old? Learning to be strict with your money, and to budget carefully each month, isn’t always easy and it doesn’t come naturally to everyone.

Would this explain everyone on food stamps in the military? Of course not, and I am sure there are plenty of people on food stamps who genuinely have some kind of extenuating circumstances that are beyond their control. But I also do strongly believe that financial mismanagement is common in the military, and that would explain a lot of the people using food stamps, as well. After all, service members are given allowances for both food and housing, in addition to their base pay. Theoretically, it shouldn’t be an issue, but it is.

What would help solve this problem? Giving families the tools to better manage their money through budgeting classes and financial assistance would probably be a huge help. The problem is, those resources already exist. The issue is that military families don’t take advantage of them, probably because a lot of them don’t know that they exist. So to me, the question becomes, how do we better inform our families of the resources available to help them become more financially knowledgeable, so they can learn to budget properly and manage their money well?

I would be willing to bet that if the military was able to find a magic way to do that, the number of families on food stamps would dwindle.

Photo courtesy NCReedplayer

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