Most members of our extended family are not military. So I am asked frequently what the difference is between civilian life and military life. Today I think I have an answer: I think it comes down to choices.
What brought about this epiphany? Nothing that dramatic or earth-shaking except an article I was forwarded through a network of fellow spouses. According to the Albany Herald in Albany, Georgia:
The Worth County Board of Education's decision Thursday to suspend a policy that allowed students whose parents are Marines living on the Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany to attend Worth County schools stunned base officials and outraged many parents of the 57 children who, at least for now, have nowhere to go when school opens next month.This decision came as a surprise to the community and especially the Marine Corps base commander. Officials at the Marine Corps Logistical Base had not been included in the decision process or the meeting of the school board. They were unaware the possibility that the school system might reject Marine students due to a Memorandum of Understanding they had with the Worth County School district.
Why did this particular event cause my epiphany? I'm not sure. I no longer have school age children and my children were largely educated in the DoD schools at the locations where we were stationed.
But in our first years in the Marine Corps, we were stationed in a location where my children had to go to school in the local school district. In four years, my oldest son attended two different schools. If we had stayed in the area a year longer, both of my boys would have been switched to another school in the district so the district could put all of the military children in one location.
I was told by the school administration that it would allow them to focus on the "special needs of military children which included more learning disabilities and absent or ineffective parenting skills due to the military lifestyle these children had been subjected to."
It was the feeling of the district that there was enough of a difference between "military" parents and "normal" parents that they needed to put all of these children together.
I guess I never really recovered from this shock because it was a concerted effort on our part to avoid school districts in this area throughout our career up to this point.
I read the article from Georgia and it disturbed me that once again, the youngest members of the military family are being subjected to a lifestyle of little choice. I think that is the key difference between our lifestyle and a civilian lifestyle. Even though the county has now announced that the Marine children will be grandfathered in to the school system, the hurt and distrust is still there.
Military families typically don't have a choice for their next duty station or community to call home. They typically don't have the financial freedom (choice) to have the family settle in one location and the service member move to the next duty station.
They don't have a choice in how many months a service member may be home during the duration of one billet or another. For many military families, once the service member takes his/her oath to serve their country, the other family members are also bound by what that oath means to their day to day life.
The actions of this school board are another demonstration of how little choice we do have and a very direct effect of that lack of choice. It is my hope that the actions in Georgia do not carry over onto the many other small bases across our country that support communities.
Our children should be able to count on something as normal as going to school each day in this life of constant change.
Melinda Rau is a Marine spouse currently stationed in Australia.