The telephone rang and your National Guardsman answered the phone. Guess what? It’s his First Sergeant calling and asking him to report to Hurricane Duty.
If your spouse is in the Texas National Guard, he and 11,999 other troops got called up to respond to the biggest flood Texas has suffered in a long time. A parade of Guardsmen from other states are also coming in. Hurricane Harvey is covering the southern part of Texas with so much rain it isn’t being measured in inches anymore, it is feet. It is the worst I have ever seen in my 20 years living in this state.
The duffel bags are packed, he’s about to drive off to his armory to report.
Unlike life in the active duty force, where deployments are often predictable, Guard life includes both regular deployments and responding to state emergencies. It also brings some unique challenges. What does a Guard state activation mean for the spouse at home?
Pay uncertaintyWhen they are activated guardsmen put on hold their civilian jobs, usually on unpaid leave. But families should expect a month to go by before they receive an activation paycheck.
What? A month?
In Texas, where the bulk of the Harvey response guardsmen live, State Active Duty (SAD) pay (seriously, that is the acronym) is processed differently than the pay from your local armory where they drill. It takes about a month before the pay is converted to the State of Texas’s pay system. This can be a challenge as many young troops are making minimum wage in their civilian jobs.
Many of these families can qualify for income assistance like Women and Infant Children (WIC), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Medicare. If you are concerned about paying your bills, contact your local utility companies and ask if they have a payment plan or something to help.
If you are not able to pay your rent, mortgage or car payment, contact each of those vendors and notify them of the situation and see if there is a workaround. Have your spouse contact his First Sergeant at the unit to see if there is anything at the unit level that can help in the interim.
During an activation the Red Cross can also help. There is a form you can fill out on their website. The Army Emergency Fund (AER) and Air Force Aid Society can also provide financial assistance during activation through a loan or a grant.
I can remember back when my husband was doing hurricane duties and we were a young family with a ton of student loans, daycare costs, and our salaries were so pitiful. We literally qualified for food stamps. I almost lost my mind when I found out that the pay would take that long.
Just think, the real dirty work begins after the flood waters recede. All of the destroyed homes will have to be torn down and what homes are able to be re-mediated will need a lot of work to clear out the water damage. There is more rain in the forecast this week, which is not helpful for the residents or the soldiers. Our Guardsmen could be at this awhile.
Lack of contact with homeCell phone connectivity could be sketchy. There have been very high winds, tons of standing water – it is possible a cell tower could go down. Wifi in some areas have been down for the past week.
If your soldier can get through and call you, expect to hear the sounds of exhaustion, pure boredom and frustration in their voice. In many of the hurricane duties in the past, shower accommodations were negligible at best and the constant humidity and dirty water made it difficult to have dry feet. Troops could also be living on Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) in some areas for at least the near future.
Hurry up and waitThere is a lot of waiting around for orders and instruction while logistics are getting figured out. Often they have to deal with really upset residents who are afraid to leave their home even though it is flooded because it is all they have. Unfortunately, the criminal element adds a threat to the situation as well. Not all residents are kind and have good intentions.
If you're a spouse at home, be patient during the duty assignment and try to stay positive. Do activities with your kids and friends to distract you from the loneliness. Google "free activities" for kids and adults and start knocking some of those off of your to-do list. Fun doesn’t have to cost money.
Check out your local library and read a suspense novel and distract your mind, or find a great new series to watch on Netflix. Before you know it, the sun will come out, dry up the water, and after lengthy cleanup, your soldier will be back.
Here are a few other ways Guard families can handle what could be a really stressful income shortage:Check out these tips for saving money on monthly bills.
Start hoarding your household money. Save as much as you can. If you haven’t already, start clipping coupons in the Sunday paper. You can save money by changing to a Sunday paper only type of subscription.
Cheaper yet, you can go online and download and print coupons. The Texas grocery store chain called H-E-B has a great app you can download, and you can get their digital coupons loaded on your phone. This saves you a lot of money at the register and you don’t have to carry one of those bulky annoying loyalty cards in your wallet.
Check if any of your friends would be interested in sharing coupons with you. Check the local dollar stores for household goods. Ration what you buy. Fresh vegetables like spinach, carrots, etc. can be frozen easily in freezer bags. Try to avoid food waste and eating out. Go on sites like Pinterest and google budget recipes. Do what you can to hang on to your pennies.