Don't Let Financial Strain = Military Pain

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Brian J. Lauri
  • 174FW, Staff Judge Advocate
The news is bleak. Just listen to any news program for more than five seconds and you hear how bad the economy is, and how it is likely to get worse still. These are genuinely scary times, and even the most stouthearted amongst us seem to be grappling with what is going on. Some have lost their jobs, and many who are still working are worried about what tomorrow may bring. 

This article is not a financial guide on how to use a budget or pinch a penny. It is, however, an article on what not to do. Financial strain understandably can cause feelings of stress, panic and even desperation. But the problem is that stress, panic and desperation do not lead to good decision making. Out of work, or hurting for money? Boy, that government travel card is looking you right in the eye, telling you to use it. After all, you will pay it back, and your immediate problem is huge. Drill weekend is coming, but you're scared to not go to your regular job because they are giving you grief, and in these times losing your job is not an option. So, you just blow off drill weekend - after all, it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, right? 

Don't let economic adversity turn your military career into a catastrophe. Losing your job is not a punishable offense. Being in debt is not a punishable offense. Even falling behind in your bills is not a punishable offense, if you are doing everything you reasonably can do to try to keep up. But don't throw gas on the fire by illegally using your government travel card or skipping drill without permission, or anything else on a long list of dumb things to do. Long after this economic downturn has become an upturn, the damage to your career will likely still be haunting you. I would suggest that if you are experiencing financial problems, talk to your supervisor, First Sergeant or Commander. Those of you who need a security clearance to do your job, or may need one for a future job, are especially vulnerable. Don't let a creditor calling out to the base be the first notice to your unit that there is a problem. 

Responsibility during this time also falls onto the shoulders of unit leadership at all levels - Commanders, First Sergeants and supervisors. To them, I ask if you have taken any steps to see how your people are doing right now? Have you reached out to all levels of your unit? Remember, bad economic times affect everyone, top to bottom. Talking to people should be done one-on-one and privately - those in trouble aren't likely to raise their hands when asked at a Commander's call or in front of anyone else. If you do have someone who is in financial trouble (and it is all but guaranteed that you do), have you looked into seeing if there is any opportunity to get them some extra military days working on base? Unit leadership does not have a duty to solve a member's individual financial problems for them. But leadership does have a duty to seek out problems proactively, instead of waiting for them to slap you in the face, and to see if you might be able to help in some way. 

One thing is guaranteed - these bad economic times will pass. They always have. The challenge becomes how you ride out the storm that is whirling around you now. Choices may not be simple or easy. But ruining your military career along the way won't make things better for anyone.