Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III released a memo in November directing Pentagon leadership to combat food insecurity through several initiatives, including extended tour lengths. The directive leaves many military families wondering if implementable, people-first changes are on the horizon.
Austin’s strategy seeks to address the problem of food insecurity through the extended tours of duty and two additional methods of change: funding immediate relief and strengthening financial readiness programming.
Shannon Razsadin, executive director of the Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN), says it will be releasing data in 2022 related to the causal factors of food insecurity among families they’ve worked with in Texas.
MFAN and other military nonprofit organizations seek to combat food insecurity both by raising awareness and providing meals to hundreds of thousands of families at food events.
“What are the things that are happening in families’ lives that bring them to the point of being food insecure?” asked Razsadin. “Until we have that information, everything else is really a Band-Aid. We need to get at the root causes.”
Studies show frequent moves take a physical, emotional and economic toll on families. Razsadin says extending tours could mitigate these issues, whereas simply improving financial training may not reach those on the frontlines — spouses.
“It’s often the military spouses who are making sure that the kids and the service member are fed,” she said. “And the military spouses, often women, are going without.”
Razsadin shared that MFAN is pleased to see progress on this issue but acknowledges that a multifaceted approach is required to combat the problem.
“Financial education is an important piece, but if you’re at the end of the day, and you can’t make ends meet no matter how much financial education you might receive, you still can’t make ends meet,” said Razsadin. “So, we’ve got to figure out how we can close that gap in a productive way.”
Move less, save more
Todd Ernst, founder and CEO of PCSgrades, believes reducing the number and frequency of military moves would reduce the financial burden faced by all military families.
“The problem [lack of affordable housing] is this has really been a national problem,” he said. “It’s more acute in a few areas, but not by much relatively. Extending a tour of duty is more of a universal impact.”
In addition to saving military families’ money, this shift could also save the DOD money in moving costs and reduce the strain on already over-contracted moving companies. Of course, it also requires a shift in military mindset. Air Force spouse Andrea Singsaas is cautiously optimistic.
“Just having the option to stay creates the feeling that they have more sense of control within their life,” said Singsaas.
She also believes that hope for career advancement should not be limited to one-half of a couple.
“I really think that there’s an opportunity to grow and develop in one place,” Singsaas said. “It just might be a little bit of a different path than what might have been considered traditional within an active-duty role.”
The added stability of longer tour lengths could also bring new challenges. According to a 2021 report published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), “if large numbers of service members want to stay in locations where their spouses have professional licenses, it could be more difficult for DOD to ensure it has sufficient personnel in locations where they are most needed.”
“I feel like continuity for the service members’ career field and families would be really beneficial,” said Air Force spouse Courtney Walinski. “Of course, the flip side is, if someone isn’t great at their job or you don’t like where you are at, you are stuck. I think having the ability to choose … to have the option to stay longer versus extending the time as a standard would be nice.”
Most military families agree that options are key. Army spouse Helen Chou said she fought for months to maintain overseas status with her family while her husband finishes a six-month PCS back in the U.S. Afterward, he plans to come straight back to their current post for another assignment.
“We have kids in school; it’s not easy to constantly uproot families, especially with kids in tow or spouses who finally land a job,” she said. “And the latter has happened as well. I finally hear back on a job after getting clearance and find out we are getting curtailed on the assignment.”
Chou adds that an extension is a terrific option if the family is enjoying the tour, “but it should just be an option, not necessarily a must for everyone, because let’s face it — there are less desirable places out there.”Read comments