I guess we’re lucky, my husband and I. Every day I hear stories of military families on the breadline with massive debts and loan sharks at the door. When I can’t sleep at night worrying about whether or not we’ll make the mortgage on time this month, what bills are overdue or how much petrol can we afford to put in the car I keep telling myself, “We’re lucky, there’s so many more worse off than us”.
My husband has been a member of the Defence Forces for nearly 17 years now. We met 10 years ago and I was completely enamoured by his confidence and passion for his job. He is what I describe as “soldier to the bone”. A man who has served his country proudly and to the utmost of his ability. Over the last decade, it has broken my heart to see the man I love work his hardest for no reward. We are all aware of the cut backs, the lost duty money, the loss of cash transport duties, the reclassification of security duties as “exercise troops” to avoid having to pay security money and providing hot meals, the reduction in numbers for overseas missions, the lack of promotion opportunities, the lack of accommodation in barracks forcing serving members to sleep in their cars, the use of mefloquine as a prophylactic anti-malarial despite the proven horrific side effects …the sickening list goes on and on. What is more difficult to see is the human cost, the erosion of self -worth and confidence that comes with the continual corrosion of value within the workplace.
My husband has served overseas on many UN missions. He has undertaken any course, duty or task the army has asked of him and has volunteered for many more. He has served loyally and faithfully. He has rolled out of bed at 3am in the worst of weather warnings to be part of emergency response teams. He performs 24 hour security duties where he is expected to remain awake and alert at all times for less than one euro extra per hour. He has left his home for days, weeks, months at a time, often with short notice. He does this unquestioningly and unflinchingly, mostly without any financial remuneration beyond his basic weekly wage. It is his duty as a soldier.
I keep saying “We are lucky” and we are. My career has allowed us to keep our heads above water, just about. Our house was purchased under my name. We would not have gotten a mortgage approved on my husband’s pay packet. We are lucky that we can afford the hidden costs of army living. The cost of boot polishes and dry cleaning bills for Number One’s. The cost of providing bed sheets for overnight stays in army barracks where the condition of bed linen is so poor that soldiers bring their own. The cost of repairing worn uniforms. The cost of mounting bravely earned medals. We have no spare money to spend on ourselves, the idea of having savings or trying to put away a little something in a pension for me is beyond our capabilities. When I feel sick to my stomach thinking of our future and our lack of financial security, I console myself that “at least we don’t have kids to worry about”. For now. I look down the road ahead and try and imagine our life with children and it scares me. I can’t see how we could ever manage to give our future family a life above the poverty line. I worry constantly knowing that if anything ever happened to reduce my income that we would quickly find ourselves drowning in financial difficulty.
We are lucky. We have a good relationship and we can talk through our difficulties. In the last number of years I have seen my husband’s morale lessen and lessen. I have held my husband and cried as yet another unexpected bill rolling in threatens to send us into debt just as we think we’ve managed to scrimp together a few quid’s worth of savings. I’ve seen the heartbreak in his eyes as he feels he has let the side down by not providing more to the household income. I’ve sat next to him as he held his head in his hands wondering if he should get a second job just to help make ends meet. There is an anger, a frustration and a sadness at the unfairness of it all. I’ve seen his love for his job, his pride in his country being slowly strangled by a depression and fear caused by financial stress. Yes, we are luckier than some in the Defence Forces, we are managing. Surviving. Barely.
In an Ireland where rates of male suicide and depression are noted for being exceptionally high, I guess what I feel luckiest about is that I still have a husband.