It's so finely interwoven in the (often ugly, synthetic) fabric of our society, there's no telling where you will encounter it or how it will entrap you. At the hospital, where you can't see your best friend because she's not your wife. Before the co-op board, which can reject you because you don't have a husband. On the road, where you pay more to drive than your married neighbor does. At the office, where your paycheck is taxed for thousands more than your married coworker's. And now in Afghanistan, where you may be blown to bits while your buddies are snuggling at home with their spouses in their private military housing. No one will miss you, of course, because if you aren't married, everyone knows you aren't important to anyone.
It should surprise no one that a country which condones and encourages the inequities above would also discriminate against the singles who put their lives on the line to serve it. But it should disturb us. It disturbed me when a good friend of mine--let's call her Melissa--informed me that her cousin, Josh, a Naval Petty Officer Second Class, was about to be deployed for a year's tour in the Al Qaeda capital of the world, Afghanistan. Moreover, he was not going to be serving on a submarine, as usual, but on the ground. Among the suicide bombers and sundry militants.
See, it turns out that when the Army's manpower is running low, the Navy can pump in some fresh blood to be spilled by sending its sailors into ground combat zones. Somehow I don't think that's what Josh signed up for when he donned his first blue garrison cap. But now the Navy owns him, and they can send him wherever they like to do whatever they like, including missions formerly reserved for a completely different branch of the military.
At 24, Josh is still a young man, the son of a widowed single mom and older brother of two sisters. He is the only male in his nuclear family. Since I'm not using his real name, I think it's safe to tell you that he also struggles with a health problem that has interfered with his job sufficiently to require rehabilitative treatment in the past. On the surface, it appears that Josh might not be the best candidate to be sent into a potentially explosive service environment (no pun intended).
However, let's not forget that Josh is also single. He's not married and has no children. The Navy would surely insist that his marital status had nothing to do with how they singled him out to be dropped into the heart of danger. But, according to Josh, the other Naval candidates for the dubious privilege of honorary Army service were all married. As we all know here at Singletude, that means their lives are more important. It would be such a tragedy for a young war bride to lose her husband and have to remarry, but it's just par for the course for an already widowed, aging mom to lose her only son.
While no one can prove that Melissa's cousin was sacrificed because he is single, the armed forces have a longstanding history of favoritism to married couples, most clearly evident in the inequitable distribution of the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS), and Family Separation Allowance (FSA). The BAH, BAS, and FSA are untaxed monetary supplements, partly determined by marital status, which the armed forces pretend are not income to deflect criticism from civil rights activists appalled that single serviceman aren't receiving equal pay for equal work. However, single soldiers themselves have been quite vocal on the subject, complaining that they are denied privacy, autonomy, space, leisure, and even decent food by virtue of their inadequate compensation, which forces them to live in communal barracks while their married counterparts have their own houses on or off base. In addition to cramped, supervised quarters more suited to adolescents in reform school than hardworking adults serving our country, enlisted singles report that they are always on call and must endure the most undesirable, inconvenient duties because they can never leave the workplace. Furthermore, the FSA, which is financial compensation for the emotional hardship of prolonged separation from spouse and children, is a slap in the face to the young men and women in uniform who desperately miss parents, grandparents, siblings, nephews and nieces, cousins, unmarried romantic partners, and friends.
While reforms have ameliorated some of the inequality between married and single service members, a gulf still remains. Besides the aforementioned injustices, single servicemen are subjected to the same discriminatory policies that plague the private sector, including unequal compensation in the form of healthcare and death and disability benefits.
Perhaps in response to all these extra goodies, military personnel marry and have children earlier, on average, than the general population does. For example, the average member of the Army is 24 years old at the birth of his or her first child, an age at which most civilians aren't even married yet. Unfortunately, as marriage rates have soared, so have divorces. One wonders if some of those young officers are flocking to the altar just to get their own slice of marriage perk pie.
The U.S. armed forces are losing some of their best and brightest because enlisted singles are treated like frat house inductees in a never-ending hazing ritual. As they wise up to their status as second-class citizens, talented singles are abandoning the Army, Navy, and Air Force for corporate jobs that pay them for their skills, not their spouses. It's time for the Department of Defense to realize that the men and women who lay down their lives to protect millions of innocents are all worthy of the same respect, no matter who is waiting for them back home. And perhaps, if our government can lead the way in fairly apportioning benefits to singles, the private sector may be pressured to follow. Or at least one can dream.
Have you or has someone you know served in the U.S. armed forces while single? If so, did you (or he or she) experience any singlism, either of the kind mentioned here or of some other kind? What do you think the military could do to treat singles more equitably?
Fun Link of the Day
Do you have a question for Clever Elsie about some aspect of the single life? Have a rant or rave about singlehood? Write in, and you just might see your question in a Singletude Q&A or your rant or rave in a Singletude Sound-off!
Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles
Friday, April 3, 2009