Marine base offers family services to take care of its own
* A woman living near Boston, whose Marine husband serves overseas, suffers a rent hike that puts her present home beyond her financial means. A frantic search turns up nothing in her price range, and she fears eviction or financial ruin. Where can she live?Skip to next paragraph
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* The benefits due to a recently retired Marine are hopelessly mired in red tape. To whom does he turn?
* An officer serving at the Marine Corps base here returns from sick leave to find his specific illness recorded in a log book that remains open to public scrutiny. How can he retain his privacy?
These are all cases handled during the first fledgling year of Quantico's Family Service Center -- a one-room, four-desk operation designed as an information and referral service for handling problems of Marine families.
One of 16 such centers initially set up at Marine bases around the country, it reflects an armed services-wide acknowledgement of the importance of families. While active and retired military personnel are also encouraged to bring their problems here, the primary focus of these Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine centers is on the 2.9 million husbands, wives, children, and parents dependent on the military life.
"The old saying, 'If we wanted you to have a wife, we would have issued you a wife,' just doesn't hold up anymore," says Lt. Steve Darnell, head of Quantico's Family Service Center. Wives and children are very much in the limelight right now, because "if a Marine knows his family is being taken care of, that frees his mind to concentrate on his job," says Lieutenant Darnell.
It also weighs in the decision to reenlist, or so the armed services believe. At the White House Conference on Families last year, Navy Vice-Adm. Robert B. Baldwin said: "There is increasingly strong evidence that family considerations significantly influence the service member's decision on whether or not to reenlist," a decision the vice-admiral admits will "severely affect the Navy's ability to fully execute its role in the national defense."
"Family considerations" have weighed in our country's defense since George Washington first gave food allotments to Revolutionary War camp followers. But the "perks" of military life -- the PX, commissary, housing and medical benefits -- no longer balance what many families see as the "burden" of military life -- the transfers, the separations, the uncertainties of war, and the low pay.
It is this last item that sits squarely at the root of almost all dissatisfactions with the military way of life, observers say. "Economics are the botton line," says Lieutenant Darnell. "Even in crisis intervention, economic problems are there at the heart."
Lieutenant Darnell is a youngish military man with a close-cropped haircut, a square jaw, and a firm look that melts to sympathetic smiles as he describes a typical case. "An enlisted man will come in, someone who just had a raise in rank and didn't know how to handle the extra money.
"He bought something -- a stereo, maybe, or a little fancier car -- but he couldn't keep up the payments. Now the creditors are on his back, and he doesn't know where to turn."
Lieutenant Darnell, who mentions three times in one interview that "we are not setting up another welfare agency here," says he would probably refer the soldier to the Navy's relief program for financial counseling and "perhaps an interest-free loan or outright grant of money" to see the man through.
Navy Relief is just one of a handful of agencies the center taps into to solve on-base problems. Working with the Red Cross, United Way, and local government programs, Lieutenant Darnell's team serves "about one family per day" in everything from enrolling the family in a food stamp program to obtaining counseling for an alcoholic family member.