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Military Families Fight to Make Ends Meet

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FAYETTEVILLE — Times of deployment make life hard on military families. Aside from being apart from loved ones, having a spouse away puts a strain on already tight military family budgets.

A survey by theAir Force Timesrevealed that 80 percent of people in the military could make more money doing the same job in the civilian work force.

Taking care of children is a full time job for Marcie Brown. With five children she and her husband often struggle to make ends meet on his salary alone. "It's just so hard," she said.

Marcie's husband, Antonio, is a chemical specialist in the army. Ten years invested, he makes less than $25,000 a year. He could make up to $9,000 more doing the same thing as a civilian.

"He has thought about getting out, but he said right now there are medical reasons as in taking care of the kids," Marcie said. "It would be so expensive if he was to get out."

To remain in the military, the Browns rely on programs made available to low-income military families.

Through a supplemental food and nutrition education program calledWIC (Women, Infants and Children), they receive free food coupons. More than 2,900 military families at Fort Bragg receive this type of help every month.

"If I am trying to cut corners, it's an excellent opportunity to feed my family, and also be able to pay my bills," WIC clinical supervisor Cassandra Harris said.

To pay the bills, Air Force Staff Sergeant Kerry Davis has a second job. He is an Air Force combat flight medic by day, and by night he works as a salesman at a local gun shop.

His wife recently went to work to help support their family. As hard as he works, the 27-year-old can see why a lot of people are leaving the military for better pay.

"I think if you are defending your country and willing to give the ultimate sacrifice, you should be compensated fairly for it," Davis said.

While the Davis family is now financially secure, many other families are in trouble.

The Family Support CenteratPope Air Force Basehas an emergency food closet and provides financial counseling to hundreds of Air Force families.

"A lot of times there is the misconception that the military has lots of money," financial program manager Deborah Belin said. "When in fact, they are functioning on income that sometimes is at poverty level."

Many families look for help away from post. Cumberland County's Department of Social Services has seen a small increase in military families on welfare.

"If you have a family of four children and you are fairly low ranked, you are going to qualify for some benefits," says Chip Modlin of the Cumberland County Department of Social Services.

Local churches and other community groups try to help as well. The Beatitude House is a thrift shop located next to post.

"There are needs and so we are here to meet those kind of needs," thrift shop director Ronnie Reynolds said.

For families like the Browns the need is real.

"We just try to make ends meet with his pay, that's all we can do," Marcie said.

A 3.5 percent pay raise was approved by Congress for all military members. While soldiers say every little bit helps, it barely covers cost of living increases.

However, more money could be on the way. The Clinton administration has committed to a more than 4 percent military pay raise by the year 2000.


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