Guard, Reserve Service Takes High Financial Toll

Kenneth Eicholz

National Guard member Kenneth Eicholz, 42, of Westphalia, Mo., says he was proud to serve his country in Iraq, but he's upset that he lost his car repair shop in the process. Marisa Penaloza, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Marisa Penaloza, NPR
Kenneth Eicholz and his wife Christie, son Hunter and daughter

Kenneth and Christie Eicholz at home with their children Hunter, 3, and Cheyenne, 5. When Kenneth's business collapsed, Christie was forced to quit her job to handle the bill collectors. The family needed help with food, the mortgage and the power bill. Marisa Penaloza, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Marisa Penaloza, NPR

Helping military families pay the bills: This chart from USA Cares breaks down the needs of the 960 people who have sought help from the nonprofit group. hide caption

Full Chart: What Military Families Needed
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Stories from the Homefront

The nonprofit group USA Cares has helped hundreds of military families meet basic financial needs. Hear more stories from caseworker Cecelia Jeffrey, Ret. Maj. Gen. John Tindall, the group's president; and Ret. Sgt. Maj. Roger Stradley, operations officer at USA Cares.

* Produced by Marisa Penaloza.

Listen: Hear More Stories from USA Cares

Forty percent of American troops in Iraq are from National Guard and Reserve units. For many, the financial sacrifices are great. Many lose the salaries they were earning in the private sector, and their families are struggling to pay bills.

Support from the military can be elusive, because these soldiers are not part of a base community where family support groups are ready-made. Private groups like the nonprofit USA Cares, which is run by a retired major general, have sprung up to help cover the money gap, and some members of Congress have proposed incentives and subsidies to cover the loss of income.

The Pentagon insists it is doing what it can to help. And officials point out that some in the Guard are actually making more money than in the private sector.

The Status of Forces

The Defense Department recently surveyed more than 19,000 Guard members and reservists, resulting in a 480-page document of detailed questions and answers about pay issues, retention, and satisfaction with service, equipment and training.

*PDF file

It's not clear how many families are struggling, but 430,000 Guard members and reservists have been mobilized since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. More than half of those who are married make less money in the military than in their regular jobs, according to a Defense Department survey.

By the Numbers: The Price of Service

  • Total number of National Guard members and reservists on active duty, as of March 2, 2005: 183,366
  • Total number (rounded off) of National Guard members and reservists activated at some point since the Sept. 11 attacks: 430,000
  • Percentage of American troops in Iraq who are National Guard or Reserve forces: 40%
  • Percentage of National Guard members and reservists who are married, as of May 2004: 56%
  • Percentage of married Guard members and reservists who report a loss of income over civilian jobs, as of May 2004: 55%
  • Percentage of married Guard members and reservists who report a decrease in pay of $1,000 a month or more, as of May 2004: 49%
  • Percentage of married Guard members and reservists who report a decrease in pay of $30,000 a year or more, as of May 2004: 15%
  • Percentage of married Guard members and reservists who report an increase in pay, as of May 2004: 42%
  • Number of private and public employers already subsidizing or planning to subsidize the military pay of employees when they're activated by the National Guard and Reserve: 963
  • Percentage of Guard members and reservists who are self-employed: 6%
  • Percentage of National Guard members and reservists who've turned to military family support organizations for assistance, as of May 2004: 18%
  • Estimated number of military families expected to seek child care subsidies from a new Defense Department program: 6,000-8,000
  • Number of military families who've contacted USA Cares for emergency assistance since the war in Iraq began: 959
  • Amount of assistance arranged by USA Cares for military families since the war in Iraq began: $350,514
  • Percentage of National Guard members and reservists who cite loss of income as a reason to leave the military, as of May 2004: 51%
  • Percentage of National Guard members and reservists who cite family burdens as a reason to leave the military, as of May 2004: 71%
  • Percentage of National Guard members and reservists who cite too many activations and/or deployments as a reason to leave the military, as of May 2004: 57%
  • Percentage of National Guard members and reservists who cite lengthy activations and/or deployments as a reason to leave the military, as of May 2004: 65%
  • Percentage of Guard members and reservists likely to continue in the Guard or Reserve, as of May 2004: 66%
  • Sources: U.S. Department of Defense; May 2004 Defense Dept. Survey "The Status of Forces"; U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, (D-CA); the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies; USA Cares.

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