Let's get through the basics. A soldier's daily life is not that different from the life you lead now. You'll still eat the food you normally eat. You'll sleep in a regular bed. You'll shop, worship, maintain and live your daily life pretty much as you do now. There are vets to take care of your pets, chapels and religious buildings, grocery stores, dry cleaners, etc. You name it and it probably exists on or near your Post, no matter where you are. Sure, the names of places have changed, but the game really hasn't. In fact, there are a number of things that might actually be better.
See, one advantage of Army daily life versus civilian life is the community that forms around your everyday life. It might surprise you to learn just how supportive, united and extensive Army families and communities are. Military life encourages families to support one another, and one of the most valuable assets a family can have when adjusting to change is the network of families who have undergone exactly the same thing. In fact, friends are easy to make in the military community, and an experienced family member, who was once new just like you, is always available to show you the ropes if you need assistance with your daily life in the Army.
Your home is the center of your family and arguably the most important influence on how you embrace your new life. So whether you choose to live on the installation in military housing or off Post, the Army tries to provide you with military housing to make you as comfortable as possible.
When it comes to Post housing, the Army solicited and then incorporated the ideas of soldiers and their families concerning the construction and renovation of its Army housing communities. Some of the suggestions adopted included more closet space, ceiling fans, yard space and larger living areas. Each of its housing units comes with a refrigerator and stove, and many come with a dishwasher, separate laundry room and garage. Some housing areas also include playgrounds for younger children and outdoor basketball courts, and they are built with sidewalks and plenty of street lights for the safety of all the residents.
Your family though, doesn't always have members with just two legs though, so the Army also has a pet-housing policy. In short, you can probably keep Fido or Mittens, but only if you live off Post. Army regulations state that while pets outside of goldfish or small rodents aren't allowed in the barracks, soldiers who live in off-base housing can have whatever pets their leases permit. However, keep in mind that there is no guarantee that a new recruit will be allowed to live off base upon first enlisting.
Pay and Allowances
A soldier is entitled to a wide assortment of pay and allowances, depending upon rank and length of service. Beyond your standard paycheck, called Basic Pay, there are other additional forms of pay and allowance a Soldier may receive for things such as basic subsistence, housing and even clothing.
Full-service banks or credit unions that offer checking accounts, loans and other banking services are found on almost every Army installation. While they are not Army banks, they have the Army's okay to set up a branch on the Post. You are under no obligation to use these banks; they are there for your convenience. But there are advantages, from low-fee ATMs and reasonable auto-loan financing to being a customer of the on-Post bank or credit union.
For some people, the Army is the first time they've ever had to manage the finances of a household or even deal with a credit card. This might not apply to you, but believing that you can never know too much about handling your own finances, the Army Community Services Financial Readiness program offers classes and counseling on money management, credit, financial planning, insurance and consumer issues. These classes are designed to help Soldiers and their families become self-sufficient, reduce indebtedness and lessen the need for emergency financial aid.
In addition, the Army has a partnership with the Better Business Bureau to help Soldiers and families become smart consumers and resolve consumer complaints.
Supermarket, food mart, emporium, bodega, five and dime. Whatever you want to call it, the commissary is the Army's grocery store, and it offers a great way to stretch the family dollar. The commissary provides high-quality groceries at low prices. On larger Posts, it is about equal in size to just about anything you might find in the civilian community. While in small or remote areas and overseas, it tends to stock just the basic necessities, in the commissary you will still see a lot of the products and brands you are used to seeing in any local supermarket. So rest assured, just because you are now shopping Army style, that doesn't mean you won't be able to get the same products you've grown accustomed to getting at home.
Army and Air Force Exchange Services (AAFES)
The AAFES is the Army's retail-store system. In fact, it's really just a fancy way to say "shopping center," with all the kind of businesses you'll find in any strip mall or small-town square anywhere in the country. The main store, often called the Post Exchange or PX, is like a department store. Besides the main store, other AAFES facilities you might find on Post include barber and beauty shops, flower shops, gas stations, laundry and dry-cleaning stores, tailors, movie theaters and fast-food restaurants.
On most Posts, you will find a clothing store that sells official military clothing to soldiers. Many exchanges also have outside concessions or vendors who are allowed to display and sell their wares at, for example, a sunglass kiosk or cellular phone store, in the exchange facility.
Army Community Support
Installation Volunteer Program
Being new in a community is understandably uncomfortable. No one knows you. No one knows what you can offer or what kind of skills you possess or training you've had. One way you can ingratiate yourself into your new Army community and home is by volunteering.
If you're interested, the Army Volunteer Corps (AVC) is looking for people just like you to assist with programs for children, provide support and social activities for family members, or serve in hospitals, churches and recreation programs. The AVC is a good opportunity to learn new skills, and make contacts and new friends. The possibilities are too numerous to list, but this is a place to put your special talents, gifts and skills to work. You could write stories, design posters, teach classes, share computer skills or work with any number of other things that will give you a chance to learn about and contribute to your Army community.
Volunteering gives you a chance to try something new or sharpen skills you already have. This is a great way to help yourself while you help others.
Army Family Action Plan (AFAP)
Being a new member of an Army community is one thing, but you also want to have a voice in that community. The Army knows the importance of considering what soldiers and families think is important, and what they think can improve their experience in the military. The AFAP brings together soldiers, family members, retirees, civilian employees and the base commander to discuss important issues in their lives. Things such as health care, family housing, schools, pay and benefits are some of the many topics covered. The commander takes action on those that are within his or her ability to change.
And the AFAP process doesn't always end with your local Army community. Issues with wider impact are sent to a higher level where the same process is repeated, and eventually, they may go to the Department of the Army or to the Department of Defense. Policies or even laws can be changed. Some examples of issues that resulted in change were the creation of groups to support family deployment readiness, employment assistance for spouses, education benefits and many child-care improvements. In any community, change can occur if people care enough and use their voices. The Army is no different.
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