A Family's Guide to the Military For Dummies®

Table of Contents


About This Book

Conventions Used in this Book

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book is Organized

Part I: Reporting for Duty

Part II: Understanding Your Financial Issues and Benefits

Part III: Supporting the Military Family

Part IV: Mastering Deployments

Part V: Transitioning Out of the Military

Part VI: The Part of Tens

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I: Reporting for Duty

Chapter 1: Living Life As a Military Family

Getting a Grasp on the Military Culture

Believing in something bigger than yourself

Making lifelong connections

Being Flexible — the Key to a Happy Military Life

Adjusting to different directions

Adapting to a changing homelife

Keeping education and employment flexible

Traveling the world . . . If you want to

Overseas assignments

Space-available travel

Speaking in Code: Learning the Military Language

Embracing the Place Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Choosing to Live on the Installation — Or Not

Chapter 2: Figuring Out Customs and Courtesies

Separating Myths from Reality

Understanding Rank and Military Hierarchy

Checking out the different ranks

Understanding that rank does have its place

Reveling in the privileges of rank

Keeping Up with Traditions and Ceremonies

The salute

The National Anthem

The Stars and Stripes

Reveling in inter-service Rivalry


Finding Your Place in the Grand Plan

Getting involved . . . or not

Making friends

Watching Your P’s and Q’s: Party Protocol

Chapter 3: Getting Around Military Bases

Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS)

Making sense of DEERS

Registering in DEERS

Verifying and updating information

Making It Official — Getting a Military ID Card

Getting Your Rest





Class 6

Eating on the Installations

The dining hall

The clubs

Having Fun with MWR

Fitness and sports center

Skills development center

Everything else

Focusing on the Family

Family support center

Child development center

Youth and teen centers

Picking Up on Personal Services

Auto hobby shop


Military treatment facility (MTF)

Getting the Support You Need


Clubs and groups

Family Advocacy Programs

Chapter 4: Connecting with the Military Community

Connecting to the Unit

Utilizing your sponsor

Keeping contact info current

Staying in the loop

Marking military family milestones

Attending Hails and Farewells

Discovering other social activities

Making merry with holiday parties

Understanding the ins and outs of Dining In and Out

Marking Military Milestones


Change of command

Retirement ceremonies

Finding Support within the Installation

Part II: Understanding Your Financial Issues and Benefits

Chapter 5: Deciphering Military Compensation

Sifting through Sources of Pay

Basic pay

Additional pays


Taking time off — Leave

Demystifying the pay statement

Explaining the LES


Making Sense Out of Taxes

Understanding what compensation is taxable

Exploring ways to reduce your tax bite

Chapter 6: Taking Care of Yourself: Health and Dental Insurance

Exploring TRICARE

Breaking down the basic of TRICARE

TRICARE Standard



Prescription drug coverage

Summarizing healthcare options

Enrolling in TRICARE

Sizing up TRICARE Health Benefits for the Guard and Reserve

Checking the basics of your options

TRICARE Reserve Select

Understanding Dental Benefits

Explaining Your Benefits

Chapter 7: Maximizing Military Benefits

Tapping into the Family Support Center

Accessing Military OneSource

Traveling Space-A

Looking into Lodging Bargains

Protecting Your Rights — Legal Issues

Getting the lowdown on the law

Finding legal assistance

Reviewing Your Military-Provided Life Insurance

Servicemembers’ group life insurance

Traumatic SGLI

Family service group life insurance

Exploring Your Retirement Benefits

Finding out how retirement benefits are calculated

Chapter 8: Starting Out on the Right Financial Foot

Determining Your Required Monthly Expenses

Making it automatic

Establishing Emergency Reserves

Recognizing the reality of not having reserves

Reserving funds for financial emergencies

Building and Maintaining a Solid Credit History

Obtaining Appropriate Insurance Coverage

Servicemember’s life insurance

Family member’s life insurance

Spousal disability insurance

Homeowner’s or renter’s insurance

Automobile insurance

Beginning Investing

Investing according to your purpose

Leveraging time

Getting started

Chapter 9: Building onto Your Financial Foundation

Accumulating What You’ll Need for Specific Goals

Purchasing a Home

Determining how much you can spend on a house

Reviewing mortgages

Coming up with your down payment

Planning for Children’s College Costs

Securing Your Retirement

Preparing for the Inevitable

Answering key questions to get started

Communicating your wishes through legal documents

Accounting for ownership and beneficiary designations

Chapter 10: Housing Options for the Military Family

Understanding the Basic Allowance for Housing

Basic allowance for housing — CONUS

Overseas housing allowance

Considering On-Base Housing

Exploring Off-Base Housing



Tax benefits

Major considerations

Buying versus renting

Rehabbing a property

Becoming an absentee landlord

Evaluating your financing options


Assessing relocation assistance

Establishing community at your new location

Keeping in touch as you move around in the military

Chapter 11: Finding Employment and Educational Opportunities

Professional Military Education

Finding Educational Funding

Montgomery GI Bill

Post-9/11 GI Bill

Tuition Assistance

Scholarships and financial aid

Continuing Education for Spouses

Developing a plan that works

Tuition assistance programs

Finding Employment Opportunities for Military Spouses

Getting ready to work

Cost-benefit analysis of working outside the home

Strategic volunteering

Employment support

Department of Defense and Department of Labor Initiatives


Military spouse preference program

Putting it all together

State initiatives to support military families

Part III: Supporting the Military Family

Chapter 12: Raising a Family in the Military

Finding Childcare

Occasional or part-time care

Comparing on-base vs. off-base options

Educating the Kids

Making smart decisions

Department of Defense schools

Leaving the nest

Moving Around

Focusing on the positive

Joining in sports and recreational activities

Making sure that your kid’s best friend comes along

Staying in touch

Chapter 13: Maintaining Strong Military Couples

Communicating Effectively

Dealing with your long-distance relationship

Managing expectations

Respecting one another


Accessing Help to Make Your Marriage Healthier


Chapter 14: Tapping into Community Support

Starting at Square One

Getting Support for the Guard and Reserve

Finding Support at the State Level

Supporting Military Families

The United Service Organizations (USO)

Fisher House Foundation

Growing Grassroots Military Support

Checking out grassroots efforts

Getting to know America Supports You

Searching the Web for Support

Connecting through online communities

Burning up the airwaves

Tapping into The Military Coalition (TMC)

Discovering what TMC is all about

Figuring out how you fit in

Chapter 15: Dealing with the Disability or Death of a Family Member

Dealing with Disability

Traumatic brain injuries

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Medical review boards

Medical retirement

Veterans Administration benefits

Other disability resources

Surviving the Death of a Servicemember

Giving and receiving friendly support

Working with the Casualty Assistance Officer

Filing for benefits

Understanding your military benefits

Moving on

Support groups

Planning ahead

Part IV: Mastering Deployments

Chapter 16: Prepping for Deployments

Separating the Truths from the Myths

Preparing for Deployment

Powers of attorney

Financial planning

Taking Advantage of Special Deployment Benefits

Getting direct deposit

Saving in the best plan available

Receiving tax-free combat pay and benefits

Ensuring reemployment: USERRA

Understanding the Emotional Cycles of Deployment

Preparing for them to go

Creating walls before they leave

Establishing your new normal

Getting settled

Anticipating their return

Coming back together as a family

Finding your family groove again

Smoothing out the rough spots

Managing Stress

Chapter 17: Accessing Traditional Family Support

Finding Support on Base

FSC — Family support center

Turning to faith-based solutions

Participating in Family Readiness Groups (FRG)

Having some fun and giving back

Getting Support Online

Looking Outside the Fishbowl

Chapter 18: Helping Children Cope with the Absence of a Parent

Understanding the Effects of Deployment on Children

Maintaining Routine


Encouraging open communication

Explaining difficult topics

Managing Anxiety

Staying Involved from a Distance

Letting Kids be Kids

Setting Realistic Expectations

Looping in the Caregivers and Teachers

Sharing Responsibilities

Seeing the Light at the End of the Tunnel

Getting Away

Taking some time off

Looking forward to a family vacation

Bringing Daddy Back into the Fold

Chapter 19: Keeping Connected with Your Loved One

Communicating Securely

Using the Internet

Making phone calls

Sharing a Piece of Home

Celebrating Special Occasions

Staying Connected

Managing Anxiety

Part V: Transitioning Out of the Military

Chapter 20: Separating from Service

Preparing for Separation

Transition assistance program

Getting your records in order


Employment education and training

Health insurance

Pre-separation examinations

Life insurance

Retirement savings

Legal assistance

Clarifying Voluntary versus Involuntarily Separation from Service

Administrative separation

Punitive discharge

Considering Early Career Separation

Exploring Late Career Separation Issues

Chapter 21: Retiring from Service

Assessing the Financial Benefits of Retiring from the Military

Military retired pay

Survivor Benefit Plan

Medical Benefits

Checking out your healthcare benefits

Making the most of your military retiree benefits

Envisioning Life after the Military

Adjusting to the civilian world

Evaluating your need for additional retirement savings

Supplementing your retirement income

Chapter 22: Exploring Subsequent Careers

Transitioning from the Military

Planning for your next career

Preparing for this transition

Tapping into military and community benefits

Evaluating Employer Benefits

Medical insurance

Prescription drug coverage

Dental insurance

Vision benefits

Disability insurance — short term and long term

Long-term care insurance

Life insurance

Retirement plans

Health savings accounts

Flexible spending plans

Paid vacations and holidays


Education assistance

Part VI: The Part of Tens

Chapter 23: Ten Best Benefits for Military Spouses


Education and Employment Assistance



Family Support Centers

Free Professional and Personal Development

Free Support and Assistance


Recreating Yourself Every Few Years

Meeting Other Spouses

Chapter 24: Ten Biggest Financial Military Benefits

Retirement Benefits

Survivor Benefit Plan





VA Loans

Servicemembers Group Life Insurance

Legal Assistance

Family Support Center

Chapter 25: Ten Worst Scams Against Servicemembers

Sending Money to Injured Servicemembers

Protecting Your Privacy

Repairing Your Credit

Falling for Get-Rich-Quick Schemes

Outsmarting the SBP

Paying Too Much for Financial Advice

Investing a Tax Shelter inside of a Tax Shelter

Investing in the New, New Thing

Hedging Your Risks with Gold or Oil

Considering Payday Loans

Appendix: Military Acronyms

A Family's Guide to the Military For Dummies®

by Sheryl Garrett and Sue Hoppin

Foreword By Tanya Biank

Author of Army Wives


About the Author

Sheryl Garrett, CFP and founder of The Garrett Planning Network, Inc., has been dubbed “The All-American Planner,” possibly because of her zealous mission to “help make competent, objective financial advice accessible to all people.” Sheryl’s fresh approach as a financial advisor working with clients on an hourly, as-needed, fee-only basis has evolved into an international network of financial advisors, the Garrett Planning Network.

As a consumer advocate, Sheryl has been honored to work with the House Subcommittee on Financial Services regarding predatory lending regulation, financial literacy and Social Security reform. She also works as an expert witness in lawsuits against financial advisors who rendered inappropriate financial advice.

She has authored or served as a technical editor on over a dozen books and a couple of monthly magazine columns. These books include Garrett’s Guide to Financial Planning (National Underwriter), Just Give Me the Answer$ (Dearborn Trade), Money Without Matrimony (Dearborn Trade), Personal Finance Workbook For Dummies (Wiley), Investing in an Uncertain Economy For Dummies (Wiley), as well as this book, A Family’s Guide to the Military For Dummies (Wiley).

As vocal advocate for financial education, Sheryl has been frequently interviewed on CNNfn, Bloomberg, ABC World News Now, Fox-TV; NPR’s All Things Considered and Marketplace; and in Business Week, Newsweek, Time, Forbes, Kiplinger Personal Finance, Money, Smart Money, MarketWatch, U.S. News & World Report, the New York Times, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal. For four straight years Sheryl was recognized by Investment Advisor magazine as “One of the Top 25 Most Influential People in Financial Planning” and was honored by the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) honored Garrett with the prestigious Robert J. Underwood Distinguished Service Award for her contributions to the development of the financial planning profession.

Sue Hoppin is passionate about quality of life issues for military families because she lives and understands the challenges of the military lifestyle. Elements of her story are shared by any number of other military spouses. She met her husband when he was attending the United States Air Force Academy and finished school while he attended undergraduate pilot training. The couple married shortly thereafter and a son followed. Their transient lifestyle, deployment schedules and other demands kept Sue at home with their son while her husband deployed around the world.

Although she holds multiple degrees, it wasn’t until recently that Sue was able to enter the work force. Before then, she served the military community as a volunteer. Her responsibilities ranged from squadron fundraiser and spouse club membership chair to the presidency of both the Kadena Officers’ Spouses’ Club and of the Ramstein Elementary School PTA. She currently serves as the 2008–2009 President of the Air Force Officers Wives Club at Bolling AFB. Sue was recognized for her volunteer efforts with awards as Volunteer of the Year at McConnell AFB (1999) and as the 76th Airlift Squadron Spouse of the Year (2002).

She joined the Benefits Information Department staff of Military Officers Association of America in 2005 and quickly established herself as an expert in military spouse issues. In 2006, Sue was selected to be MOAA’s first assistant director for spouse outreach. In 2007, Military Spouse Magazine named Sue on their 2007 Who’s Who of Military Spouses list recognizing 12 spouses who have made significant contributions in the military community for all military spouses.

A tireless advocate for improving the lives of military spouses and families, Sue is the consummate connector — bringing together government, corporate, and nonprofit organizations to meet spouses where they live and work. She is the driving force behind the annual Spouse Symposium held in Norfolk, VA that brings key legislative, spouse, community, and DoD leaders together in an interactive forum to achieve real change for military spouses.

In addition to her work at MOAA, she writes a monthly column for Military Spouse Magazine and serves as a member of the Board of Advisors for the Military Spouse and Family Legacy Association.

Sue holds a bachelor’s degree in international studies from the University of Denver and a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Oklahoma.


This book is dedicated to all of our military families. Your support and devotion are essential to the mission, and we all know too well the sacrifices you make.

Our heartfelt thanks to you and your military member for your service to our nation.

Author’s Acknowledgments

From Sheryl: Because of the love and devotion of my family, staff , and colleagues in the Garrett Planning Network, I have the freedom and support to carry out the mission of my life’s work, which involves helping to make competent, objective personal financial advice accessible to all people. But I have a special place in my heart for military families and veterans. I am honored to have been given the opportunity to do a little for those who do so much in service to our country.

This project would not have been possible without the amazing talent and devotion of my co-author, Sue Hoppin. She taught me a lot more than she meant to, I’m sure. I wouldn’t have got to know Sue without the most perfect introduction from the energizer bunny himself, Phil Dyer, CFP, RLP. This book required the talents of a lot of people. Sue and I needed one another and both of us relied on Phil as our Technical Reviewer extraordinaire. We also had great support from the folks at Wiley, specifically Mike Baker and Jennifer Connolly. Thanks for your faith in us and for recognizing the need for this book.

From Sue: Without the love and support of my husband Kevin and my son Garrett, writing this book would not have been possible. Balancing work and writing the book, I missed out on endless regattas, other school events, and any number of social activities with them. I can’t even count the number of times they had to endure frozen dinners or take-out meals, so I thank them from the bottom of my heart for being such good sports. They both really picked up the slack and encouraged me when sometimes it just seemed like too much. Between them and our amazing support system of friends and family, no one could ask for better cheerleaders.

Thanks to Phil Dyer, my colleague, friend, and mentor who introduced me to Sheryl Garrett and started us down the path of writing this book together. Thanks to Sheryl for being such a pleasure to work with and for taking a chance on me. You both had more faith in me than I sometimes had in myself.

Many thanks to Mike Baker, Jennifer Connolly and the other folks at Wiley Publishing who made this experience such a tremendous one. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to create a product to benefit military spouses and families.

There were some sections of this book that were difficult to write and wouldn’t have resonated as well without the guidance of other people. Thank you Phil for your expertise and DeDe for providing your insights.

A final thanks to my friends and fellow military spouses: Tanya Biank, Babette Maxwell, Nicole Alcorn, Krista Wells, and Robin Prior whose words of encouragement remind me daily about all that is best about the military spouse community. When we get it right, we really get it right — I cannot imagine a greater group of friends or role models.

Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our online registration form located at For other comments, please contact our Customer Care Department within the U.S. at 877-762-2974, outside the U.S. at 317-572-3993, or fax 317-572-4002.

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Project Editor: Jennifer Connolly

Acquisitions Editor: Mike Baker

Copy Editor: Jennifer Connolly

Technical Editor: Phil Dyer

Senior Editorial Manager: Jennifer Ehrlich

Editorial Supervisor: Carmen Krikorian

Editorial Assistants: Erin Calligan Mooney, Joe Niesen, Jennette ElNagger, and David Lutton

Cover Photo Credit: Kriss Russell©

Cartoons: Rich Tennant (

Composition Services

Project Coordinator: Katie Key

Layout and Graphics: Reuben W. Davis, Christin Swinford, Christine Williams

Proofreaders: Melissa Bronnenberg, Amanda Steiner, Evelyn W. Still

Indexer: Potomac Indexing, LLC

Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies

Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies

Kristin Ferguson-Wagstaffe, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies

Kristin A. Cocks, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies

Michael Spring, Vice President and Publisher, Travel

Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel

Publishing for Technology Dummies

Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General User

Composition Services

Gerry Fahey, Vice President of Production Services

Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services


Do you feel like the military lifestyle should come with its own how-to handbook full of tips and insights? Well, you’re not alone. Unless you were born into a military family, going behind the gates of a military installation for the first time can seem somewhat daunting. But, it’s not meant to be. Everything’s actually laid out to be as convenient as possible for the end user — you. If it seems like you need some guidance, then don’t despair. Maybe you just need a little guidance from someone who’s already been there and done that.

We wrote this book to help you figure out the ins and outs of military life as well as share with you financial insights that you may not always have ready access to. When you’re living on a tight budget, it may not always seem possible to save that emergency fund never mind the kids’ college fund, but you’d be missing out. Our goal is to let you know that military life is entirely compatible with financial stability.

We share some tips and information with you on concepts that will make you look at saving and investing not as nice to do things, but rather as must do. Remember that the sooner you get started, the more time you have to take advantage of compounding interest. Maximizing your military benefits and saving a little at a time will help you attain financial independence.

Along the way, you will meet other military spouses and family members who will help you along your journey. But, if we can give you a head start by sharing some information, then our time and effort was well spent.

About This Book

A Family’s Guide to the Military For Dummies is designed to share with you an overview of the military lifestyle. You can discover everything from the traditions of the military to community resources available to support you. You’re not likely going to read the book from cover to cover, but that’s alright. We’ve written it so that each chapter is somewhat autonomous. As you’re flipping around, you may see some references made to other chapters, but they’re well marked. If you’re approaching utilizing this book as a reference, then the index or Table of Contents will be invaluable to you. Refer to those whenever you’re looking for a specific topic.

But, if you’re really curious about the military lifestyle, then by all means, work through the book chapter by chapter. We’ve laid it out in a simplistic and intuitive manner. In the beginning chapters, we start off with a beginner’s look at the military and military infrastructure then progress on to more complex matters such as deployments and financial benefits. Use the information as you need it.

If you find that this book just whets your appetite for more knowledge, take advantage of the websites we provide and the other organizations and resources we point to throughout the book. The great thing about the military is that there is no shortage of people and resources out there to assist you on your journey. Buckle in and enjoy the ride!

Conventions Used in this Book

While writing this book, we used a few conventions throughout the pages in order to make your life just a little bit easier. Here’s what you can expect:

We use italics when we define a word or phrase that’s important to understanding a topic. And when we get especially excited, we might throw in some italics for extra emphasis.

When you see text in bold, you can expect it to be either a step in a numbered list or a key word in a bulleted list.

All Web addresses appear in monofont.

When this book was printed, some Web addresses may have needed to break across two lines of text. If that happened, know that we haven’t put in any characters (such as hyphens) to indicate a break. So, when using one of these Web addresses, just type in exactly what you see in this book or on the Cheat Sheet and ignore the line break.

Foolish Assumptions

Believe it or not, as we set out to write this book, we formed some preconceived ideas about you our dear reader. In order to provide the insights and advice you need, we have made some assumptions about you:

You’re either married to someone in the military or interested in the information presented here.

You’re curious enough to want to know the inside gouge (information) on the military lifestyle.

You have access to the Internet. Although this isn’t a requirement, access to the Internet will help you take advantage of the tips we share regarding web resources.

You’re interested in learning about your military and financial benefits so that you can get your family on the road to financial independence.

You want to know and take advantage of everything out there to help you thrive within the military community while also helping you achieve your own personal goals.

You’re no idiot! In fact, you’re so smart that you realize that in order to thrive in your military lifestyle, you need to know everything that’s out there to support you and your family.

How This Book is Organized

A Family’s Guide to the Military for Dummies is organized into six parts touching on different aspects of the military lifestyle. Financial tidbits are woven throughout.

Part I: Reporting for Duty

The military lifestyle can seem quite foreign to most newcomers. In these chapters, you discover more about the basics. We take you on a quick tour of a traditional military installation and learn more about the traditions that make the military so unique.

Part II: Understanding Your Financial Issues and Benefits

One of the greatest reasons to join the military is to enjoy the many financial and military benefits available to you and your family. Unfortunately, many people are unfamiliar with their benefits and leave a lot on the table. In this section, we discuss your basic pay and benefits as well as more complex topics such as home ownership and education. After you have a better understanding, we introduce you to other benefits available to you outside of the traditional military infrastructure.

Part III: Supporting the Military Family

Separations are a challenge to maintaining strong military families. Children need to be incredibly resilient to thrive under the transient military lifestyle. Fortunately, there are a number of systems in place to support military families. In this section, you’ll learn more about the resources out there available to support you and your family.

Part IV: Mastering Deployments

As a novice at deployments, you might look around at the more “veteran” families and think, “Wow, they really have it together.” The chapters found in this section will help you understand all the stages of deployment as well as how you can prepare more adequately.

Part V: Transitioning Out of the Military

Whether through separation or retirement, leaving the military can be potentially quite traumatic unless you understand the pay and benefits available to you. This section will help you understand your transition benefits as well as how to roll your military benefits into future employee compensation and benefits packages.

Part VI: The Part of Tens

A hallmark of the For Dummies series, the Part of Tens highlights our top ten lists for best benefits for military spouses, biggest financial military benefits, and the ten worst scams against service members.

Icons Used in This Book

As you flip through this book, you’ll see a lot of icons, which are there to draw your attention to specific issues or examples. Check them out:

Warning(bomb).eps This icon alerts you to common pitfalls and dangers that you must be on the lookout for when managing your personal finances or simply moving along in your military life.

Remember.eps If you don’t read anything else, pay attention to this icon, which points out information we just had to stress because it is that important for you to consider.

Tip.eps If you’re looking for some inside information or a time-saving tool you can use immediately, then the text marked by the Tip icon is what you want.

TechnicalStuff.eps This icon gives you technical info that you don’t have to know to understand the rest of the section, but we sure think it’s interesting to read about!

Where to Go from Here

If you’re a novice to the military lifestyle, start at the beginning. However, if you’re at a different stage of life, go ahead and turn directly to that section of the book. You’ll see parts dealing with everything from deployments, supporting military children to transitioning out of the military. You’ll be able to find anything you’re looking for quite easily by referring to the index or table of contents.

Remember: Don’t worry about reading this book from cover to cover (unless you want to!). Use the bits and pieces as you need them. Every experience is different, and our dearest hope is that you can find enough information and guidance among these pages to provide some comfort and support to you.

Part I:

Reporting for Duty


In this part . . .

Before you can embrace the military lifestyle, you need to understand the basics. In this part, you’ll get a primer on military protocol and traditions. You’ll also learn the basics of what you can expect on a military installation.