Reservists and Their Families

February 24, 1991

Serving one's country in uniform is an honored tradition. No one contemplated it turning into a financial hardship when the military reserve programs were set up, however. Vast changes in the economy, careers and family life have put some families into the gray area of fiscal jeopardy when their reservist breadwinners are called to duty.

One story that probably touched many was Sun reporter Graeme Browning's account of the difficulties faced by the Fallon family after Baltimore City housing policeman Ed Fallon was called to duty in the Persian Gulf. Mr. Fallon, whose normal pay scale ranged from $26,469 to $34,406, has shifted into a new pay grade: $20,000 as an active-duty National Guard sergeant. His wife, a Carroll County schoolteacher, has to pick up the financial slack.

At that, the Fallons are lucky. Younger reservists, less senior than Housing Authority Inspector Fallon and with spouses less educated than Mrs. Fallon, find their families pushed over the edge when they leave for active duty.

Financial assistance officials at Fort Detrick, Fort Meade and other facilities are working overtime to help these families over the transition. Federal law cuts interest rates on reservists' loans, and a National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, with chapters in each state, helps resolve problems of job-retention, seniority and benefits. Some employers supplement the pay of workers called to military service, but not all.

There is much more that can be done. In some cities, USO chapters coordinate hotline services with local radio and TV stations to direct military dependent families to support groups, relief agencies such as Army, Navy and Air Force Relief, which can offer small grants to cover family emergencies, medical crises or other financial hardships, and other voluntary aid groups.

In Washington, the USO helps organize family support groups. In Cleveland, which has no military base but sent thousands of reservists to the gulf, the USO fielded more than 2,000 calls as Desert Storm loomed. That USO chapter has installed new phone lines, boosted its volunteer corps and linked up with groups such as Christian Business Cares, which offers free tax accounting help and services such as home handyman and plumbing work at reduced or no cost. Donated funds send families out for a night at the movies or to dinner and even pay for some free groceries. Californians have organized a financial-aid fund to cover bills Army and Navy Relief won't touch.

Clearly, much more can be done in Maryland. Our fellow citizens are putting their lives on the line enforcing U.S. government policies and supporting the U.N. Security Council's edicts. Surely, we in Maryland can pull together to see that their families don't suffer undue hardships while these dedicated mothers and fathers, citizen-soldiers in the finest tradition, are doing their duty overseas.

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