Just Like in the Movies?

Busting Myths about Military Life

debunking myths about the military
Getty Images/Hill Street Studios

Military life is surrounded by myths and misconceptions. Some civilians find military lifestyles fascinating because they know so little about what they perceive as a “secretive” way of life. The real secret, however, is that military families are just like your average American family. They still have struggles, they still have to load the dishwasher every day and do the laundry and get the kids to school and work—but they do it all with a spouse who has a difficult schedule and on a paycheck that doesn’t allow for a lot of luxuries.

Still, military life can be really great. Here are some of the biggest myths about military life, along with the actual truth.


Military Families Live Lavish Lifestyles

When you look at the benefits—free housing, food and clothing allowances, and tax breaks—life in the military can seem pretty sweet, but when you see the whole picture, it quickly becomes clear that it’s not as lavish as might have thought. To start with, despite what you hear, the economy isn’t doing very well and the government budget isn’t adding more money to the pot. Many military families struggle with being in debt and balancing finances on a tight budget. Many spouses also have a hard time finding sufficient work because they move so frequently and get uprooted every few years.


Military Families Aren’t as Happy as Other Families

Now, this just isn’t true. In fact, most military families are just as happy as other families, if not more, living the lifestyle that they do.

Sure, it’s stressful. It’s hard to say goodbye. It’s hard to have your spouse or parent away for months at a time. But reunions are sweet and things move forward somehow. Of course, military families have their struggles too, and some people simply aren’t suited for the military lifestyle. But to say that families in the military aren’t as happy with their lives as others is a stretch.

Military families, the ones who serve willingly and love what they do, are very happy. They wouldn’t change their lives for anything.


It’s Just Like in the Movies, Right?

The media likes to paint a certain picture of military life—think buff men wielding huge guns, chasing an enemy and shooting up everything in sight. Um, sorry that’s not how it is (at least for most servicemembers). There are a lot of different jobs in the military, and the vast majority don’t involve holding a gun most of the time. There are jobs in the military that will never see battle. Also, very, very few servicemembers have ever (or will ever) kill anyone—and even if they have, it’s not something they’re going to boast about. The media is getting a little better in how they portray servicemembers, but they still have a long way to go. Don’t trust what you see in the movies.  If you have a question about the military lifestyle, ask someone who’s actually living it.


People Join the Military Only as a Last Resort

Absolutely not! People join the military for a variety of reasons, one of which is a desire to serve our country. People who join the military are signing up for tougher jobs, longer hours, more dangerous duties, and smaller paychecks because they love our nation and want to protect it.

They see value in what they are doing. There are many paths that lead someone to the militaryand none of them are wrong. If you join for the right reasons, you’ll probably stick around.


Homecomings Are All About the Sweet Video Montage Moments

A loved one coming home is so much more than that initial greeting moment. Civilians simply have no idea. Of course hugging your loved one after he or she’s been gone for a long time is very sweet. But reunions can actually be hard on families. Members of the family might have gotten into a routine while dad was gone, and when he comes home, it can be hard for him and the rest of the family to figure out how he fits back into the picture. Plus, a returning servicemember might be struggling with PTSD or other deployment-related issues. Add that to the spouse who stayed home and worried and stressed about her husband; reunions can be bittersweet sometimes.


The Military Will Achieve Your Highest Potential

This doesn’t always happen. If you were lazy, selfish, or entitled before joining the military, you don’t just get those things washed out of you.  People can still make mistakes and still sit down on the job. However, if you really want to make something of yourself and want to see positive change in your life, the military can certainly help with that by being a springboard to bigger and better things.


There’s a Lot of Cheating, Lying and Drama in the Military

Yes, these things happen, but no more frequently than in civilian life. For the most part, military families are thriving. They’re doing their best to get along, to work, live, and be happy. They aren’t trying to sleep around or stir the pot or create a bunch of gossip. Hollywood (ahem, Army Wives) had to create a bunch of scenarios for the military because your average run-of-the-mill military family wouldn’t be interesting enough for television.


You Knew What You Were Getting into Before Getting In

Every family and individual comes into the military under different circumstances. Some people may choose to go in after finishing their schooling. Others might join right after high school. Some have grown up in military families and always knew they’d raise families in the military. You just never know what life will bring or the hardships you might face. And, of course, that’s true for life in—or out—of the military.

Bottom line: You can’t possibly know what military life is truly like until you’ve lived it.