Gabriel’s Story
“I’m doing all I can and serving my country, and I have to worry about how I’m going to buy food?”

Gabriel, California

After I got my B.A. from Houston State University I went to work in personal finances. I taught people how to get out of debt, apply for retirement, things like that. I really liked that job, but I always wanted to serve my country, so a year and a half ago I join the Marines. I’m a Corporal based in Camp Pendleton.

I work in ground support for all the Marine helicopters. It’s the equivalent of a logistics manager for a company like Amazon. In the civilian world, that person with a degree like mine, would get paid about three times more than I am. I like being in the Marines, but with a wife and child, and another one on the way, my paycheck of less than $2000 a month isn’t enough to make ends meet. It was easier when my wife worked in insurance, but the cost of day care is so high that it doesn’t make sense. Anyway, we sacrifice for the United States, why shouldn’t my wife stay home to take care of our child?

We’re on a strict budget and pinch pennies where we can, but I can’t cut the gas to go to work, the car insurance, and the dry cleaning for my uniforms, which has to be done so I pass inspection. We don’t even have the money to buy our two-year old daughter a bed, so she’s sleeping on an air mattress on the floor.

I’m doing all I can and serving my country, and I have to worry about how I’m going to buy food? I am not ashamed to say, “hey I need help” to be able to feed my family. We got WIC when our daughter was a baby, but recently when we applied for food stamps we were denied because our BAH counts as income. The only reason we are even getting by is because our neighbor told us about the food distributions. We’re going twice a month and it saves us about $200 on groceries. That means I don’t have to put things such as shampoo and soap on a credit card. It stresses me out when I have to. I won’t get sucked in by the credit card companies who say, “oh purchase whatever you want and you’ll have no interest for 12 months,” but afterwards you’re hit with a huge debt.

I don’t think the government protects military families enough because so many of us need to go to a food distributions run by outside groups. There’s a real disconnect between the command and the troops. I went to my commander asking about assistance and he didn’t tell me there was a food distribution on base or tell me about FSSA. He sent me to the Navy-Marine Relief Society and all they did was show me how to do a budget. But that was no help because I already knew how to do a budget; I’m a certified financial counselor. I even teach other Marines how to manage their money. I know the Navy- Marine Relief sometimes give one time loans, but that won’t help me with monthly expenses.

I don’t really know how you go about fixing the problem, but it would really help if the military paid us more or the Commissary was less expensive, and if the housing allowance was not considered part of our paychecks. We are the only job where we have to give up our lives to protect the Constitution of the United States, so shouldn’t the government make sure we can properly feed our families?