View Full Version : Staying ready: A guide to personal readiness

08-20-04, 10:23 AM
August 20, 2004
Staying ready: a guide to personal readiness

by Master GySgt. Billy Stewart
Special to HH News

It has been well over 10 years since the Gulf War has ended. The first term Marines of today were children during Desert Shield/Storm. They were most likely attending grade school as CNN correspondents' scattered voices kept us informed through radio and television. Those same children are now Marines facing one of America's greatest challenges; the war on terrorism. While I have no doubt that the Marines of today will continue to rise to the occasion and step up to the plate on a daily basis, I know that our commitment as an institution is far from over. I remain equally concerned about whether or not Marines consider personal readiness paramount in their lives. In previous columns I have stated that complacency is the death of a professional. Conversely, I also believe that this complacency has taken its toll upon our personal readiness as well. As we enter into Operation Iraqi/Enduring Freedom III, many readiness lessons have been learned, all of which are rooted in solid and basic leadership. These basics must be fostered and recalled as we develop a sense of urgency in our Marines.

As usual, let me begin by defining my definition of personal readiness. For instructional purposes only, let us assume that as Marines we are all technically and tactically ready to deploy. We are physically fit, mentally focused, know our jobs and responsibilities as Marines, and possess all of our gear. This all appears to be enough to engage the enemy and to be deemed "combat ready." I wish it were that simple.

There is so much more to personal readiness and ensuring that Marines remain focused and not concerned about pending personal issues while deployed abroad. I consider personal readiness encompassing the aforementioned goals, but I also include family, relationships, personal finance, and legal stability. While the latter four are not the only readiness cornerstones that exist, they remain the most popular in causing readiness degraders for our Leathernecks. We as Marine leaders still have not cracked the code of instilling the desire for personal readiness. I know very few Marines that can be ready to deploy in 24 hours without notice. I know fewer Marines that practice readiness in their daily lives. Leaders spend great amounts of time ensuring that Marines are "good to go" when it comes to personal readiness, yet it seems like we are reinventing the wheel every time crisis arises. By the end of this article, you will have an idea how to keep yourself ready in regards to your personal life whether it is in regards to your family, relationships, finances, or legal matters. The majority of Marines have a family and relationships so let's discuss some simple ways to keep things stable in this arena of our lives.

It's hard to be a Marine if your single, but it's harder if someone else is immediately affected by your service in the Corps. The individuals usually affected the most are spouses, children, parents, siblings, and often a significant other. It is important that the relationships with people that care about us the most remain stable. This can be done a number of ways.

First, prepare loved ones for your possible deployment. Ensure that they understand that deploying is part of what you do as a Marine. Explain the process to them so they understand how you fit in to the big picture. This is especially important for Marines with children. More so, prepare your family and friends to operate independently without you being there. This is hard for some, but it will pay dividends if you find yourself forward deployed. For example, my wife can handle anything that comes along if I deploy or go TAD for an extended period of time. She understands my role in the Corps and ensures that I can remain focused on proficiently serving our country and not wondering if things are being taken care of on the home front. In addition, the Key Volunteer Network is a great tool to assist family members while a Marine is deployed.

Next, do not worry others by telling stories or revealing information that doesn't concern them. As always, keep civilians informed as best you can without compromising operational security. If you are not sure, consult your chain of command. While it is important not to inform, there is also a problem with keeping loved ones uninformed. This can cause unnecessary worry, uncertainty, and even panic. There is a happy medium.

Lastly, maintain healthy relationships. This can only be done through hard work and a great deal of communication. Keep in contact with friends and family back home through the phone or e-mail remembering to keep correspondence as positive as possible. Additionally, iff you're married, strive to have an unbreakable bond with your spouse and children. Ensure your spouse knows that he/she is your best friend. Your relationship will be stretched when you deploy. If you are a single parent, you must have a "Family Care Plan" that designates a caretaker for your child/children if you deploy. This is not an option and must be reliable and documented in the Marine's service record book. Now that we have the tools to ensure our relationships are solid, let's take a look at our money.

A critical aspect of personal readiness is financial stability. Sorry, but I'm not talking about what a Marine's portfolio looks like, but more so that a Marine's financial responsibilities will be taken care of when he/she is deployed. Again, some ways to ensure financial readiness are as follows.

First and foremost, stay out of debt if at all possible. If it is not an option, keep debt to the bare minimum and pay through allotments. Stay away from credit cards and payment plans; it adds up. Many Marines live beyond their means and have multiple bills that can be avoided. Severe cases can cause a Marine to be ineffective while deployed. A Marine cannot live payday to payday and expect to have financial stability while engaging the bad guys.

Exercise allotments or split pay to ensure that dependents are properly taken care of financially. In addition, you should have a family member on "stand by" to pay your bills if need be. Remember that the mail is slow and unpredictable when deployed. Another issue that many Marines with dependents don't know is that when deployed they loose their COMRATS (BAS). This is because they are issued a meal card or receive field rations. BAS is meant for the Marine, not dependents. Many times this puts a strain on the Marine's family. Probably the most difficult concept of deploying for Marines with a family is the issue of supporting two households. This is why having minimal debt is paramount to financial stability during a deployment. Both the deployed Marine and the family left behind need acceptable incomes. Marines should ensure that joint accounts are established and spouses have reliable access to his/her pay. The last thing a Marine or their family needs to worry about is if the bills are being paid. Now that we are financially stable, let's discuss some legal aspects of deploying.

Although this portion of my article is short and sweet, do not underestimate its importance. Unattended legal issues can cause severe problems if not taken care of. The first legal security that all Marines should have is a "Last Will and Testament." While this may seem creepy to some, the fact remains that death is a part of life and one should make proper arrangements to ensure personal affairs are taken care of. This will prevent the burdening of our loved ones in case of our untimely passing. Besides the "Will," many Marines also require a Power of Attorney (POA) to take care of personal business during their absence. A POA is a document that allows another person to sign your name in your behalf. Basically, you are allowing someone to be you. These are very dangerous documents and should be handled with extreme care. Base legal can assist Marines in both a special and general POA. Consult legal counsel before making a decision on what type of POA will best suit your needs while deployed. Be advised that a POA is usually only effective for one year.

Ensuring that you're personally ready to deploy is your duty as a Marine. More so, it must be a way of life for each of us. All aspects of our lives must be in order at all times, for no one knows when our units will receive the call. Take an inventory this week of the concepts that I discussed in this column and prepare yourself and your Marines personally. Readiness remains a total Marine concept, both on and off duty. We owe optimal readiness to our country, our Corps, our loved ones, and ourselves. We cannot afford to let anyone down. A life may depend on it. Semper Fi.