Joining the military helped my parents build generational wealth

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  • My parents reached a financial tipping point in the 1970s and decided to join the army to make ends meet.
  • Their time in the military ultimately helped them get a better financial position and go to college.
  • They were able to get good jobs in the government and my mom is now comfortably retired.

My mother wore combat boots, although she preferred heels. She fired a shotgun, even though she disapproved of her guns. She had to run a mile in under seven minutes, dressed in full combat gear, even though she carried me in her belly.

My mother will tell you that the military was a difficult path, especially for a woman in the 1970s, but it is a path that no doubt would march again because of the life it offered her.

“It was crucial in that moment,” he told me. “The military made a huge change where I ended up in life, where we all ended up in life.”

My parents joined the military when they ran out of options

My mother, Christine Knapp, grew up in Detroit and Mid-Michigan helping to care for her six younger siblings. Despite her burden, she graduated from high school a semester earlier than she did. She dreamed of studying in Italy, perhaps fashion or architecture.

“Was it really important?” she wondered. “It was Italy”.

My mother met my father, a vet from Vietnam, at a friend’s house the same day she received her diploma. They got married seven months later. She never arrived in Italy.

Life has grown dramatically in the following years: university lessons for both. The birth of my sister. My father’s degree. He started a masters program at the University of Kansas, but the US economy slowed their progress.

“It was the early 1970s,” my mom said. “Everything started to fall apart quickly.”

My father lost the job that supported his studies. He lost his job. They had few options.

“We had to go home. There was no work. And to top it off, the money was so bad for the government, I lost my scholarships and the grant I had previously used to pay my tuition. There was no more. There was no way to get me out of college. ”

My dad got two jobs in two different Kroger stores in Michigan, earning a couple of dollars an hour. My mom worked at K-Mart, earning $ 1.68 an hour. Their unskilled work offered them a cramped upstairs apartment in a low-cost area of ​​Lansing. The weeks dragged by with no better days on the horizon.

“Those were pretty desperate times,” my mother told me.

They were desperate until my mother had an idea. A friend had just joined the army and moved to Germany for a steady salary and college money.

“‘What if we join?'” My mother asked my father. “It was that or not going anywhere in that shabby old apartment.”

My mother had dreamed of living in Europe, but not like that.

“Imagine pulling up some stakes and moving a child to the other side of the world.”

They imagined it. They did it. And she changed their lives.

2 military entries made the difference

Both of my parents signed up. They didn’t earn much at first. After basic training, they studied army communications to prepare to move overseas.

“It wasn’t great. We had a trailer in Georgia and a babysitter.”

At least they knew they would be together.

“The military had this thing they called the buddy system (Buddy Team Enlistment Option). If we went in, we were kind of locked together and they should have put us in the same place.”

The army sent them to a critical region at a crucial time: Germany in the 1970s. The Nazis had disappeared, but the Iron Curtain remained and armed militants like the Baader-Meinhof group still terrorized the streets. My parents worked for the Army Security Agency, encrypting top-secret communications between officers, the same level of classified intelligence that’s in the news today.

“These were TS SCI files, the same ones taken from Trump’s Florida home that could have ended up in jail. We had that authorization. We were not allowed to visit a Communist country within 10 years of leaving the military. I worked in a vault – literally a vault. ”

Despite their critical work, my parents still weren’t earning much. They needed both of their incomes to survive.

“I don’t know how families do nowadays living on a single army income. You move every three years. The spouse can’t keep a job. That’s why you have so many people with food stamps.”

Double income helped, as did a program that paid a little extra to government employees who lived in expensive places.

“When we went to Germany, the army didn’t have enough housing. We had more money than we needed to afford an apartment. It created a much more enjoyable lifestyle away from the base.”

My mother gave birth to me in Augsburg, Germany. My father earned his master’s degree in child development through a Boston University program in Munich. Shortly thereafter, they returned to Michigan with a little extra allowance and a more sunny outlook on life.

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They returned to Michigan in a better financial position

My parents could now afford a non-depressing apartment. They went out with friends. They bought a car. They ran Bob Seger records on a high-end Pioneer stereo system. Their time in Germany, while not enriching, introduced my parents to a more comfortable lower-middle-class lifestyle.

During this time, my father got a job in the state of Michigan while my mother earned a computer programming degree from the state of Michigan with the help of her GI Bill.

“He didn’t pay for everything, just tuition and books. I think MSU was $ 13 on credit at the time. We lived in Spartan Village (student housing), which was cheap. Our biggest cost was babysitters.”

My mom thinks about what she got to cover college expenses, but realizes the military road doesn’t pay the same today.

“They changed it in the 1980s to a much lower amount. I think it’s almost useless now. We used it to finish school. Now they encourage you to save money for school. Not a big deal. I can do that. alone. If that had been the case then, we probably wouldn’t have signed up. “

Joining the military helped my parents build generational wealth

After college, my mother worked for 27 years in the state of Michigan. She wrote and maintained computer software until her retirement in 2011. My father worked for the State of Michigan for 28 years. He died of cancer while still working at the Michigan Department of Transportation in 2007. Their military stint increased their pensions, allowing my mother to enjoy her retirement without worrying about money.

“It made a difference. Instead of taking a pension for 28 years, I got hers at 33. For me it was 30 instead of 27. And that makes a difference. I would say it added about 10% to my retirement income. . ”

My parents have never forgotten the difficult times they faced before joining the army. Throughout their careers, they have squandered money and made safe investments they can rely on once they retire. Army money helps cover my 70-year-old mother’s bills, but she believes the leadership and support they received in the military has had a much greater impact.

“As for where my life ended up being monetary, the military was key. If we hadn’t joined the military, I might never have graduated from college.”

The benefits were far-reaching. My parents helped my sister and I pay for college, funded home improvement projects, and set aside nurseries for each of their three grandchildren. The path that began with military enlistment ended with generational wealth.

As for her dreams about Italy: my mother arrived there as a tourist in 2004.

Christine Knapp in Italy

Christine Knapp in Italy.

Christine Knapp



He has traveled all over the world. He lives in a luxury condominium that he has remodeled to his specifications. Drive a luxury car that meets its high standards. She has earned all of this, but she still recognizes the doors opened by the benefits she has received from the military.

“At the time, for us, it was huge. It was the difference between starving in that old apartment and us moving forward to become productive members of society. It made a huge change in how my family ended up in life.” .

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