Alexandra Grinston is the spouse of the Sergeant Major of the Army Michael A. Grinston. Krista S. Anderson is the Army Emergency Relief military spouse ambassador.
Last month, the U.S. marked one full year since the COVID-19 pandemic came to our shores. The costs of this unprecedented public health emergency are all too clear. Tragically, hundreds of thousands of American lives have been lost. Every facet of our society, from work to school to family life, has been disrupted.
The U.S. military, representing a cross section of the country at large, has not been spared from the negative impact of the coronavirus. Across all branches of service, COVID-19 has left its mark: Families have struggled to deal with delayed PCS moves; an uncertain time frame for promotion ceremonies; spouse unemployment; disruption to school and child care; and much more.
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The military lifestyle has always required sacrifices, both from the service members in uniform as well as their spouses and family members who serve with them. As a military spouse for 25 years, Alexandra Grinston, wife of Sergeant Major of the Army Michael A. Grinston, has experienced how frequent moves and deployments can impact family life, employment, education and emotional wellness. Her family has moved 12 times, and her daughters had to adjust to new schools, new teachers, and different curriculums and graduation requirements. Krista Anderson’s first husband, a Green Beret, died of injuries sustained in an improvised explosive device attack in Afghanistan in 2013. In 2017, she remarried, to a Special Forces soldier who is currently on active duty. We know firsthand the challenges military families encounter and the burdens military spouses and children bear to support their service members.
COVID-19 has made taking care of children and providing them with learning opportunities even more challenging than before. Many military families incurred out-of-pocket expenses for temporary babysitters or daycare arrangements, which have become more expensive or difficult to find due to social distancing requirements. Others have had to bear extra costs as a result of the switch to remote learning during the pandemic, which has required families to set up learning stations for their children at home.
Fortunately, Army Emergency Relief, or AER, the service’s official nonprofit organization, has stepped in to lighten the burden on Army families. In February, AER announced that Army families in need can receive a grant, which does not need to be repaid, for child care and/or remote learning costs for students pre-K through undergraduates incurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The program is open to active-duty and retired troops as well as surviving spouses and Reserve and National Guard soldiers who are on Title 10 orders for more than days, or activated in support of COVID-19 efforts. Soldiers will apply for the grant through their local AER officer, typically on base through Army Community Services. If they have trouble finding someone, they can use the locator tool here.
For families struggling to access quality child care, this could include costs associated with care before and after school, child care facilities, nursery schools and licensed private sitters. Families who home-school their children or who have to temporarily provide remote learning at home could use the grant to pay back costs related to tutoring, educational software, extended WiFi coverage, computers, tablets and more.
These efforts are in line with AER’s mission to provide financial support to active-duty and retired soldiers, as well as their families. AER supports more than 40,000 soldiers each year, providing nearly $70 million in grants and zero-interest loans. With this new program, grants for child care and remote education assistance, AER hopes to alleviate some of the negative impact Army families have experienced and are still experiencing during these challenging times.
As this grave one-year mark for the pandemic passes, we are encouraged by the rollout of vaccines and the steady reopening of schools, restaurants and businesses. We hope that Army families who have shown great resilience and optimism will continue to thrive and will be aware of the many programs and benefits available to help.