Joining the military in the 1970s helped my parents go from hungry in a small apartment to building generational wealth

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christine knapp pictured in an old photo in military fatigues with her baby
The creator’s mom, Christine Knapp (left).

  • My parents hit a low level financially in the ’70s and determined to enlist in the Army to make ends meet.
  • Their time in the military finally helped them get on higher monetary footing and go to faculty.
  • They had been ready to get good authorities jobs and my mother is now comfortably retired.

My momma wore fight boots — regardless that she most popular heels. She fired a rifle — regardless that she disapproved of weapons. She had to run a mile in below seven minutes, dressed in full fight gear — regardless that she carried me in her stomach.

My mother will let you know the military was a robust path, particularly for a lady in the 1970s, but it surely’s a path she would unquestionably march down once more due to the life it afforded her.

“It was critical at the time,” she instructed me. “The Army made a massive change in where I ended up in life — where we all ended up in life.”

My parents joined the military after they ran out of choices

My mother, Christine Knapp, grew up in Detroit and mid-Michigan, serving to maintain her six youthful siblings. Despite the burden, she graduated from highschool a semester early. She dreamed of finding out in Italy — perhaps style or structure. 

“Did it really matter?” she questioned. “It was Italy.”

My mother met my dad, a Vietnam vet, at a pal’s home the similar day she obtained her diploma. They married seven months later. She by no means acquired to Italy.

Life rocketed ahead in the following years: College courses for each. My sister’s beginning. My dad’s commencement. He started a grasp’s program by means of the University of Kansas — however the US economic system slowed their progress.

“It was the early ’70s,” my mother mentioned. “Everything started going downhill fast.”

My dad misplaced the job that supported his research. She misplaced her job. They had few choices.

“We had to come back home. There were no jobs. And to top it off, money was so bad for the government, I lost my scholarships and grant that I had previously used to pay my tuition. It was gone. There was no way for me to finish college.”

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My dad acquired two jobs at two separate Kroger shops again in Michigan, incomes a couple bucks an hour. My mother labored at Ok-Mart, incomes $1.68 an hour. Their unskilled labor afforded them a cramped upstairs apartment in a low-rent a part of Lansing. The weeks dragged on with no higher days on the horizon.

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

They had been determined — till my mother acquired an concept. A pal had simply joined the Army and moved to Germany for a regular paycheck and faculty cash.

“‘What if we joined?'” my mother requested my dad. “It was that or go nowhere in that dreary old apartment.” 

My mother had dreamed of dwelling in Europe, however not like this.

“Imagine pulling up stakes and moving a child halfway across the world.”

They imagined it. They did it. And it modified their lives.

2 military incomes made all the distinction

Both of my parents enlisted. They did not earn a lot at first. After fundamental coaching, they studied Army communications to put together for a transfer abroad.

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

At least they knew they’d be collectively.

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

The Army despatched them to a important area throughout a pivotal time: Germany in the 1970s. The Nazis had been gone, however the Iron Curtain remained and armed militants like the Baader-Meinhof Group nonetheless terrorized the streets. My parents labored for the Army Security Agency, encrypting top-secret communications between officers — the similar stage of labeled intelligence making headlines today.

“These were TS SCI files — the same ones taken from Trump’s home in Florida that could land him in jail. We had that clearance. We were not allowed to visit a communist country within 10 years after we left the military. I worked in a vault — literally a vault.”

Despite their important work, my parents nonetheless did not earn a lot cash. They wanted each of their incomes to survive.

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“I don’t know how families do it nowadays living on a single Army income. You’re getting moved every three years. The spouse can’t keep a job. It’s why you have so many people on food stamps.”

Dual incomes helped, as did a program that paid a little additional to authorities workers who lived in costly locations.

“When we went to Germany, the Army didn’t have enough housing. We got more money, which we needed to afford an apartment. It made for a much nicer lifestyle, away from the base.”

My mother gave beginning to me in Augsburg, Germany. My dad earned his grasp’s diploma in baby improvement by means of a Boston University program in Munich. A short while later, they headed again to Michigan with a little additional pocket cash and a sunnier outlook on life.

They returned to Michigan in a higher monetary place

My parents might now afford a non-dreary apartment. They went out with pals. They purchased a automobile. They spun Bob Seger data on a high-end Pioneer stereo system. Their time in Germany, whereas not enriching, ushered my parents into a extra snug decrease middle-class life-style.

During this time, my dad landed a job with the State of Michigan whereas my mother pursued a laptop programming diploma at Michigan State with assist from her GI Bill.

“It didn’t pay for everything — just tuition and books. I think MSU was $13 a credit back then. We lived in Spartan Village (student housing), which was cheap. Our biggest cost was babysitters.”

My mother appears again at what she obtained to assist cowl faculty prices however understands the military route does not give the similar payoff right this moment.

“They changed it back in the ’80s to a much lower amount. I think it’s almost pointless now. We used it to get through school. Now they encourage you to save up money for school. That’s no big deal. I can do that on my own. If it was like this back then, we probably would not have enlisted.”

Enlisting in the Army helped my parents construct generational wealth

After faculty, my mother labored for the State of Michigan for 27 years. She wrote and maintained laptop software program till she retired in 2011. My dad labored for the State of Michigan for 28 years. He handed away from most cancers whereas nonetheless on the job with the Michigan Department of Transportation in 2007. Their military time boosted their pensions, permitting my mother to get pleasure from her retirement with out worrying about cash.

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“It made a difference. Instead of getting a pension for 28 years, I got his at 33 years. 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 by no means forgot the tough occasions they endured earlier than they joined the Army. During their careers, they squirreled away cash and made safe investments that they may rely on after they retired. The military cash helps cowl payments for my 70-year-old mother, however she believes the course and help they obtained in the military had a a lot larger impression.

“As far as where my life ended up being monetarily, the Army was critical. If we hadn’t gone into the military, I might never have gotten my degree.”

The advantages have been far-reaching. My parents helped my sister and me pay for school, they funded dwelling enchancment tasks, they usually put aside nest eggs for every of their three grandchildren. The path that began with military enlistment ended with generational wealth.

As for her dreams of Italy: My mother made it there as a vacationer in 2004.

Christine Knapp in Italy
Christine Knapp in Italy.

She’s traveled throughout the world. She lives in a luxurious condominium that she transformed to her specs. She drives a luxurious automobile that meets her excessive requirements. She earned all of this, however she nonetheless acknowledges the doorways opened by the advantages she obtained from the Army.

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


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