Posted by Nathaniel T. Lauterbach on 17th February 2016 (All posts by Nathaniel T. Lauterbach)
I’ve posted on Chicago Boyz and other blogs before, but it was a long time ago. Most of it was my work on the Clausewitz Roundtable. I’ve commented here and there, too. I’m happy to count Zen Pundit and Lexington Green as close blog-friends of many years.
I’m back. Some has changed, but not much. I’m still an active-duty US Marine Corps Officer. I’m a major now, not a captain. I’ve been to the sand box a few more times since I last posted an actual blog here. I’ve deployed more than most for my time in service, but less than some. I’m not complaining, just saying.
One thing did happen on my last deployment, in the end of 2014. Toward the end of deployments it’s not uncommon for things to slow down–lots of waiting for things to happen. So you have time to think. In that thinking I started to really question what the hell it is that I’m doing. Why am I fighting? What is it for? I suppose it’s connected to the fact that I was rounding out my fourth deployment to Afghanistan, and doing my small part to assist the Marine Corps with the turnover of Helmand Province to the Afghan National Army 215th Corps. I had deployed to Afghanistan in 2004, 2010, 2012-2013, and then 2014. Throw in an Iraq deployment, some time at sea with the Navy, and some other exercises, and you start to see the makings of a military career in early 21st century America. In any case, I was leading a unit and had a good amount of responsibility. But why? Why had the US come here, made the decisions it did, and why was it now trying to leave? And likewise, why was my Marine Corps doing the same thing? And me? Why was I a part of that?
I have no real regrets about the service rendered for my country. The cost has certainly been steep, personally, though. The family, with each deployment, goes through a great deal of stress, and after about three such deployments, they get harder, not easier, for the family and the soldier to handle. I’ve also lost more friends than I care to count (I can count them out for you, I just don’t want to). There are other costs which are borne, too. But the remuneration has been decent, I suppose. We always managed to be somewhat comfortable. Maybe that was the problem…the comfort?
Part of the expression of gratitude the country has for its military is the pay. For an officer, especially, the pay is quite good. I’m not going to tell you the amount of pay and allowances–that’s publicly available elsewhere. But suffice to say that the military has been quite shielded from the fears and losses of the great recession. Enlisted men and women do well, too, and can occasionally do very well when it comes times for reenlistment in specific occupational fields. Expenses have always been reasonably less than income, on average. There’s been no pressure from the economic environment to really think about my family’s financial situation today, let along 10 or 20 years from now. Yet something just wasn’t right. I didn’t feel out of control, but I didn’t feel like I was in charge, either. I had a bit of a feeling of being adrift. The military side of things was very much in control of the situation–I always knew precisely how many people were under my charge, their individual strengths and weaknesses, their state of training and discipline, and their morale. I knew the capabilities of my equipment. I always strove to understand the mission, to lead with vigor, and to “own” my position. I was good at that. But personally and financially? I barely had a financial or a personal life. That had to change.
So I decided to get a handle on things. I started to track every penny–even the pennies I don’t see because they’re “pre-tax” and given to the government for safe keeping until I claim my share back at tax time. I located all of my accounts. I found all of the debts, the interest rates, the amount of interest I was paying. I started tracking expenses, and then cutting them. I’ll be honest–the wife wasn’t exactly thrilled by me looking at things with such magnification. I started to read up on personal finance, investing, and life-planning in general. I read blogs and books, listened to podcasts, and talked with others about how to really order finances these days. And I began to radically alter our financial course. We paid all our debts, we bought a house (so, in actuality, we have one mortgage now). We’ve rented out our basement to a tenant. And we now save about 40% of all our pre-tax income. We’re not where I want to be yet, but we’re getting there. I’m not leaving anything to chance any longer, unless it’s a calculated chance intentionally taken. Every expense is now deliberately taken.
I also decided to look for some hobbies. Being a military man has a way of becoming an all-encompassing experience. Your friends are basically military colleagues. Your work is military work. Military people know about “mandatory fun”–those obligatory nights spent with comrades and often with superiors. Your wardrobe is decided for you. Where you live is decided. My task was to carve out a bit of this life and make it mine. I had to get new friends and do new things with different groups of people. That would add richness to my life. I’ve done that, and I’m still doing that.
I’ve been working on the above things–redirecting our financial life and reordering how I spend time–for a bit over a year now. The changes have been pretty dramatic. Looking back, I realize that up until I took command of my life I was living in a bit of a fog. With all of the turmoil of military life, the American people do much to make finances reasonably tranquil. This financial tranquility is both a blessing and a curse. You’re never really forced to grapple with the default decisions the consumerist economy makes for you. Nor are you forced to grapple with the reality that politics is not really national. It’s local. Your political power begins with you and those you immediately affect. You need to reclaim that power for yourself. Take charge of the fruits of your labor. Own your day to the extent you can. If you want to descend into the cesspool of national politics, fine–but do it intentionally. In fact, live your life intentionally. A life, intentionally lived, taken to the logical extreme, is the very definition of freedom. That is why I fight, happily, for my country.
I’ll be blogging about my financial journey here, as well as on other things as I see fit.
Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Blogging, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Commiserations, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Entrepreneurship, Iraq, Military Affairs, Morality and Philosphy, National Security, Personal Finance, Personal Narrative, Politics | 16 Comments »