Echo is for: Enlisted Life
I’ve been writing military romance for many years now and reading it even longer. I’m picky when it comes to who I’ll read when it comes to military romance because I lived military life and I have a few sticking points when it comes to how it’s written. I’ve deduced over the years a few things about most military romance. One, about ninety-five percent of it hosts main and secondary characters who are officers, which isn’t the norm per capita of military personnel proportionately. Two, those officers are almost always beastly, gun-toting special ops guys. Three, ninety-five percent of the military romance writers out there fail to do proper research and get it all wrong, and by all wrong I mean all wrong.
In the most recent data I could locate from a 2016 demographics booklet, 65% of Marines were 25 years old or younger. 23% weren’t old enough to consume alcohol. 39% of the overall Marine Corps population were of the rank Lance Corporal or lower (in other words enlisted and at the bottom of the ladder—not officers). 44% of Marines were married and out of all Marines there was only 1 officer per every 7.8 Marines. What that last statistic means is this: in 2017 there were 186,000 active duty Marines. That means active duty as in full-time, not a reservist. Overall, only approximately 22,000-23,000 of those Marines were officers. 164,000 or so of them were of the enlisted ranks, not officers.
In romance writer terms, that means there are a hell of a lot of stories not being written because so many writers favor an officer for their main and secondary characters. What a shame.
My husband was of the enlisted side of the house and attained the highest rank one can as an enlisted service member, that of E-9. In the Marine Corps, those who attain that rank are either called Sergeant Major or Master Gunnery Sergeant. One is more of an administrative role and the other is skill set specific. Both are hard jobs and require a great deal of personal responsibility as well as responsibility for the troops serving under them. Both are badasses as far as this bride and writer is concerned.
Most military romance main characters are portrayed as having money falling out their behind. While officers do have a leg up in the pay department, they can’t be described as rich by any means, and enlisted folks are most certainly not wealthy. A Lance Corporal with 2 years in grade makes less than $2000.00 a month according to the most recent pay chart. Considering they’re the beck and call of the United States 24/7, that amounts to $2.68 an hour over the course of 744 hours an average month. That’s several dollars below minimum wage if I’m not mistaken. I know of a certain fast-food restaurant that starts their employees out at over $12.00 an hour, to work a steady forty-hour week simply taking orders and fulfilling them. Sure, people can be bitchy at that drive-through window, but bitchiness is a small price to pay for that kind of money considering what a Lance Corporal has to know how to do in a combat situation for almost 80% less pay. A Corporal with a spouse and one child is eligible for food stamps. Yes, I just said our military junior enlisted ranks qualify for public assistance.
Not so glamorous now is it?
I’m not saying we can’t have the fantasy. I’m not saying we shouldn’t give people hot characters, gun-toting officers, or special ops guys. What I’m saying is, the balance is skewed and has given a view of military life that is wholly unrealistic. While the fantasy is great, the reality is something else entirely. The reality, the reality I lived first-hand, is what drives me to do things differently and offer up heroes and heroines who may not be rich, may not be officers, may not be special ops, but they have an enormous story to tell anyway.
Do we need fantasies? You betcha! We all need to escape at times and fantasize. But we also need hope grounded in reality. We need just plain great stories. We need to understand that characters are real people, just like us, and just like those realistic characters we all have a shot at a happily-ever-after and love.
My latest release grounded in reality is now available at Amazon.