“I knew we wouldn’t be wealthy, but I thought it would be a lot more manageable,” said Desiree Mieir, a mother of four whose Navy husband’s most recent deployment lasted almost eight months.

Mieir can’t afford cable and often leaves her home’s air conditioning shut off to keep her utility bill down. “I didn’t know I’d have to try this hard,” she said.

To make ends meet, Mieir and thousands of other military families around the country routinely rely on federal food assistance, charities or loans from family. Their struggles are caused by a variety of factors: the high cost of living in cities like San Diego, difficulty qualifying for federal food assistance, and a transient life that makes it challenging for spouses to build careers.