Perhaps the most difficult question asked of me:
"I especially enjoyed reading through the "In the Troops Words" and "Veteran/Soldier Health" sections. One topic I'd like to read about, and perhaps I haven't stumbled upon it yet on your site, is about the families and children of soldiers -- more specifically, the impact of military service on kids, whether they have a dad or a mom in the military." Contributor with a women's health web site, www.EmpowHer.com
It looks to be a great site, but far outside my area of expertise. As a former Senior NCO, I've dealt with the Troops side of the issue. As a Veteran that has seen the effects of Jody and the suspicions of Jody, I've on occasion seen the paranoia that results from that suspicion. Generally my role has been to help the Troops, not the families in dealing with the effects of Military Service on Families.
There has however been one case in particular that opened a whole new side to things. A couple of years ago, a great woman who had recently made my acquaintance had just sent her son off to Marine Basic, Boot Camp as they call it. The saga that ensued created a lasting friendship, a lot of stress on her part, and many laughs on my end.
See, I knew the realities behind the scary stories she heard. Instead of dealing with the "momma's boy," I was dealing with momma. I encouraged her to send him all kinds of goodies, to call and make sure he wasn't having too hard of a time, that he was getting enough rest, and all kinds of things that would feed the fodder of a Drill Sergeant's Dreams of reasons to scream.
I knew he was going to be pushed harder and farther than he or she ever thought possible, but never
And through her eyes, I saw a whole different side of the perceptions of Basic Training. The fears of a mother whose baby boy was growing up way too quickly. The fears of a mother forced to trust those mean drill sergeants with her only son. I was able to see the humor in it because I knew the young Private was in no danger at all. I toughened her up even as the Drill Sergeants toughened the kid up.
There was another aspect to it. Her fiance was a Senior Army NCO telling her all the same things I was (except how to get the Private in trouble). The point? Sometimes, we don't put the same trust in those closest to us as the distant contact with the same experience.
Senior Soldiers recognize how hard it is to love a Soldier. An Army Wife has the hardest job in the Army. When a Soldier goes to the Field or to War, we are generally too busy to think about the things we're missing. In fact, we can be a bit impatient with folks back home talking about the things that really don't bear much weight in the world of warfare. Often times, we have only a few minutes to talk and either don't have anything to say or don't want to waste it on things of inconsequence.
We can find ourselves at odds of having something to say or saying too much and causing undue worry. Instead of trusting a drill sergeant with our lives, our wives are forced to trust our skills. And even if they trust our skills, they recognize the luck of the draw of combat. They remember our complaints of the fellow soldiers. They need trust not only their Soldier but his teammates and fellow Soldiers. They need remember that we are the best trained and equipped Military on Earth.
And those wives and sisters and mothers know we are softened and afraid of the tears we cannot face. They try their hardest to hide those tears, our kryptonite, from us. It's the one thing we can't defeat. And the wives do it well. They fight their tears. They show us how strong they are. And they show strength to our children, to our nieces and nephews.
The kids only know a year is a lifetime. They know only that we are a Superman that will be gone for that lifetime.
And then come the media, with tales of doom and gloom. With headlines of death and defeat. And families shed their strength in the story of a Superman who repels bullets with a mere breath. Journalists jot down words of Troop Atrocity without checking the facts. Stories insinuate tales of Veterans of murderous rage and suicidal tendency, while the Military maintains the lowest level of criminality of society. Just as it takes only one infiltrator to wreak havoc from within, it takes only one journalist to poison the well of trust.
The wives and families fear for the Troops and begin to fear for themselves, while the Troops do the bidding of their Nation, honorably, victoriously, and with great generosity. But while I know this story from the point of view of a Soldier, I can not fully appreciate it from the point of view of a family member.
I know the questions asked of me by my family. I know the fears and worries in their eyes, as they've asked: "Will you have to go back?" "Haven't you fulfilled your part?" They know I'm trained. They listen as I've explained how well trained my fellow Soldiers are. But all they've heard are the 4,500+ we've lost and the outright lies of innocents murdered purportedly by us.
And seldom has a man seen a woman run faster than when she realizes that she is on a first date with a man not only returned from but potentially returning to a combat zone circa 2006. It was all fun and games in 1992 to play on the fears of PTSD in civilians, but in 2006, it struck pure fear in the hearts of the protected to be in presence of a Veteran.
PTSD is a real issue and requires real measures before, during, and after to overcome, but it has been used as a political football in manners that make it worse not better. Soldiers like talking about as little as they like talking about the situations that lead to it. Soldiers, not shrinks, are the best method of dealing with it. It is a change in priorities, not a psychotic condition. It is increased awareness not paranoia.
Soldiers know they must maintain Strength in front of family and friends. They know wives and mothers and sisters pretend strength greater than their fears allow in front of not only the Soldier, but the children. Soldiers know it is a hard job to love them, but that love keeps them human. Veterans know the protected don't understand them, that many even fear them.
Veterans sacrificed as Soldiers so that civilians would not know the tribulations of war. And most don't discuss the battles, neither on foreign shores nor in their own minds, as they continue to protect the protected from things only the experienced can understand. Courage is not the absence of fear but the actions taken in the presence of fear.
There are many things I do not understand, that I will never understand, because I simply have not experienced them. I will never understand the experience of childbirth, no matter if I interview 100 mothers, watch 1000 births, and study the biological effects of it for 10 years.
I will not fully understand the worries and effects of being the family of a Soldier, for even if my son were to go into battle, I would still be a Soldier seeing him off. It would effect me in ways different than leading another Soldier into battle, but it would not be the same as the fears of my father as he heard that his son would repel the Iraqi Army from Kuwait, nor even as he sent his son to be the trip wire of Europe in the Cold War, nor even as his son told him that it was his turn to lead troops in our Current Conflicts.
I know the realities, the risks, and the repercussions of politics, the press, and protests on battlefields far away. I know our own citizens can crush our spirits far more than anything the enemy can dream up. But I can never fully know, even if I recognize the troubles and tribulations of being on the homefront with nothing but time to consider the "luck" of the draw of a loved one whose training and equipment is completely foreign to me.