War: Through the Eyes of a Military Kid

This morning my oldest son overheard my husband listening to Meet the Press and he wanted to know what all the fuss was about. Why are people talking about acts of war? What is happening? How does it affect us? He was very curious, as most 10-year olds are.

So, we sat with him and answered his questions as clearly and concisely as we could, walking the fine line between hard truth and age appropriate answers.

I was impressed by his level of questioning and equally impressed with our ability as parents to answer his questions the best we could. We wrapped up the conversation and headed out the door to church, all of us seemingly content to carry on about our day.

But we weren’t all content to carry on about our day.

As we loaded into the van, the jabs started. Annoying little remarks or looks aimed at our youngest. As the little things escalated, our youngest engaged by shouting ugly names at his brother at maximum volume. After blows were exchanged and tears shed, each child settled into his designated seat as the van rolled on toward church.

The atmosphere in the van was one of uncomfortable silence. Both our oldest and youngest instructed to face forward and not engage with one another for the eight-minute drive.

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“Are you scared?” The question was out of my mouth before I really had time to process it.

My oldest looked up at me and slowly nodded his head.

“Me too, buddy, me too.”

~

It’s one thing to watch world news unfold on a TV screen from the comfort of your living room. It’s a completely different thing to have it unfold as your dad leaves your living room, sea bag in hand, weary look on his face, and a promise that he, “will be back soon.” Whatever that means.

Today many military families woke to the reality that their loved ones deployed unexpectedly.

Deployment is hard enough when you know it’s coming. But an unexpected deployment? That hits you like the left hook you never saw coming-especially if you are ten or eight or three, heck, even if you’re 37, like myself.

Unknowns are about the only constant in military life. Some would suggest that this idea is something that the military community should just suck up, because “we knew what we signed up for.” While there is some truth in knowing the only constant is the unexpected or unknown, I find myself really angry with people who feel the need to remind military families of that at every turn. As if knowing that our loved might deploy at a moment’s notice makes that reality any easier to digest. It doesn’t.

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Scrolling through Instagram after church, I came upon a post from comedian Leslie Jones. Something about encouraging people to get involved in current events. In the comments a soldier’s wife expressed her fear about what’s going on. The sudden deployment of the 82nd Airborne division hit a little too close to home for her. While most replies to her were ones of prayer and support, someone commented, “Sorry, but they knew what they were getting into! Being in the military you better be ready for war all the time!!”

This person’s statement, while true-ish, is awfully insensitive to someone who was simply expressing her emotions. And I see it all the time.

Somehow, we have begun to live under the assumption that because people volunteer to be in the military and make it a career, the volunteering erases the emotions of worry and fear. That because we have an all-volunteer force the families don’t get to say they are afraid, or worried, or that they are having a hard time while their loved one is in harm’s way.

Why is that?

Is it because we have been at war for nearly two decades, we’re just desensitized to continuing to send people into conflict? Is it because we have an all-volunteer force, most families aren’t experiencing the suddenness of war at home?

I don’t know. I don’t have the answer to those questions. But I do have a heart for the people who are bearing the brunt of constant military engagement.

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The reality of the skirmish between my children this morning was brought on because we had to have a frank conversation with our ten-year old about what’s going on in the world and it scared him.

It scared him because he lives with the reality that world news of this caliber does affect his daily life.

His dad might deploy suddenly. Or his dad might work really long hours helping prepare others for deployment. Or where his dad works will be attacked.

He is aware that the unknowns and uncertainties of military life change his routine, his life, because an unexpected deployment is not about war, it’s about his dad.

~

As our country waits to see what will come of the current struggle in the Middle East, my call to action is this:

Remember that for some of America’s families this conflict is personal. It’s not about politics, it’s about dads and moms, brothers and sisters, and their absence, on behalf of the United States, leaves a very large hole in the lives of the ones who await their return. We don’t need your criticism. We need your compassion.

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So Much More

Last week I emailed NBC to thank them for this season’s new characters who portray a Marine veteran and her family on “This Is Us.” I felt like the writers really captured what it’s like to be a military family.

From the anxiety written on the faces of both Cassidy, the service member, and her husband, Ryan, to the air of celebration that you’re supposed to feel on Homecoming day. The scene was on point.

As the story continues to unfold I have been impressed with the interactions of the Cassidy and Ryan. Reintegration post a combat deployment is no joke and it felt like the writers stood in my kitchen watching our real life drama unfold.

In another scene Ryan laments that he has trouble going to events where Cassidy’s service is the star of the show, because he believes the Marine Corps is what changed his wife into a person who is unrecognizable. I could see on his face just how torn up he was about holding that tension. Knowing that his wife is a Marine, yet not knowing where to place the blame for the change in her demeanor. It’s a hard spot to live in.

Week after week I have continued to be impressed with how the show gets into the nitty gritty of life post combat deployment.

Until this week.

Cassidy is upset and tells her friend, Kevin, that she saw her husband and it didn’t go well. That her husband got critical and she got defensive. It’s no more than a couple lines.

But it only showed Cassidy’s side of the story. Logically, I get it. It’s a television program and by the end of the episode, (SPOILER ALERT), she’s sleeping with one of the show’s main characters. So the story line is hers.

But there’s always another side to every story.

Chances are Ryan’s “critical” words were laced with worry. Chances are what appeared to be critical was simply a spouse sharing concern about the changes he sees in the person he loves the most. Chances are the “criticism” was an attempt to provide help to his wife.

Chances are, he wasn’t critical at all.

More than likely he is scared. Scared that the person he loves most is gone forever due the things she saw and did in place he will never have to go.

Those were my thoughts as I listened to those few short lines about critical words and defensive responses. And I wished they were onscreen. So much.

Because though I don’t have a crystal ball to see how the rest of the season plays out, I do know that the writers have done a great job of setting up the start of a relationship between Kevin and Cassidy.

And a relationship for them means no relationship for Cassidy and Ryan, her husband.

Her husband, the one who paid the bills, took their son to school, to ball practice, to the doctor, the one who sent care packages and lay in bed at night praying his wife would return home safely…the one who really knows her.

In one short exchange of words, Ryan is diminished to a critical husband who doesn’t understand his spouse and Kevin is seen as an understanding confidant.

Kevin said the things that sounded good and affirming. But Kevin has no idea of the love and devotion that was behind Ryan’s “critical” words.

I am Ryan. And those “critical” words have been mine. And for all the applause that comes my way at military events or all the thank yous I receive when I show my military ID, I was just reduced to being the critical spouse at home.

And the truth is I’m so much more. We, as a group, are so much more.