Thursday, August 2, 2012

Medals of Support for Military Families

My husband and I just had dinner last night with a dear old friend of mine and her husband, who we shamefully haven't seen in three years.  I have been good friends with her for the past 16 years, though recently our friendship has been based solely on regular phone chats and prolific emails (mostly due to geographic distance).  Her husband is in the military and they have been moving around some as sadly is so often required.  But they are in Ft. Leavenworth this week for some intense, special training they are receiving due to her husband's recent promotion to the position of Battalion Commander (which is a noble and much-deserved honor).  As we chatted about various things at dinner, they shared how he will be in charge of approximately 400 soldiers once he is through his training and placed in the new fort to which they will soon be moving.  This immensely important position doesn't just affect him though--my friend will be expected to take on many new responsibilities as the wife of a Battalion Commander (hence her need for being involved in the training classes along with him).  So on top of the fact that her husband has already been twice deployed to Iraq/Afghanistan, and will most definitely be leaving for a third term within the next year, she now has more duties to perform in support of him and his military career than she already has in raising their three little girls (and doing so alone for the third time). This really struck me.  We just don't do enough as a country or even as individuals to show our respect, admiration, and gratitude to the spouses of our soldiers.  They lay their lives down for our country and our freedoms right alongside their beloved soldiers (as do their children, for that matter).  In some ways, I believe the children pay the highest price--they had no part or say in making the decision for the life they've been dealt (which requires them to live in a single-parent home at various times in their lives, move often, learn to adjust to new schools, make new friends constantly, etc.).  This sacrifice, though large, is still a distant second to the soldier sustaining an injury or sacrificing his/her life for the cause of freedom, of course.  But the cumulative sacrifices of the entire family are rather humbling as one ponders all they go through for the rest of us.

Having lived near a military fort twice in our life, my husband and I have fostered relationships with several military couples.  I have watched these couples endure the effects of prolonged separation enough to honestly say I find these folks utterly courageous.  My son-in-law, who is studying to be a Marriage and Family Therapist, has done some counseling of military couples who are struggling in their post-war life together.  He has a heart for these couples and has seen first hand the wide array of side effects this prolonged separation can create.  So it is certainly a valid issue that demands our understanding and respect.  I have another very close girlfriend, whose husband is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, and who is currently serving his third deployment (of one year's length).  The grace by which she has handled this is truly amazing.  I also have two other close girlfriends whose husbands are both pilots in the National Guard and are gone 50-65% of the year.  To watch these ladies endure and carry on with their lives, in lieu of having a normal marriage, and support their husbands in every way possible has truly impressed me.  They are soldiers, too. Modern technology (esp. Skype) certainly helps.  But a two-dimensional live feed of your spouse just isn't quite the same as the real deal.

As a former educator, I also had a number of military children in my classroom and saw for myself what it does to a child to spend months and years without a much needed parent in their life (as well as the toll it takes on the spouse who is left behind to manage an entire household and raise children alone).  I recall spending a good portion of the start of many school days consoling and drying the tears of one little girl who went through weeks of struggling while missing her daddy.  She'd crawl up on my lap and just fall apart every morning.  I recall her asking me point-blank one morning, "Mrs. T., is my daddy gonna die?"  It was a heart-wrenching thing to behold and I've never forgotten it.

Just last week while on a business trip with my husband, I was able to take the opportunity to thank a soldier's wife for her sacrifice for our country.  I was in the ladies' room of a nice hotel in Denver, CO, and overheard a beautiful, young woman sharing with another lady how the red rose she was carrying was from her husband who had just got back from deployment.  They were in the hotel having a nice dinner together to celebrate his homecoming.  She shared that he had sustained an injury and that though she regrets that greatly, she is glad he is home safely and won't ever have to go back.  Upon my interest and involvement in the conversation, she shared further how he'd missed the birth of their firstborn son, and how she was excited for him to get to know his child and hopefully have a more normal life now.  Broke my heart.  The other lady in the discussion and I both had tears in our eyes before this young lady finished her story.  The inner strength in her composure as she openly shared with perfect strangers spoke volumes to me--this woman was half my age and I wasn't even able to keep my emotions in check hearing her story, let alone living it. Then as I left the ladies' room, I spotted her handsome, young husband, who was being thanked, as well, by folks in the lobby (which was wonderful to witness).  But I was struck thinking about his injury and how he would live the better part of his life being reminded daily of his own sacrifice, as will his lovely wife.  Fact is, we can never be grateful enough.

Regardless of your personal thoughts and feelings about our current leaders' decisions and our status in the Middle East, the immense and obvious sacrifices of military families and the soldiers they love and support warrant our praise and thankfulness.  People who don't live this life or have close contact with those who do usually don't comprehend the full magnitude of it.  Even though I have a few close friends in my inner circle who live it, I still don't always "get" what they go through or place the value upon it that is deserved.  We shouldn't just be willing to extend a grateful hand and give up our seat to a soldier--we should give up our seats for their families and thank them regularly, too.  More than that, we should be praying for them regularly.  If only we could give these families "medals of support" in order to easily identify them in public and be able to offer up some words of blessing, thanks, and love.  They support our soldiers and we should support them.