Wednesday, July 13, 2011
I didn't know any military families growing up. The military way of life was as foreign to me as a city dweller would feel on a dairy farm. Yet I married a military man and found myself taking on the new identity of "military wife." I didn't have any preconceived stereotypes of the military and their families. No idea what they would need, how they would see life... And yet here I am. I have moved from Pennsylvania to Virginia, Virginia to California, and California to Hawaii because of military orders. I have started and then stopped two teaching positions because of heading to a new unknown- and of course one in order to brave the foreign frontier of motherhood!
And today, when I was visiting the Arizona Memorial for the second time with my sister and my "second mother," I was struck by the pride I felt because of being part of the military. While I am not enlisted, I am made of the same stuff those soldiers/sailors/marines were and still are-- just maybe in different ways. And today, as I often am, I was proud to be one.
It was along those lines that a thought occurred to me: what I feel inside is something I have never voiced to anyone who isn't a part of this world. My friends don't know. They wouldn't even know what questions to ask to get to know just how the military community sees the world around them. Does being part of the military community feel any different than being a civilian?
YES. It is a completely different world. Strangely, it's a world I don't think much about when wandering around the mall or laying out at the beach. But when I flash my ID to get into the grocery store or see an American flag, it feels much, MUCH different.
When I see an American flag waving high in the air or in front of a house, I feel a sense of involvement in that flag. I never signed a piece of paper, declaring my service to this nation, but I am the one who is left behind to continue with life, seamlessly moving forward as if nothing changed, when my boyfriend/fiance/husband is gone. And for the record, it's only seamless from the outside- unless you've done a deployment, you have no idea what the mixture of fear, pride, and pain feels like. I am part of the Becker Team who is raising a son 6,000 miles from our family, skyping with grandparents and Aunts/Uncles to make sure they feel connected to the new family member they have once met once. Or twice if they're lucky. I unpack the boxes upon boxes of our life and attempt to make each house we live in feel like home. I pour my heart into friendships without reservation for two or three years and then hug and move on to the next new, undiscovered friendship. (Maintaining an accurate Christmas Card list is daunting.)
I think military couples/families are different in another way- we move about life with an unspoken understanding that our enlisted significant other is willing and honored to die when needed. That fact alone makes me see life differently. I remember having a conversation one night with Jerry....
me: Babe, doesn't it scare you that you might have to fight and die some day?
Jerry: Nope. Not at all. If I could pick any way to die, it would be to die while serving our country. I can't imagine anything more honorable than that.
me: *gulp* oh really? But you know that scene in movies when the guys know they're going to die but they run into the gunfire anyway- you would be willing to be one of those guys??
Jerry: Yep. I'd still go in.
me: So you would really want to go fight in a war?
Jerry: I think there is a part in every man that wants to go to war, just to see what he's made of. There is stuff you don't learn about yourself until you're out there. Every guy wants to know what he'd do "when."
It's fear that enters your body when you hear your husband saying "Yes, I'd gladly die and not think twice" but it's pride that enters immediately, nullifying that fear, because what is more noble than sacrificing your life? What is more noble than sacrificing the life of hopes and dreams you have with your husband? America, you are worth it to me. To us. That's why the flag means so much- that's why we fly it from our house. Because my husband is willing to leave us behind and die for the sake of freedom and protection for EVERY PERSON in this nation. And I am willing to lose my husband and raise my family alone for the sake of freedom and protection of EVERY PERSON in this nation. There is, then, a sobering maturity that naturally accompanies us as we go through life. That is something that makes military families different that civilian ones. I'm not sure that conversation is had by many civilians...and if it is, they should probably enlist. That's what it takes.
Another difference in military communities is the sense of "I've got your back and you've got mine." Sure, the community is rude to itself in the commissary (military grocery store) and gossipy and petty at times. You'll get this from a small community that includes spouses with too much free time. But the moment you need help, we step up. It doesn't matter if you've met a person once- they will bring you dinner if you just had a baby. Even if you've never met them, they will come to your baby shower with a gift in hand just because they heard you don't know many people in the area yet. They are your family at Thanksgiving dinner, your extra hands when you need to pack up boxes, and your support system to keep you busy when your man is gone for the next year. It's a common understanding even deeper than the one I felt with fellow music majors with busy schedules in college. There I felt a camaraderie because of the same life goals. Here I feel a camaraderie because of the same life sacrifice.
And I cannot express to you my anger and frustration towards those who belittle the military or disrespect our nation. If my husband is willing to die for you, and I am willing to lose him for the sake of your freedom- stand up respectfully and be close your mouth during the playing of our National Anthem. Or to students- say the Pledge of Allegiance in school, even though you have the right to be silent. When people are dying for our freedom (for that very right to be silent) and fighting for the freedom of others who are unable to achieve it on their own, it seems more appropriate to be grateful that you have the honor to speak.
So when you see a service member or their family, what do you do? How to do you relate? Even though it seems cheesy, I can't tell you how touched I am when I hear someone tell my husband, "Thank you for your service." And for the very few times that someone has thanked me, I get a knot in my throat. It somehow makes it a little easier to be so far from family and to have my career on hold when I feel like people acknowledge the sacrifice. Sit down and talk to them- welcome them to the new church/school/neighborhood. If their spouse is on deployment, bring dinner or offer to babysit or ask your husband to just go mow their lawn. Without being asked. You see, we are so independent out of necessity that it is rare for a military person to say "I need help." To acknowledge helplessness is to make life unbearable sometimes. So please just help them wherever you see it and worry about whether they'll be grateful for it later.
And know that when you help one, you help us all. Because if you can make the unknown a home and the lonely part of a family, you have done more than you can ever understand.
I pledge allegiance to the flag
of the United States of America.
And to the republic
for which it stands,
one nation, UNDER GOD,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.