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Thursday, March 27, 2008

The military ruins families

Embedded in the title of this blog is an article in Rolling Stone Magazine. Okay, it's a little too liberal for my tastes but it illustrates very well just what the military can do to a soldier, or airman, if given the proper motivation.

Before I go on, I want to make sure everyone knows I'm not anti-military. I am extremely PRO military for the good it can do a young man or woman with little direction or chance in life to make themselves a better person. My mother used to say it was a great way to run away from home, and it is, it's just not what it used to be.

I am thinking of this the last couple days as an extension of my last post, where I say goodbye to a friend. He is in the military and I don't want to identify him because he could be anyone in the military. His story isn't unique by any stretch of the imagination. For the sake of this post, let's call him "Steve".

Steve has been in the military for nearly 20 years. He is a member of the guard from his home state and has practically grown up in the military; it is so much a part of his life. Steve has been here at the Army post near me training and going to school to enhance his skills as they relate to his job and he was here over a year, I think. I recall his telling me not long ago he hasn't been home since sometime in 2006, other than the random leave and Christmas break. Recently, all Steve's classes ended and he's on his way home now, however he knows he's going to be deployed not long after he gets home, as does his wife. He's so close to deployment (his latest of many...) he's not going back his job yet, staying with his unit until he gets his orders. His wife called him last week to tell him he had to choose between her or the military with the bottom line being she wanted a husband not phone calls and letters coming God knows when. Of the ten-plus years they've been married, he's been home for just three of them.

Steve chose the military.

Like I said earlier, Steve isn't unique. My husband is retired from the military, as was my dad. Both of them had to be confronted with an ultimatum of losing their families if they didn't retire. Now, Steve doesn't have the option to retire but as a guard member, he does have choices as to when and where he deploys. (Guard and Reserve members must stay in the military longer than 20 years to retire since they are part-time members. My friend theoretically could leave the military but after investing so much time, that's no feasible any longer. He's in it for the long haul now.)

The military has always been transitory in nature, with people being moved every three years or so depending on where the military needed them. That's the nature of the beast and it's always been that way. I can show you hundreds, nay thousands, of military brats who can't really call any geographic location home because of the moving that goes along with being related to a military member. But we're told, "Your country needs your loved one so you need to support them." while the military member is told, "We need you and no one else. To give your country less than 200% means you're not a patriot."

Here's the reality of the situation:

The military must be prepared, at all times, to replace someone should they leave the military, either of their own volition or through involuntary means. Steve's choice of the military over his wife and child is choosing a fair weather friend. His wife will probably divorce him, since she's not one given to flights of fancy and is probably just that sick of having her husband gone all the time. While it might take a while to replace Steve, she will. The woman he loves will be married to someone else at some point and his child will be raised by another man who is there for them. I guess that's okay, isn't it? I mean, Steve's a patriot right?

Yes, Steve is a patriot, I don't know you could find a more ardent one, however he's paying too much for the whistle.

There's an old tale told of Benjamin Franklin, one he oft told to help illustrate just how important it was to him that he support this country's cause of freedom. When he was a small child, his family had a frequent visitor who would empty his pockets of change and give it to little Benjamin. Finally a day came when a friend of his showed him a shiny tin whistle. It played a beautiful tone and Benjamin wanted it very much. His friend offered it to him for all the change Benjamin had gotten that day from the family friend. Benjamin thought this was a great idea and gave his friend about a dollar's worth of change for this whistle. When he got home, he couldn't wait to show his father and the family friend what he had bought. When they saw the whistle he'd paid so much money for, they all started laughing since the same whistle would have cost no more than a nickel had he gotten it from the tinman. Benjamin was crushed by this, the knowledge he'd paid so much for such a small thing. As an adult, he used this lesson when he was faced with a choice of paths in life. Was the choice worth the cost of that which he held dear?

When confronted with the cost of choosing liberty over all he held dear, he decided it was worth it. In my friend's case though, I feel he's paying too much for the whistle. There is not as much as stake as there was with Benjamin Franklin. My friend is giving up his family, the only family he has in the world, for a military that will continue to go on without him because he's just a warm body, a cog in the machine. He's not even really a name to them, just a number.

Again, the reality is this... the military doesn't give two shits for Steve. Once he's gone, he's gone and they'll leave him bewildered in the wake of their departure from him. But he's the kind of soldier the military wants. He's willing to sacrifice it all for the sake of his country. He's willing to choose the military over his family. But if you knew Steve, this would astonish you since he's a guy who's firmly entrenched in his love of family and God. Though he wasn't raised in the Deep South, he epitomizes the values of the Deep South where the values of God, Family and Country are of the utmost importance. The order of importance might change from time to time but it's always these three. The military has so effectively brainwashed him he's forgetting all his years of raising and abandoning his belief system, one he held so dear for so long, all for the sake of "serving his country." Steve is an extremely good man, with an extremely good heart and were it not for the military and their rapid brainwashing of him, I believe nothing could pull him away from the life he's carved for himself back home.

Also, given the long deployments, divorce rates now for the military is sky-rocketing. See, even though Steve is faithful to his wife (and he is...) he's an aberration. There is so much adultery happening in the military, whether it's the members cheating while deployed, or their spouses. The military is a lonely life... I'm not saying ALL military members and their spouses cheat on each other, but it happens enough that it's almost expected.

I am saying this with just the right amount of authority because it happened to my father, it happened to my husband and it happens to military members every day, once they leave the military.

My oldest son was in the initial ground invasion of Iraq. When he came back from his eleven month deployment there, under the harshest of conditions since he was part of the group that got things going there, he suffered PTSD in a severe way. I tried to talk to him about it and he couldn't talk to anyone. The military ingrains in these people that to seek help is a sign of weakness. It was only at the end of his time in service he finally said to me, "Six months ago I counted on these guys to keep me alive and now they couldn't care less about me."

Last Sunday, I had Steve and another military member at my house for a cookout to say goodbye since they are leaving. I accidentally knocked over an empty glass and they jumped ten feet in the air. Wow... The lives of military members are changed irreparably and the military doesn't care.

Sadly, Steve will never see this. While I had him in mind the entire time I wrote this, it could be anyone who knows the ravages of war. This could be any military member who has had to sacrifice so much for a country that cares so little.

Next time you meet a military member, thank them for their sacrifice. I can guarantee they've sacrificed more than any one person should have to...

But who am I? This is just my two cents...