I felt like I was back in uniform. We spent part of the July 4th weekend with great friends in the DC area. He was a senior officer retired from the Army after 23 years. We played golf at the Army Navy Country Club. I thought it should be Navy Army CC but that is just me. The cookout Sunday night was replete with fireworks and red, white and blue were everywhere from bunting to shirts and dresses.
While waiting on the chow line of sorts we asked fellow place holders what branches they were from? There were plenty of “Sirs” but one admiral waved off any recognition of his rank. We were all in the same fraternity. Very cool!
Of particular note was our host’s son who just retired from the Army as a Lt Colonel. I read the handout of the retirement ceremony which included the plan of the day. Tributes from CO’s, Gunnies and fellow officers. His bio read like an Audie Murphy movie for those who remember that far back. Five deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq ranging from 6-18 months each.Three Bronze Stars and a lot more. An amazing young man.
His presence was commanding but I couldn’t help but look aside to his parents and his wife and daughter. Mom and dad were beyond proud. Deb even had a tear or two although she claimed it was allergies. Dad was pure soldier and loved the passing of the guard. Who wouldn’t, but there was more.
The soldier’s wife was beyond sharp. Big smile and an even bigger personality.Not over bearing but just testimony to a young lady who had her you know what together. Several master’s degrees that she acquired in addition to her duties as an Army wife and mom. She was supportive and always in synch. There at the ready for her family like a tough Marine guard but with an absolute heart of gold. One neat lady.
We have had a couple of other dinner conversations with military friends and I keep going back to the wives. They told their own war stories. Moving their entire household single handed because dad was off soldiering someplace. Laying awake at night wondering if the doorbell was going to ring with some horrible pronouncement. Raising the kids because it is what you do when 18 month deployments interrupt your marriage. Dozens of new places and friends and schools over 20-30 years. Some kind of amazing.
More intriguing or heroic is the fact that many these women are from service families themselves. Dads, uncles and brothers go way back as do the moms, aunts and sisters. To a person they never spoke of regret but of a life that was rich if not rather unconventional. When you get them together, each one has their own comical or harrowing story to tell. We should make their conversations a TV series. It would put Housewives of Wherever to shame.
Warfare has become less deadly but that is cruel in a way. We have mastered the fine art of triage and reconstruction to the point we can bring people back to life from death’s darkest door. Whether the returnee has missing limbs or just part of his or her psyche forever changed, the spouse waits and accepts and loves. I really don’t know how they do it. They are incredibly special people.
In WW II you were shell shocked. In Nam you just couldn’t get it together. Today PTSD is the acronym that ties it all together. War changes you for better or worse. It is more often the latter. You are a handful and someone has to understand and help you regain yourself if you ever do. Once again it is you know who.
We seem to have a love hate of the military. Since the end of the draft a waning single digit percentage of us have any connection. We have no idea how much of their reality keeps us safe. We can pooh pooh Iraq or Afghanistan or wonder why we have overseas bases but when the next 9/11 happens, we are sure happy they are there. Military budgets? You bet they are big. Want to defund them? I think you see how that has worked out for us.
If you have been to war you probably have seen the futility of it. No one really wins and you see a lot of loss. But right now the world is not an especially friendly place. There is always someone out there who wants to project their ego or get even. We are forced to make assumptions and plan for eventualities. Is it a huge waste? Probably a good part of it is, but we really have no alternative.
So for now let’s go out of our way to thank anyone who wears the uniform, no matter what branch. Wait, you can do a little more for the Anchors Aweigh men and women. Ha! Don’t just doff your hat during a flyover but maybe sing that national anthem a little louder no matter your musical talent. Stand up and be proud.
Most of all be grateful to the ones that keep the home fires burning. When your day sucks from some minor mishap, realize it is just that. A small inconvenience. I thank the soldiers and sailors, but I really want to thank the spouses for their service. Where would be without them ?
Ted The Great
In our population of 330 million people there are 1.4 million on active duty. This is about 30% smaller than in 1990 when there were 2.1 million.
There are also 19 million veterans. 25% or 5 million have a service related disability.
Of veterans of war who were in combat anywhere from 10-30% suffer from PTSD.
Approximately 250,000 veterans suffer homelessness over the course of a year.
We have 165,000 American forces in over 150 installations throughout the world. There are 55,000 troops in Japan, 33,000 in Germany and 26,000 in South Korea.
Two great comments from PCS(Permanent Change of Station) spouses that probably sum it up:
“I am stressed,” she admits with a laugh. “Yes, I cry myself to sleep. Yes, I take long showers, but after awhile, you realize you just have to deal with it. The movers are here with their truck; you have to go. You pull your big girl pants up and dig in.
“It helps to remind myself that somebody always has it better and somebody always has it worse,” she added. “I’ve had to PCS where I had a whole year to prepare. Then again, I’ve heard of people who had to move in two weeks. You need a back up to a back up to a back up plan.”