The Cost of War

I am sharing this post from my own experiences during Gulf War I and from my discussions with other veterans who are friends of mine.

I think it’s important to remember who pays the biggest price during times of war. It’s the family left behind. I do not mean to diminish the sacrifices our soldiers make and the ultimate sacrifice all could potentially make and some do; that is, to give their life in the service of their country. Their dedication to duty and willingness to serve is a gift to all of us at home.

However, for family members left behind, they endure daily the potential sacrifice their loved one could make and with none of the control over the situation that a soldier has. A soldier knows in every moment what his status is–he knows if he is safe or in harms way. He might be in mortal danger only several minutes a day. However, loved ones must assume the soldier is in mortal danger 24 hours a day. That stress is a heavy burden to carry. And indeed, when the soldier is in mortal danger he has a certain measure of control over the situation. The loved one has none.

Furthermore, for the soldier, it is just another day at work. Certainly, the location has changed, and the cost of failure has been increased. But the soldier goes to work and does soldier work when he’s at his home base and when he’s deployed he wakes up and does soldier work. And he shares his misery and the brotherhood of warriors with others who are with him.

For family members at home, they are now thrust into doing two jobs with one person. There will be no help changing diapers, mowing lawns, plunging toilets, grocery shopping, disciplining kids, carpooling and the other myriad of jobs the soldier’s family does every day. They have the stress of a loved one at war and the incredibly draining task of involuntary single parenting. Additionally, kids pick up on extra stress at home and have a tendency to act out in response to that stress. The burden doesn’t just double it quadruples, and it often does so in isolation. Where the soldier has comaraderie, the family has loneliness. The neighbors may be just next door, but if they’re not military they don’t understand and even if they are military, they’re busy with their own lives. The support that seems so accessible during the first weeks of a soldier’s deployment disappears quickly.

I WILL say this can be one of the most frustrating aspects of a deployment for the soldier. There is such a feeling of helplessness to call home or get an email (and communication is so much easier and more prevalent today than it was even in GWI) and learn of the difficulities at home. The soldier can’t help. He can only listen and try to empathize. But it is a powerless feeling to be so far away when you want to be and are needed at home.

The long absences also take their toll on marriages. For the soldier, he is simply living out his commitment to his country and his sense of duty. For the loved ones, they accept this responsibility not in response to their own decision to serve but from their decision to love the soldier. Whether parents or children or spouses, the stress of war was not a choice THEY made. They may willingly take it on in response to the duty of love, but there is still potential for bitterness having to endure a forced hardship. To the soldier who harbors bitterness, we can always say, “You joined up, deal with it.” No such platitudes are appropriate for the family left behind.

When you see a yellow ribbon, a flag, a button, or a bumper sticker encouraging you to remember the members of our armed forces and to pray for their safety, remember to also pray for their families still at home. Pray for their patience, for their peace, for their continued dedication to loving the soldier. And if you have an opportunity to show kindness to a military family, do so without hesitation, knowing that you are providing direct support to those who are hurting the most from the deployment of our military personnel.

Published in: on March 2, 2007 at 3:05 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Clearly you were a soldier as your words are reflective of those written from the heart. Not being from a military family I didn’t realize how difficult it could be on the family of a deployed soldier. Thanks for the enlightenment. And kudos to your wife!

  2. My husband and I returned from our last deployment to Iraq in November of ’05. We had never been deployed together before (one word of advice – never take ANYONE you care about to war with you!). We left behind 5 children; our youngest was 5 months old at the time, and the oldest was 12.

    My sister gave up her entire life, quit her job, packed up her house, and moved to Kentucky to take care of the kids. This is a woman who, at 32, had no children of her own, was not married, and had no family or friends here. That’s sacrifice.

    While we grew up as military brats, we really had no understanding of how hard it is to be separated from those you love the most. With the media only reporting the worst of what happens,, your family at home receives a horribly skewed version of the truth. The only thing I could tell them about the situation in Baghdad when I called home was not to watch the news, that what they were seeing wasn’t the complete truth. I can only imagine what my mother went through while my dad was in Vietnam. I can also see things from my dad’s perspective, and I have no idea how he handled things with no e-mail or telephone. Some days, the only thing that kept us going was an “I love you” from someone who just wanted us to come home. My sister and I both have a better appreciation of what our parents endured to raise us. I have no idea how my mother did it for 24 years and maintained her sanity.

    If you have family or friends currently deployed, PLEASE stay in touch. Send letters and e-mail. You have no idea how important it is.

    If you know someone who is facing deployment, help them get things in order. Make sure they understand how to pay the bills, and where to go to get help. Get your girlfriends to help with the cleaning, the shopping, the carpooling, and with just living. Because they aren’t “living” while someone they love is at war, they’re just “existing”.

    Thanks for the article.

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