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.