21 Apr

Military Families

OK, so I watched the episode of The View with Michelle Obama and Jill Biden. One comment stood out for me: unlike in WWII when it seems like everyone understood the sacrifices for the war effort, nowadays there’s a disconnect. I think it was Barbara Walters who said maybe it’s because not too many people know anyone serving in the military (thus the importance of Mrs. Obama’s and Dr. Biden’s cause). She suggested we search out military families and offer our help (a good idea). But, I’d like to add that maybe it’s because, unlike in the 1940s, nothing has changed for us. Sure there’s all the national security theater post 9-11, but that’s more connected to the event than to our military. The last time I wrote about this, my friend Fitzy suggested bringing back the War Bonds, and I think she’s absolutely right. War tax and higher gas prices to reflect the real cost of our involvement in the Middle East and Africa, and war bonds to pay for some of the cost of war. Oh, and let’s drag out the Weinberger Doctrine again and re-evaluate if really even need or want to wage war. We need to make some hard decisions — do we want life to be cheap and easy (then stop the warfighting and the spending as much on our military as the rest of the world combined and use some of that to pay down our debt), or do we want to protect our overseas interests (oil) and be the world’s policemen (and therefore suck it up and pay more to bankroll it rather than less)?

Anyway, enough of that rant and back to connecting with military families. It probably is a good idea to share our stories. Not the “my life sucks more than your life” competition, but just the everyday anecdotes about the differences. Today I was talking about Powers of Attorney with my kickboxing teacher. She’s never had her life so dominated by a Power of Attorney as I have, and we both laughed at the absurdity of me needing one when hubby and I were first stationed in Germany to pick up my vehicle from the processing place — my vehicle that I had before I even met him (and was actually instrumental in our meeting), that I had paid for with MY money, and that was in MY name — but still I needed his permission to pick it up. So there’s a little slice of military life shared.

In a small bit of cosmic alignment, when I was driving home from kickboxing there was a military related story on the radio. It was about the filmmakers who filmed Restrepo — documenting a year in the life of soldiers at a remote Afghan outpost. If you haven’t seen this movie, DO. It’s raw. I thought it was sad — we don’t get the Afghans and they don’t get us — it all seems so pointless. It’s another story shared.

I have a happy story too. When we were stationed in Wiesbaden, there was a whole cabal of captains who hung out together and supported each other professionally. They all went to war together in 2002 through 2003 (yes, you read that right — at the end of 2002 we were in Kuwait preparing for invasion into Iraq) and I think that experience forged strong bonds. One of those former captains just had a baby, and another one is here in Hawaii with us. Actually two are here, but one is in my quilting class — and she wanted to send a bit of Aloha to the new baby. We worked together to use some of her new-found patchwork skills and made this Aloha Baby Quilt which should be on it’s way to proud mama and babe right now. (This is the first entire quilt I’ve quilted on a longarm machine — thanks to a generous friend from the guild who has one and is married to the military herself.)

Aloha Baby Quilt detail

So there’s a few stories shared about the 1% of Americans who serve in the military. Let’s go find some more and bridge that disconnect.

13 thoughts on “Military Families

  1. I live in a military town and volunteer with my church in marriage preparation and work with military couples. The materials we use are so hard to tailor to a life where the people about to be married will have little control over many aspects of their lives. In the last 25 years many couples have passed through our doors, but the military life takes its toll way too often. I do notice that the families that understand how different military life is do much better. It is hard learning to live with a stranger every time he comes home from deployment, it is hard to share responsibility with someone who disappears for months on end and talking on the phone or via computer doesn’t allow the discussions to end with that big satisfying hug. Military family life is hard and I respect all the people who make it work.

  2. I have to agree with you here. There is a huge disconnect between military families and everyone else. My husband left a month ago to go to Afghanistan and when I’m out in “public” (not a military atmosphere) I hear and see people going about their lives with no sacrifice, etc. and sometimes I just want to shake them when I hear them complaining about such insignificant things (to me.) I will never forget when my husband was in Kuwait waiting for the war in Iraq to start. The day it did so, my daughter had hockey practise and I took her and the other dads were there and the news didn’t seem to mean anything to them!

    On the other hand, I can’t imagine most of America volunteering or even consenting/tolerating any hardships. Imagine if we had to ration again. Or even more, if the draft were reinstituted. We have such a short attention span as Americans that I doubt that many people even realize we are still fighting a war. I really hope that “Joining Forces” helps educate Americans on the lives of military, but I guess I’m cynical enough to regret the need for such a campaign in the first place.

  3. It saddens me to think about all the families whose soldiers are deployed one, two, three, four, even five times and all the years they miss out on their kids growing up.

    The wars are so wrong on so many levels. Like my bumper sticker has said for a long time “I’m Already Against The Next War.”

  4. Yup. The government needs to tax us for wars- because then we would demand that it stop. No one seems to get how expensive war is- and this is coming from a Northern California Lefty. The only way to make Americans notice is to make them pay. People who don’t live in The U.S. don’t live by our values and rules, and why should they? Why is our job to make them?

    The disconnect for the military family seems sort of like what nurses go through. I go to work, and people die. Sometimes I am the one giving the pain meds that ease their final moments. ( I hope.) Sometimes I am the one to wash their body. Sometimes I am the one who started the CPR that didn’t save them. And then, I pick my son up at daycare, and everyone is just going about their lives, because they don’t know, they don’t want to know, and if I told them they would never speak to me again!

    I have been mulling over making a quilt about the secret lives of nurses, but I haven’t figured out, yet.

  5. All I know, is that I take advantage of all that I can and I educate others as gently as possible. Let them know that the military needs our emotional support, as well as, our dollars, our cookies, our quilts, our goody boxes. No one wants to get thunked over the head or be forced into doing things they don’t understand. I try to use that “each one, teach one” strategy, (or two, or three!)

    When the day is done, I can only be responsible for myself. If I can think back over my actions of the day, and if I upheld my standards and represented my thoughts and ideals well…it’s a darned good day, and I’m ready to take on tomorrow.

  6. Hmm… One thought here….maybe we should tax those who make the decision to go to war higher and hit first? I questioned the powers voted to President Bush to go to war initially because I felt that the congress was giving away too much. Afghanistan, you could make an argument for, but Iraq was trumped up and if even Joan-Q-Citizen could see it…of course, my in-laws maintain that Iraq attacked us first (via 9-11) and when I asked them who on any of the plans of the terrorist were Iraqis, they (no surprise) couldn’t answer…..but repeated the jingoist jargon.

    The cost is high…for our men and women in the service as well as their families who remain home. Since I live near Wright-Patterson, we are a little more clued in, but you are correct, even here most of our lives don’t take into consideration the long term tolls…I keep on wondering how the children of families split by the war and with the turmoil they go through will come out—what lasting emotional effects will torment them in their adult lives as well. The mental and physical toll on our troops is horrendous and no amount of “Quilts of Valor” will even begin to make a dent.

    On your happier note, you did a great job on your first longarm work. Mine (a gift for my daughter) is no where near as good. Keep up the good work on all your fronts.

    Lisa Quintana

  7. One of my dearest friends, also a quilter, has been deployed since August. She’s in a remote and particularly dangerous area of northern Afghanistan.

    Her daughter turned six in February and has almost finished kindergarten, her first year of school. Without Mom here to see it. Her son is 13, and in a new school this year because he struggled in his old school and desperately needed a new start. The sacrifices of a Mother.

    What a lovely quilt and a sweet gesture…

  8. Thank you for this post. I agree that the costs (financial, emotional, mental AND physical) and impact of our conflicts and wars are not felt by the general population. I too think there should be a tax or war bonds; something to make every American feel the cost of the conflict. The quilt is beautiful.

  9. Speaking of a power-of-attorney… I have learned if my husband is going to somewhere on the mainland , I will be giving him a power-of-attorney for myself. I have always gotten a power of attorney while he was gone, but never thought he would need one for me to make a purchase of a vehicle. It would have made our deal for our Sorento much better if he had one.

    Another funny story about power of attorneys… most military lawyers advise against a general power of attorney for spouses, instead they say to get special POAs only relegating to specific actions. Max went to get one for me one time and they did their normal advising against a general POA. He told them “if she wanted to take me to the cleaners, she could have done it already with me here – she doesn’t need a POA to do it”

    Sometimes I envy those who have husbands that are deployed a certain length of time. At least you can plan things! This in-and-out stuff is going to drive me insane… and I have two more years of it to go!!

  10. It is all different. My two eldest are in the army. The one was sent to Afghanistan while the other went to Germany. All of my experience re war is the stories told by my parents about WWII. So, my first care package to Afghanistan was a box of toiletries and about every magazine we had in the house. Most old, some new. But, I figure any reading matter was better than none.

    Imagine my surprise at how angry he was with me for sending old magazines. Guess what? They got modern, normal stuff on those bases over there! He could get game consoles, new books, etc. I never in my wildest imagination thought that sort of thing would be available.

    In his defense, I will say that when he got home, he spent about 45 minutes just walking through the grocery store. Not buying anything, just looking. So they don’t have it all, but it sure isn’t the same thing my dad and uncles lived with, either. So much for harmonicas, a deck of cards and a small bible being the only activities available.

    PS I sent each a harmonica. No clue what happened to them. The kids at home got my dad’s wartime harmonica. He WANTS to play it.

  11. I am not from a military family. However, I feel like I have one. I am a Girl Scout leader. For the last 5 years my girls have supported soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Our first soldier was the cousin of one of the girls. We sent him boxes of goodies. Eventually we adopted his entire unit of 140. We sent handmade cards once a month until they came home. We also sent Christmas cards with a letter to each of their families with the help of their National Guard staff at home. Once he was home we found another soldier to adopt. Some have been family members, some friends and some complete strangers. When we know our adopted soldier is coming home, we start looking for another. The last few have been sons of my friends. I try to support them as best I can. The surprising thing is that they appreciate that we take the time and effort to take care of their sons! That I do understand. Distance, responsibility and worry about safety I understand. It is hard to be the person left at home to take on all the responsibilty usually shared by two. The adjustment again upon return is difficult. I hope that my girls grow into caring, sharing adults who do not see supporting others something special, but a way of life. God bless our military families. They deserve our gratitude and respect for the sacrifices they make personally and professionally. They deserve the best we can give them. I don’t know how to make all it better, but I know we can help one soldier at a time. Hopefully that will also help the family.

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