It seems to me that our country is increasingly appreciative of our veterans even though there are still some who are emphatically critical of our military. Kinda reminds me of an instance not long ago when a U S senator declared we veterans should be prohibited from owning firearms because we are obviously all “mentally disturbed.” I suppose she figured folks nowadays who voluntarily give up civilian life for a stint in the military must be off their rockers. Fortunately, more rational folks took her to task and she backtracked saying something to the effect that her words were taken out of context. Whatever!
Anyway, we will shortly be observing Veterans Day (yes, that’s correct “Veterans”, not “Veteran’s”) – a holiday initially celebrated in remembrance of the end of “the war to end all wars”, World War I. Through several evolutions the holiday has become a recognition of all military veterans regardless of the era during which they served – and that’s appropriate. One thing I’ve found about military veterans is that there is almost always an instant connection, a camaraderie, that arises between veterans once they are aware of another’s prior military service. It’s something that veterans instinctively understand and cherish.
We have heard much about the rigors and stresses imposed by military life on service members – such as the seemingly arbitrary orders to move from one place to another and the summons to remote areas or those in harm’s way. Unlike civilian life, there is no such thing as “overtime” and the military justice system prohibits a member from “quitting” or “telling off” one’s superior. Yep, it’s a lot different.
We’ll likely see a variety of celebrations throughout the country honoring veterans but something we won’t see is recognition of the almost forgotten military families who also serve our country in their own inimitable fashion. For example, when a member of the Guard or Reserves is “activated,” the burden of maintaining the household falls on the spouse. [Please note I use the term “spouse” because, unlike some years ago, the service member may be a woman.] The family may well suffer a decrease in income and a change in medical coverage – and, most importantly, the spouse must act as both mother and father for the duration of the member’s deployment. Then, too, both the member and the family will have undoubtedly changed as a result of the member’s deployment, so adjustments, sometimes major, must be made to family life once the family is reunited.
OK, so what about those service members who spend a number of years on active duty? Well, the impact on family members is multiplied many times. I can’t recall how many birthdays and anniversaries I missed when I was in the military, but it was a lot. As were many, if not most, members of the military I was separated from my family for weeks, months, and up to a year at a time.
I recall one instance when I was deployed for a year leaving my Sweetheart-for-Life to cope with five children, aged 1 to 11 – which she took in stride as part of military life. As my tour was nearing completion, I sent her a copy of my orders to my next assignment. By the time I returned she had already found us a place to live, moved the household, and entered our kids in their new school system. Quite a heroic effort on her part – and one that recurred in different versions throughout my military career.
Children in longer-term military families also deserve recognition. Not only can they be subject to the stresses of an absent parent, but also those associated with changing schools and leaving their friends and social activities behind when the military directs a change of station for the member. Having to make those adjustments is really hard, sometimes traumatic, on youngsters who crave stability in their lives. Yet somehow, these “military brats”, as they are sometimes known, manage to adapt to changing conditions and accept them as part of life. Indeed, I think our offspring may well have benefitted from their experiences – including living in and visiting foreign countries.
Yep, we’ll likely see a variety of celebrations throughout the country on Veterans Day, but I doubt we will see any festivities acknowledging the sacrifices of military families both during the time of the member’s active service and afterwards when the member usually needs support and caring in adjusting to civilian life. You know, after all is said and done, military families also serve our country in their own unique fashion – in ways non-military folks can’t comprehend. At least that’s how it seems to me.