I have never felt unloved because of my military service.
When I go out in uniform, I get thanked fairly regularly, and there are always enough handshakes and hugs to go around. I get discounts at certain stores, and I’ve certainly had a drink or two bought for me.
I have never had to suffer the indignation that my father’s generation did because of their service. I am incredibly grateful for that.
While I am extremely thankful for the support I receive and will always go out of my way to shake an offered hand, there is something even more deserving of your gratitude that often goes unnoticed: our families. They are the people that deserve the greatest honours.
When I get underway, I have a job that keeps me busy. I routinely work 15-20 hour days, and there is very little time for loneliness. There may be some stray thoughts as I lie down to sleep, but I’m usually so exhausted by that point that they don’t last long.
As long as I keep my mind on my work, I’m able to power through, and I am home before I realise it. It may not be the most romantic way of going about things, but it has gotten me this far.
Unfortunately, it’s much harder on the family that stays behind. They have to keep everything together in our absence. The future of the family falls entirely on their shoulders. Spouses have to take care of all their normal responsibilities along with everything that the service member just left behind. That may include small things like making car payments or watering plants.
Often, however, these include major decisions like raising children and moving homes. On top of everything else, there’s the constant worry at the back of their minds. Where is he (or she)? What is he doing? Is he safe? While they certainly keep themselves busy, there are no 20-hour days to keep their mind completely occupied. Eventually, the kids will be asleep, the chores will be done, and they will be alone with their thoughts.
Then, there are the children. Sometimes, they are old enough to know what’s happening. They might understand that mum or dad is leaving for 6 months or a year (or longer). They might realise that he or she won’t be there for graduations, basketball games, or driving lessons. Maybe they appreciate what their parent is doing or maybe they resent it. Either way, it’s a tough thing for kids to deal with.
Other times, the kids are too young to realise what is happening. All they know is that mummy or daddy used to be there, but they aren’t anymore. Maybe they understand that he or she will be back in the future, or maybe they don’t. Maybe, when that plane or ship comes back, they’ll actually be able to recognise each other.
Spouses and children are just the most obvious examples. Deployments can be just as hard for other family members and loved ones like parents, siblings, girlfriends/boyfriends, grandparents, and best friends. As men and women in the military, we have entire support systems built up around us, but what happens to a support system when the thing that they support leaves? The answer is that they need to be supported themselves.
Supporting military families is not easy. You can’t identify them by a uniform, and they probably won’t ask for help. It takes work, but your support doesn’t have to be extravagant or expensive. You would be amazed at what simply having dinner with the family of a deployed service member would accomplish. Just a couple hours of your time could make all the difference. The kids would have the opportunity to play with someone else while the adults can either tell you what’s on their mind or put the thoughts away for a while, depending on their preference. Yes, their loved one is still half a world away, but at least there is somebody to share the load and lend an ear.
I am incredibly grateful for the love and support that I receive. The handshakes and care packages are terrific, and I’ve even gotten a full-body hug in the middle of a grocery store before. If I had a choice, however, I would save up all of those well wishes in a package that my wife and kids could open once my ship leaves the pier. They’ll never wear a medal on their chest, but in my humble opinion, they are the true heroes.
Opinions expressed here are the sole opinion of the author and may not represent the opinions of the Department of defence and its components.
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