December 31, 2010

Just As It Has Always Been

I'm not surprised by this headline.

Families Bear Brunt of Deployment Strains

Nor am I surprised by the information in these paragraphs.

The work of war is very much a family affair. Nearly 6 in 10 of the troops deployed today are married, and nearly half have children. Those families more than a million of them since 2001 have borne the brunt of the psychological and emotional strain of deployments.

Siblings and grandparents have become surrogate parents. Spouses have struggled with loneliness and stress. Children have felt confused and abandoned during the long separations. All have felt anxieties about the distant dangers of war.

Apparently social scientists are only now becoming aware of what I could have told them by the time I was six; that the realities of military service, especially when it comes to deployment in combat zones, are hard on the families left behind as well as on the deployed men and women in uniform.

When I was 11, we figured out that my father had been deployed more than half my life -- either in Vietnam or on various deployments of his ships around the world. I remember one afternoon in San Diego, probably about the time I was 5 -- my mother had left my brother and I in the car while she ran in to the post office, and had left the radio playing. A news report came on about a local Navy officer being killed in Vietnam -- and my mother returned to the car to find two hysterical little boys crying because they were afraid it had been their daddy. And as I look back from a distance of over 4 decades, I realize something very clearly -- my mother was a much stronger woman than I would ever have realized at that age as she ran her little family in my father's absence, and in so many ways was every bit the hero making sacrifices for this country at home as my father was serving abroad.

I'd like to pass along a story from my childhood as a Navy brat. It involves meeting one of America's World War II heroes, Admiral Arleigh Burke, and the message he had for two young boys:

It was my great privilege to meet the admiral when I was a boy, when he walked over to talk to a young Navy wife and her two sons while they were all waiting to be seen at Bethesda Naval Hospital the during the Vietnam War. As I look back, I remain struck by the man's kindness and gentleness -- and the strength of personality in a man already into his 70s. He told my brother and I to be proud of our father who was, like him, a destroyer officer, because our father was doing some of the most important work there was -- defending our country.

To those whose loved ones are serving in the military -- at home or abroad, in war zones or in safer duty stations -- I extend those same words:

Your loved one is doing the most important work there is -- defending our country.

And the sacrifices you make -- the hardships those bring -- are critical for them to be able to do that work. That does not make it any easier, but perhaps it can help you recognize how worthwhile those sacrifices really are. And may God bless you and give you the strength to bear those burdens until you and your serviceman or woman are united again.

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NAME: Greg
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