I had a good dose of reality the other night. I went to a Family Readiness Briefing with our oldest son, Matt. His brigade is being deployed soon and so the National Guard arranged a meeting to inform and support the soldiers and families as they prepare.
As I looked around the auditorium, I saw the faces of young men and women, parents, wives, children and siblings. I saw families, couples, and singles. I saw…people. Real, live people.
The last time Matt was deployed my husband, Mark, and I encountered a number of occasions in which we were used as political sounding boards for those who oppose the war in the Middle East or who loathe the military. It seems that they felt as though we were somehow to blame, or were fiendishly contributing to the problem. Perhaps they thought that reaming us out would effect some miraculous change. Did they think that venting to military personnel or their families would further their anti-war cause?
Somehow folks have it in mind that those of us who belong to, or have a loved one in the military, are war-mongering radicals. So, they vent their frustrations on anyone remotely involved in the armed forces. As a soldier, I’m sure Matt’s received even worse treatment.
I respect their opinions and understand their frustrations. In fact, I’m frustrated, too. Matt’s frustrated. Our family and friends are frustrated. Do we want to be separated from Matt? Of course not! Do we want Matt’s life to be endangered 24-7 for the next year? Of course not! Nor do we want any other family separated or any other soldier endangered. But, military personnel and their families are called to serve, and it’s a noble calling.
Consider what Bishop Fulton Sheen once said about military service: “The great French preacher Lacordaire once said the vocation of a soldier is next in dignity to the priesthood, not only because it commissioned him to defend justice on the field of battle and order on the field of peace, but also because it called him to the spirit and intention of sacrifice.”
Or the Great John Paul II: “But where did they find the strength necessary to do their duty to the full, other than in total adherence to the professed ideals? Many of them believed in Christ, and his words illumined their existence and gave an exemplary value to their sacrifice.”
I’m also sure that Mark and I will be snagged as venting posts again and again over the course of the coming year and a half. Each time, I’ll have to keep in mind that they vent because they’re well-meaning but ignorant.
Soldiers and their families do not cause war. In fact, I’ll bet you my entire estate that, if you ask every single soldier or commanding officer in any of the seven branches of our US military, not a single one will say that he/she actually wants to engage in battle. Not one of them will tell you that they want to be separated from their loved ones for months — sometimes a whole year — at a time. Not one of them will tell you that they want to see death and destruction. Not one of them will tell you that they get a thrill out of firing their weapon. Not one.
They will, however, tell you that they want to serve their country. They will tell you that the military is a particular calling. They will tell you that they want to be peacekeepers and guardians of freedom. They will tell you that soldiers do more than just fight: they protect vital supply shipments, rescue families from torture and destruction, and bring hope to the hopeless. They will tell you that, although the cost in terms of hardship and heartbreak is incomprehensible, they’re willing to make that sacrifice.
They don’t want this war, but they’ll serve to the best of their ability. And for that, they deserve our respect, support, love, and prayers. Soldiers are people, too.
(© Nov 29, 2008 Marge Fenalon)