“Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging”
– Joseph Campbell
What does it mean to be a member of the United States Military?
Our initial thoughts may go straight to uniforms and soldiers fighting wars. As the daughter of a 22-year veteran and Navy spouse, to me, the military is a profoundly different beast.
As a little girl I knew very little outside the military life. It was normal for my dad to be gone several months at a time, to move whenever his job deemed necessary and to have only my mom at special events. My life wasn’t anything to be appreciated by a nation. My dad merely had a job he attended every day in special clothing that I saw everyone else around me wearing. It was normal. No one made a big deal about my dad’s job from what I could see. I was blind to the true meaning of military servitude — until I was older. I always knew what my dad’s job was but never truly understood the impact it made on the world around me until fear of my dad leaving for a war zone overtook me.
I can remember sitting in my freshman orientation class at Virginia Wesleyan College the morning of September 11, 2001, crying and wondering if my dad was leaving on the Aircraft Carrier he was assigned to fight in the war. Pride and fear for my country (and my dad) soon overwhelmed me.
Looking back, when I think about my dad’s “everyday” job, it wasn’t such a big deal until I grew older and truly understood what he was doing. I think about the strength my dad must have had to walk away from his family and spend half a year sailing half-way around the world to unknown territory. I wonder why I hardly recall every time my dad left? As an adult that seems like a huge deal. Then a picture of my mom flashes in my mind’s eye. My mom was with my sister and me every step of the way. My mom held her tears and exhumed only strength and courage to get us through the day and our activities. My mom made memories to overshadow the thought of my dad’s absence. The strength she had to have is mind boggling. Her courage changed the way I think about the military, now as a spouse. I now realize that it’s more than just one member of the family in the military– the one who wears the uniform–but the whole family and the whole community unit as service members.
When I think about my life now in the military I don’t think about uniforms, salutes and ranks. I think about time away from my Sailor. I think about changing my role from “mom” to “mom” and “dad” for any length of time and learning to live as a whole family time and time again. I think about being the guardian of my children’s feelings and kissing their tears away when they miss their daddy. I think about the façade of courage I need to exhibit in public, while worries and fears are packed away tight for no one to witness.
I think about bills, chores, school, work, and the appliance that inevitably breaks the moment my husband deploys. I think about the strength I need to have to make sure my children never fear while their daddy is away. I wonder, though, if my children feel the same about their dad’s job as I did? I wonder if they appreciate the work their dad does to protect them and keep war from their home?
Sometimes I feel like the military is underappreciated. Do the people around me understand what our service members and their families do for us? Do they know about the thousands of moms, dads, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, friends and neighbors, who are away from the comfort of their own beds tonight terrified if an enemy is close by or wondering if they are coming home again? Do they know of the men and women who have served and are now traumatized, laden with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) because of the things they witnessed? Service members are all around us, serving our country for our freedom, working hard to keep us safe.
As a teacher at Peñasquitos Christian Preschool in San Diego, CA, and spouse of an United States Navy Sailor, I was honored to be able to talk to my students about being in the military this week during “A Week to Serve and be Thankful”. I shared the idea of my children’s dad being gone for months at a time, and what my husband’s job is in the Navy.
I shared with my students the book Veterans: Heroes in our Neighborhood by Valerie Pfundstein, which depicted everyday people who had a secret not many knew — they were courageous heroes from our country’s military. For the students, I wonder if it was just a nice story? But then the preschool did something amazing.
On Tuesday, November 15th, 2016 six service members, in uniform, sat in the pews of our Chapel time for all to see. They were representatives of our armed forces; heroes in our very own neighborhood. The students of PCP prepared and presented cards of gratitude and happiness. I wonder if the students really knew the importance of the men under those uniforms? I wonder if they understood the families that proudly stand behind them in their decisions to serve our country? I was left speechless when a student from the Giraffe class looked at the service members and said “We really appreciate you being here today.” It filled my heart to know that, because of this act of service, of making cards and talking about what the military does for our country, these little children will not walk around blind to the idea of our United States Military, as I did as a child. Rather, they will be thankful and appreciate not only the service men and women, but the sacrifice an entire military family makes.