Today is Veterans Day and I had trouble thinking of anything else to write about other than the men and women of our military whom I greatly respect. Before my son, Kyle, joined the Army National Guard in 2003, I took our military for granted. I was born in 1960, and so was a young girl during the Vietnam War. It wasn’t very real to me. The next time I knew of a conflict, was the Gulf War. I was an adult then, raising two small children and didn’t pay much attention. My thought was, That doesn’t affect me.

Then the United States was attacked on 9/11 and the whole world paid attention. Later, when we declared war on Iraq, I didn’t think a whole lot about it because it was so far away and seemed completely removed from my everyday reality.

Two years later, in 2003, my youngest child, at the time 17-years-old, just a week shy of his 18th birthday, asked me to take him to the Army recruiter’s office to sign him up for military service. All my years of inattention finally narrowed into a laser-like focus. What? My “baby” wanted to fight in a war? Oh, no, that is not something I wanted to hear or to support. I had spent my entire adult life attempting to keep him safe, and he never made that easy. Careful was never an adjective I’d use to describe Kyle and now he wanted to go play where there were bombs and people trying to kill him? No way!

And then I found the two of us at the recruiter’s office with me affixing my signature to some ominous paperwork, with a feeling of dread in my belly. Kyle was still a senior in high school at the time; it was November. He completed his school year and graduated, before being sent to Fort Benning, Georgia for basic training.

When he returned from basic training, he had about a month of freedom until he received the orders that he was being deployed to Iraq, just what he wanted. He left soon after for desert training and about two weeks after that, he was gone to Kuwait and then, Iraq. Kyle did fine during his deployment, at least what he told me about. (There seems to be a tendency for military members to protect their family members from the reality of their military service.)

Kyle had a girlfriend named Jesse at the time. She was still in high school and she remained completely faithful to him throughout all his time away, beginning with his basic training and culminating in his return from Iraq. During his mid-cycle break, Kyle got engaged to her but when he returned from Iraq, they broke up. Later, Kyle told me he knew he wasn’t ready to get married. It was heartbreaking when they broke up. They were young but they had such a strong love for each other.

Kyle went on to date someone else, as did Jesse. He ended up doing a second deployment to Iraq; Jesse got engaged to someone else. I was happy for her but heartbroken for Kyle. Kyle did well during his deployment, but he did dangerous work that I will never know the details of. Kyle has had some issues connected to his service… nothing debilitating but there were effects.

He came home from his second deployment and continued his relationship with the girl he was dating when he left but eventually they broke up. Kyle called Jesse again and asked her not to marry her fiancé because he still loved her. She was quite conflicted; she knew she still loved him but was fearful that he would break her heart again. Being a woman of integrity, she told her fiancé that Kyle wanted her back and that she decided she owed it to him to give things a try.

After a few months, Jesse chose in Kyle’s favor and became his wife. She is now my daughter-in-law and the mother of four of my grandchildren. Kyle’s story had a happy ending, but this is frequently not the case with our veterans.

One of the biggest side-effects of military service is the damage done to personal relationships. Zippia, a career website, interpreted a recent analysis of U.S. Census Data about divorce rates by age 30 across professions and determined “military jobs took three of the top 10 spots in its listing. Across all fields, military workers of all ranks were most likely to be divorced by age 30, at a rate of 15%. (The average age for divorce is 30 and roughly 41% of first marriages end in divorce, studies show.)”

That doesn’t even begin to talk about the suffering military children go through when their parents are away for six months to a year on deployment and the damage that is done to the parental relationship. Military members pay a steep price for their military service. Most civilians would have no idea what a service member endures.

They live away from their family for long periods of time. They have guilt for not being available for their families. Instead of running away and hiding, they must advance in the face of fear. Sometimes they are called upon to perform acts that cause moral injury. They sleep anywhere. In Iraq, the temperatures are scorching, and they are in full body armor carrying 80 lb. rucksacks. I know Kyle ended up in the hospital at least twice with dehydration and became quite adept at giving himself injections of saline.

I share Kyle’s story so that you can hear a personal story. Less than one-half of 1% of the United States population serves in the military (https://on.cfr.org/34V8d1h) so it’s possible you don’t know any military members yourself. Without a personal connection, it’s hard to care about it, the same way the military was not in my conscious awareness before Kyle put on his uniform.

Today, and every day, please remember the sacrifice of our military members and their families. They give up their freedom so others can enjoy theirs.

 

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