Basically since birth, and especially since July of last year, my world has always been saturated with soldiers. Army men, a couple of Marines, Navy men and my big brother, who is an Air Force man.
Growing up, my father (who is an army man himself) would tell me a story now and again about what his experience was like in the Army. Now, all truth be told, my father had a kind of (and I stress "kind of") cushy job. He ran an NCO club. Of course, just like any soldier you know, they will tell you that there are things they just can't tell you about, and I accept that because the question really is, "Do I really want to know what they did or what happened to them?"
Two soldiers I know, one from the Army and one from the Marines, both suffer from an all too familiar friend, PTSD. Now where my PTSD derives itself from my childhood, theirs comes from the battlefield. But why write about this now? You all know that I'm a research junkie, I like to find out why things are the way they are along with the appropriate course of action to make sure I'm acting properly, crossing every "t" and dotting every "i" as it were. It also goes along with what Daddy taught me a long time ago and it kind of applies in the terms of speaking intelligently about a topic. He said, "If you're going to criticize someone, you better be ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with them and take it." Well, at the advice of my Marine friend, he encouraged me to watch the Stanley Kubric film Full Metal Jacket.
As we all know, I'm not big on war movies. Actually, to the dismay of my friends from the Armed Forces, I'm a pacifist. Heck, I can't even kill bugs without guilt. But, to sit and watch films like Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now, The Green Zone, Brothers and so forth, well, it gives us a perspective and a view of what they've seen that, come on, let's be honest, is just a minor shade compared to what they've really been through.
I get sick to my stomach every time I watch a movie like that, thinking of my dear, sweet, loving friends who have seen such horror. RJ, my Marine friend, well, he's very kind, gentle and loving in ways that I wouldn't think were possible given the duties he had to carry out. He's only told me a mere fraction of what he did, but just that alone is enough to give me nightmares.
Ace, as we all know, is an Army man, a self-described helicopter mechanic who just happened to have to pick up and drop off soldiers like RJ into combat zones. He too told me stories that still make me have nightmares.
In all though, from all of my sweet soldiers that I know, I keep hearing the same story over and over again. Here is the part that is REALLY going to make you sick, and y'all know me, it just tears my heart right out...
Each and every one of them has told me about being deployed while being married. How it is very hard to begin with, but then to add insult to the already incomprehensible situations these guys were put in, their wives found it necessary to find company with other men while they were away. Ace calls it AIDS: Army Induced Divorce Syndrome. My question to that is "What is wrong with these women?!?!?!" I'd be shipping off cookies every chance I got and letters and pictures galore if I had my man sitting in a combat zone, reminding them that they're loved and so forth... But I guess that's neither here nor there because I've never been through it. I recognize that living with an active duty soldier is a hard life. I've had a few conversations with some military wives that have told me that it is no picnic, not by a long shot. I guess it really is a test of devotion and will no doubt prove strength of heart. But it's bad enough that they're getting shot at, seeing things that no human being should ever, ever see, and then they just get sucker punched like that when they get home. To me, that is just not fair. Loneliness is no excuse for infidelity and that I can tell you from first hand experience. Nothing good can ever come from it, but people buckle to it every day.
Both RJ and Ace have told me about how when a soldier is in combat or deployed for so long, they don't really think about anything but their jobs and how deployment actually severs their connection to the, what they call, "the world."
Here, let's go through something RJ told me about. Marines, similar to the rest of the branches of the Armed Forces, go through basic training, they get assigned to whatever job and so forth, and they become "programmed" in a very particular way.
I mean, look at my Dad, he's 70 but he still is very much a military man because of the way he likes things done, pressed shirts, shiny shoes, you know what I mean. And even though he might be 70, he's still very much the lethal weapon that the army trained him to be. I will never worry while sleeping under my father's roof whether or not I am safe. I remember when I first moved back to the States from Montreal. My ex and I were staying at my parents temporarily while we searched for a place to live and well, my ex heard something outside that he didn't think was quite right, and he heard someone jiggling an external doorknob to the house. Well my ex, being trained in 20 martial arts, grabbed the door and what he got on the other side of it was what he called the equivalent in strength to a raging rhinoceros...the funny part was that on the other side of that doorknob was my father, who was then 62 years old. My ex looked at me when he re-entered our bedroom and said, "Um, your dad's appearance is really deceiving, I expected to just "handle" who was messing with things, and well, I quickly learned I would have been in trouble at the hands of your father had I been anyone else." That's my Daddy. *grin*
But a daughter's pride aside, the soldiers that have graced and continue to grace my life have been very carefully trained and programmed. They stand on walls so I can sit behind my computer or go shopping or do whatever I want and feel safe. They see things that no one should ever see just so I can sit here and write whatever I'd like in my blog. I am positive I owe them a lot for that.
My Uncle Bill, (probably one of the most gentle and kind souls I have ever had the honor of being around) was an Army man too, he was shot down over China during World War II. He was missing in action for over six months. My Aunt Sissy paced the floor until she had him home safe. I actually interviewed him for an oral history report in my junior year in high school, and when I asked how he felt about World War II, he just said, "They told me to do things and I did them." That's it. He had no opinion about the whole thing, but I will tell you this, when I was around him, no child ever felt more valued or special.
My Uncle Lonnie (who was just so dang groovy, he had such a dry sense of humor and that dry southern, no-nonsense drawl of his still makes me laugh) came back from three tours of Vietnam with the diabetes that eventually killed him. However, the stories and adventures that he had with his wife (my Aunt Betty) still resound in my ears, complete with stories of her exotic cat Tigrie and all of the diplomats and kings she met. When I think of his son and his grandson (Hi Lonnie! Love you!) I can only imagine the books they could write of anecdotes about those two and their amazing adventures along with their own.
RJ says that the hardest thing about coming back "to the world" is re-adjusting to life before the military and coming to terms with living within the civilian populace. Ace has also told me the same thing. How that since their responses to things are programmed, that they can't sleep at night because they're afraid something is going to jump out and they feel like they need to be prepared for whatever it is. Ace can't sleep without some kind of noise (his favorite is running water and frogs because frogs will go dead silent if anyone comes near) and like RJ (who doesn't sleep, he just combat naps), they both have dogs that will alert them should everything not be quite right.
But RJ filled me in on something that Ace never did, that well, when soldiers go places in the civilian world, they don't feel that they are treated with respect. To me, that's like a punch in the gut and insult added to injury. If I see someone dressed in a military uniform, I always stop, give them a smile and say thank you for what they do. I would think that it would be the right thing to do, don't you? I'm a pacifist! I don't believe in wars but I most certainly want to sit down and cry to think that my sweet, darling friends have gone through so much for the sake of making sure we're all safe. So I firmly believe to make sure I say thank you and recognize what they have gone through. When it comes to my close friends like RJ or Ace, it breaks my heart that they did not come back home to be wrapped up in a blanket of love and supported while their bodies go through the traumatic process of deprogramming. The lesson I learned out of the stories they've told me? Always, but always send your soldier what they ask you for as soon as humanly possible, whether it be a case of cigarettes or several dozen home-baked cookies. RJ says, "For God's sake, when it comes to cookies, don't send store-bought, get in the kitchen, bake them and send the real thing."
Ace has nerve damage due to chemicals he had to work with while fixing helicopters. RJ has Gulf War Syndrome. They both have PTSD. Yet they both need so much love and attention so that they feel like the world they survived horrors to protect is grateful they volunteered to go off and make sure we're safe. But no one stops to say thank you and that breaks my heart. What I think is far worse is that these guys are not getting the care they need. Every time I hear the acronym "VA", there is always some sort of cursing that happens right along with it, either pre-fixed or directly after. What's worse is that the streets are lined with homeless vets who have come home damaged, often severely, and they can't even get what they need to survive in the world they fought to protect.
Whatever happened to the concept of "A Welcome Home?"
But I'm not alone. We're all surrounded by soldiers. It doesn't matter if they run an NCO club or fix helicopters, sit inside a submarine for six months at a stretch without seeing daylight or taught other Marines how to be sneaky bastards (snipers), they're just doing their job. Why can't they come home to people who love them and have their backs for a change?
Maybe I'm just seeing the exceptions to an overwhelming amount of servicemen coming back from harm's way that actually do come home to loving families. But I can't help but think that these exceptions that I'm spending time with aren't really exceptions, but the rule. I dread to think that's true.
About a month ago, I had to do something that broke my own heart, I had to let Ace go. I tried everything from serving up a plate of fresh-baked cookies when he walked in the door to being supportive every chance I got, but I had to face the fact that I couldn't fight all of his battles for him, how ever hard I may have tried. When I hear RJ and KP tell me their horror stories, it breaks my heart all the more to know that no matter how much love I poured in, it couldn't fix what Ace has to fix for himself. I have guilt because I let a soldier down and that I wasn't strong enough to carry his load along with my own. But that goes back to owning what is yours to own...as you can imagine, it has been unbelievably hard on a deep-seated emotional level.
But, I will tell you this, RJ never walked into a home smelling of fresh-baked cookies and a jug of milk meant especially for him and I think that's sad. My other soldier friends tell me very similar stories. You never know, they could just be telling me a sob story because I'm a pretty girl, but somehow I doubt it. These are real men with real feelings and whereas they are taught as young boys, "Don't cry," somehow I think that they have every right to when they know they are in the arms of someone who loves them.
Where's a big blanket of love when you need it? I know I have one for Daddy, RJ, Ace, KP, Uncle Bill, Uncle Lonnie, Lonnie, Heath, Josh, Brian, my big brother Carl, and my pals in Mobius on WoW's Area 52 server. I have yet to meet a woman who has come back from active service, and well for those gals, I take my hat off to them and they equally need every single bit of love we muster up for our guys.
So today, your mission, should you choose to accept it: Hug your serviceman or servicewoman. Say thank you to a soldier who passes you in the grocery store or wave and smile at one who pulls up next to you in traffic. I think a little love and kindness goes a long way. Help them readjust to the world we all take for granted.