When I lived in San Diego, I would read the paper everyday. (Yes, I'm old fashioned. I enjoy getting the paper.) And just about every day I'd see a horror story of some Marine who didn't make it home in the same condition that he left. Photos of caskets with American Flags on them didn't bring the instant punch to the gut they do now, but I still said, "Thank God You're not a Marine," to My Sailor every day.
I was told about a week ago that my 2nd cousin signed up for the Marines. Reactions ranged from shock to, "Oh, no!" My entire extended family looked at me. My reaction was somewhere between, "Well, hopefully he's out to break the stereotype we hear about Marines. He picked a tough row to hoe. Maybe the discipline is what he needs to get his life on track. They will make sure he lives clean or he'll lose his job. Maybe it'll be good for him."I couldn't help biting my tongue a bit as, before long, the conversation turned to, "Why couldn't he have joined one of the OTHER branches?" and the inevitable, "Why couldn't he have joined the Air Force or become a Submariner like 'My Sailor'? That's so much safer."
I didn't expect it, but quickly found that I was no longer able to bite my tonuge. I found my ire raising as I launched into an explanation of the dangers of a submariner's life to my family. Using My Sailor's words, I explained how these guys are in a boat that is 'designed to sink'.
If you really take a moment to sit with that, you realize what that means. It means that, if there is a problem the crew has to be incredibly highly trained on how to fix it because there is no where to run and RARELY is "abandon ship" an option. Have you ever heard of a successful sub evacuation? On a Sub, there is no place to go from trouble. The whole point is to run silent and run deep. So if someone needs immediate major surgery, they are basically screwed unless there happens to be some surface fleet or port nearby. Human interaction is confined to the 100-some sailors you got on board with and live in tiny tight quarters with. Sailors walk over 10 miles a day and the scenery never changes. Not even a sunrise or a sunset. They walk on STEEL, and swinging through entry ways, climbing ladders to get around. Most submariner's suffer from knee and back pain by the time they retire or complete a contract.
Yes, it's not on the front lines where bullets are flying by. It's under the sea where a high pressure hose leak can dismember a passing Sailor. Where an accident by a few crew members having a bad day or slacking off can quickly become a life or death situation for the crew.
These are all the things that linger in the back of every Submariner's family member who is counting on their loved one to come home. There are no news reports from where these guys are going to show where their unit is or how they are doing. The whole operation depends on us (loved ones and others) NOT knowing what is going on. I can tell you from experience, ignorance is just ignorance - not bliss.
We Sub Spouses don't worry so much about the stuff you see on the news. We worry about the stuff you don't see, because those are the threats our Sailors are defending this country against.
Honestly, I was (and am) surprised. No one seems to want a loved one in the military. Part of that mentality quietly infuriates me. It feels like it belittles those who have and do continue to serve. Not everyone does it because they love their jobs or feel like 'heros'. Many do it because they want to do something bigger with their lives. Some are willing to risk their lives for the 'perks'. Many are serving as a means to an end for their education. NONE of them are serving for the money - if we paid our military folks even minimum wage for all the hours they work, every state would be bankrupt.
I understand being afraid for your loved one while they are serving. Being afraid that, on a personal level, they'll be changed, and on a physical/psychological level, they'll be wounded. Trust me, I know that very well. I knew My Sailor before he was a Sailor and, yes, it's changed him. In big and small ways. In ways he probably doesn't even realize. But most of those ways are positive. For those that struggle with a direction, they are given a deeper purpose and a 'thank you' that you just don't get from doing any other job in this country.
But, until I was married to the military, I never really understood what those flags on caskets ment. Now, they are an immediate reality check - and I pray I never fully comprehend the wake that echos out from beneath those flags...
They are now my worst nightmare. They are every military family's worst nightmare.
Now, if you read my blog, you know I'm a pretty tough cookie. Sure I have a nuggety-gooey center, but I'm not easily scared or shaken. I'll admit - I thought I knew what hard was when I was considering all this. Being away from someone you love for MONTHS at a time, with little to no contact (no phones, skype, mail, just the occasional something-like-email that is read by a radio man to ensure security and may be censored or ended at any time, and is far from immedate), not knowing where they are, how they are doing, and trusting in his crew mates that I don't know to get him home safely, oh, and let's add trying to adopt in the middle of all of that - That's hard.
But those are only the 'little' thoughts in the back of my mind.
While I understand fully that they are distinct possibilities, I choose to focus on the time we do have together, rather than what we miss. We may not get holidays or birthdays together, but we get something unique and beautiful together.
The beauty that is a homecoming.
It's that winning-home-run-job-well-done feeling that just can't be beat.
Odds are, you'll never see a Submarine homecoming in your lifetime. These guys don't get the fan-fare of the big ships that pull into port. If their comings and goings go un-noticed, that means that everyone has done their job. The dangers we American's never see? We have these guys to thank for that.
But sometimes the attitude towards the military reminds me of a spoiled child. We want the outcome, but we don't want to be connected to it any closer than the TV screen brings us. We want the freedom, but we want 'someone else' to do the work.
The cost for our way of life here in the USA is high. There is no doubt of that and those who are serving in our military know it better than any of us - even us wives.
But is it a job only left for those who don't have a family to object or worry? Is it only for those who struggle in the 'real world' and need the structure the military provides to grow? Is it for people with a legacy of family service and an 'obligation' to follow in a parent's footsteps? Is it a job intended only for orphans or those unable to maintain 'normal' human relationships?
Is it our responsibility to support those who choose to go to battle whatever their reasons? Is there a more noble cause than laying down your life not just for 'your brother', but for people you've never even met? That's what every member of our military does every day - from a deck swab to an enlisted Army man, from an officer to an airman, and every single person in between.
I hope that someday our gut reaction to someone joining the military is more, "Awesome! I'll write you every day!" rather than one of "Oh no! Why?!"