What Military Families Wished You Knew: Guest Post from “Pops”

I’d like to welcome a friend of Mighty Mom’s, “Pops,” who generously responded to my call for an article about military families. As you can see, Pops is abundantly qualified to write on the subject … and I am so grateful to give EMN the benefit of his expertise!

Hi,  they call me Pops, 
I must thank Heidi for giving me the honor and privilege of posting on the Extraordinary Mom’s Network.  I would like to take a moment to tell you about me and my family. 

I am the son of a World War II veteran who is the son of a World War I veteran.  My family tree has been traced back to the Revolutionary War and documented family members in the service during the Civil War.  I was in the United States Army Security Agency during the Vietnam War.  My oldest son served during the 1st Gulf War. My youngest son, who is assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, recently returned from Baghdad as part of the surge President Bush ordered. My father-in-law served in the US Army during the Korean War. 

We are by all accounts a middle class, working  family. We are nothing spectacular, most likely just like you and your family. 

What’s is like to be the family of a soldier? Different, I can assure you of that.  I remember my grandmother telling me she sometimes went months not hearing from my grandfather during World War I.  I heard basically the same story from my mother: she endured long periods without knowing about the one she loved.  Worry,  then more worry. 

As the parent of two soldiers, I have on more than one occasion looked to the sky and asked my parents to forgive me for the worry I put them through.

What makes someone choose the military?

First you have to know the type of young men and women who choose the military, either as a career or as a stopping point where they grow and learn.  They are all volunteers, and are serving at their choosing.  I have seen young men and women — some barely  5 feet 5 inches tall — jump from an airplane doing 130 knots only 900 feet from the ground.  Sometimes their pack weighs more  than they do.  

I’ve heard stories about soldiers who brave enemy fire to save a wounded buddy.   Why they do this, I really don’t know. If you asked them why, they would most likely give you the standard answer: “Because that is what I am trained to do.”

Read my post of February 12, 2008 @ http://markoneeleven.blogspot.com/ to learn more about one of these fine young men.

A father remembers…

I served on my local police department for a number of years.  I remember the Chief of Police once asked me why did I want to be a police officer.  The only answer I could give him was I just felt it was something I had to do. 

It is the same as why people climb Mt. Everest, knowing 1 in 4 will die in the attempt.  I remember the night my youngest son, Jacob, told me he had joined the ARMY.  After about 20 minutes of talking and listening I ask the simple question, “Why?” 

He very quietly said, “Dad, if I don’t go, who will?”  What could I say? I had told my own parents much the same thing. We don’t know why, we just know we have to do it.

I wish I could make a list of why these young men and women do what they do, but I really can’t.  They do it for pride or patriotism; some do it for the money and the thrill of it. 

For those who are young and need direction, the military is a way to get away from where they grew up, and who they grew up with.  It presents an opportunity to see exotic places, and get free room and board as well as a paycheck.

All these young people have one thing in common: They know it is something they have to do.

How families cope

Military families are a different breed of people, not because they want to be but because they must be.  My wife and I didn’t want to be a military family. I am sure my parents didn’t want to be a military family.  No military family wants their son or daughter in harm’s way. And yet, most of us wouldn’t have it any other way.  We have pride in our country … and our service member. 

In many ways, we are like other families. We go to PTO meetings, we have children that play soccer and baseball.  Our wives go shopping at the mall, and our husbands go to football games.  We put our pants on one leg at a time.  Just like you.

The difference comes from the fact that Dad or Mom may be gone for months at a time (in my son’s case, fifteen months), leaving a spouse to fill the gap. And yet, they don’t have to do it all alone … that’s where the family comes in. 

Aunts and uncles join in the child raising, grandparents tell bedtime stories and take the grandkids to church. (Let me tell you, there are no atheists in the military. Mom learns how to hang pictures and change a flat tire. Grandfathers take the boys fishing and grandmother’s help teach the girls how to cook. 

Of course, all these things can happen in other families. Then again, Dad isn’t there to go to McDonald; Mom doesn’t get to see the Girl Scout award presented to her daughter. 

The greatest challenge is often keeping things postive, upbeat. Mom tells her children that Dad’s fine … he’s just been a little busy and hasn’t had time to write or email.  Afterward they go to bed and cry themselves to sleep. 

The stateside family prays their service member is ok. Most wives, husbands and parents I know sleep with their cell phone turned on and by their bed at night.  They may get a phone call.  Phone calls in the middle of the night are good.  Your service member has called or, someone from his unit has called you to tell you your service member has been wounded and they will contact you with more information as soon as they receive it. 

We dread the thought of seeing a military car pull in the driveway. Every military family faces this fear at some time in their soldiers career. You see, it’s not a choice for this family. It’s a lifestyle the family must endure because  it’s what service member does. They endure because they must.

We military families are so blessed with our soldiers and sailors and marines and airmen. We are not immune, though; we do need outside help.  We seek it in many ways.  An FRG, Family Readiness Group, this is other military families  who share the same situation. But as my daughter-in-law said sometimes it is like sending a depressed person to a depressing meeting and expecting them to come home feeling good.  It’s good, but it doesn’t always work.

An military minister (chaplin) can be a source of help. Other times a close non-military friend may present an opportunity to unload.  Sadly, some turn to alcohol and drugs to escape the pressure and stress of being a military family.

How can I help?

I can tell you from my family’s experience one thing we’ve heard from non-military families that is a real gift to us: “Please tell you son/daughter thanks for their service. God bless them for what they do.” 

When a military family member hears that, it means more than anything else in the world.  It let’s us know that our child has not been forgotten.

Proud father of an 82nd Airborne Paratrooper
Visit my blog, Mark 1:11 at markoneeleven.blogspot.com
Visit my blog, Conservative Outrage at conservativeoutrage.blogspot.com

Photo credit: Original photo found here.

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