By Boot Girl Myra
Recently while visiting with a new friend and veteran Danny Schrader on a Boot Campaign site, I asked him, “What three things do you wish you could tell average Americans about serving in the military?” What follows is his response and one which we dedicate to the honor of Danny’s former room mate Wade Twyman. Six years ago today (March 4), Twyman was killed by an IED in Anbar province in Iraq. It was because of this loss Danny left his job with the Arizona Highway Patrol and reenlisted into the Army where he had previously served for 11 years.
What the Average American Should Know About Military
First and foremost, every military member has their own reasons for joining the military. The people that make up the military are from vastly different backgrounds, socio-economic backgrounds, religions, etc. I have friends that joined for the college money (GI Bill), and I have a very close friend that joined because she felt that it was every person’s duty to serve their country. That same person was 37 when she joined, a mother of 4, preacher’s wife and college administrator. On the other end of that, I know a guy that was literally homeless, walked into the recruiter’s office, and was in the Army the next day. He didn’t even have a pair of shoes when he joined. He swore in wearing flip-flops. He is now a Sergeant in the 82nd Airborne. I joined at the age of 18 because I wanted to be a fighter pilot. That morphed into wanting to jump out of airplanes instead of flying them, and instigated a change of service for me at the age of 27. Whatever the reason that we all joined, we all have the same goal; to keep the United States safe and preserve and protect our way of life. We are all dedicated, and we are all here by our own volition, regardless of the reason we joined. Nobody held a gun to our heads and made us join, and the days of judges mandating “military or jail” have long since passed. The military, due in large part to the state of the economy, is much more picky as to who they will let in, but we all volunteered to do this job.
Second is to be aware that its not just the sacrifice of the military member, but the immense sacrifice of our families. The night I left the US to go to war in Iraq, my son was just over 2 years old. I put him in his car seat, kissed him goodbye, and walked away. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, as I felt like I had betrayed him. He fully expected to see me the next morning, like he had every day before then. I had no way of explaining to a 2-year old that Daddy wasn’t going to be home for over a year. I also couldn’t tell him that Daddy may never come home. Further, I wanted but couldn’t communicate to my Mom and Dad that if I died over there, I was grateful for having such wonderful parents. I did tell them not to watch the news, as it would only worry them, (although, news or no news, I knew they would worry anyway). I can’t imagine the sleepless nights my Mom had while I was gone. I can’t imagine how she went about her day with any sense of normalcy because she is prone to worry anyway.
I would ask all American to be mindful of those they work or interact with every day, that their son, daughter, father, husband, boyfriend, sister, brother, etc, may be in one of the worst, most violent places in the world. Realize that the fear, worry, and despair can be a major part of their lives. They may not be their normal self, and consider that when someone is having a bad day, or is a little off, that not knowing the welfare of their loved one could be why. Please understand that lady at the store with little kids may be having to cope with Daddy being in the Kunar Valley in Afghanistan. Recognize the parents whose daughter is a combat medic in Afghanistan may not be their normal, cheery selves. Make note that the kid on the playground that is withdrawn or sad is worried about his big brother who he hasn’t been able to see in months, or talk to in weeks.
Lastly, we all have our own ways of dealing with the stress of what we do as our chosen vocation, and admittedly, not all of them are the most socially acceptable. I will make no excuses for bad conduct, but I will ask for understanding. Recognize that seeing your friends die, having near-death experiences, and even just dealing with the violence that is inherent to war changes people. It changes some for the better, but it completely devastates others. I can’t speak for other services, as I have no experience with them in regards to combat, but the Army is working very hard to help treat those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. There are many programs in place to help us cope with what we’ve had to deal with, and the friend or family member you knew before deployment is going to be different when they come home. Maybe not outwardly, but there will be changes, and as friends or family members, try to find a way to be there for them. Many don’t want to talk about their experiences, so, don’t try to pry it out of them. If they want to talk, listen!!! Let them vent, but don’t compromise your own safety or well being. The best form of therapy I had when I got home was a woman who loved me unconditionally, and gave me space when I needed it, but was also there for me when I needed to let it out. On top of that, I have parents who were equally supportive, and seemed to intuitively know when to be there, and when to step back. The combination not only helped me immensely, but makes me a very lucky man. It takes a strong person to be there for a soldier who has PTSD. It takes understanding, caring, compassion, and openness. If you are the average American, please remember that while we voluntarily do what we do, there is a price that comes with it.
The American military is comprised of people who do what they do not for money, not for fame, and certainly not for medals. The latter two are a coincidence of opportunity and ability. We do what we do for various reasons, and we put ourselves between the average American and those who want to harm them because it’s the right thing to do. Remember that we are ordinary people, we have the same desires, wants, needs, and basic human emotions that you do, and we ask for nothing but your support in return for our service. While you may not agree with whatever war or conflict we are involved in, remember that we are still there, fighting, struggling, and missing our families and friends, and that sometimes, those struggles will continue even after we are home.