Wednesday, July 24, 2013

How We Think About the "S" Word

This year a new word invaded our everyday lexicon. I doubt it’s a word that the average person even knew about this time last year—and why would we? We talk in four, five, eight-letter words, not thirteen-letter words! But now, this one word has become so pervasive that people are downright tired of it. The people not really affected are sick of hearing about it. The people who are, well, they’re just sickened.  Sick, tired, concerned, maybe even afraid. Yet few words better encompass what is happening in our country right now than this one: SEQUESTRATION.

What is sequestration? It’s a reasonable question. It’s not like the evening news really defines it. But defining it is the easy part. In a word, sequestration means CUTBACKS. Some of the cutbacks have been targeted, but more of them have been flat, across-the-board cuts in spending.

The thing about sequestration that makes it so interesting is that it’s kind of a bridge concern. We in the military think of it as a military concern (and of course, it is). But plenty of other people and agencies have been affected by it too. As in, all of them. Sequestration is the one issue facing military families that, at least in principle, the civilian population really gets. They understand reduced services; furloughs; reduced paychecks; even layoffs. The federal government is so widespread that you can’t NOT be affected to some degree.

This understanding is a blessing, certainly. Especially in a time when fewer and fewer civilians actually have a direct connection to the 1% of the US population that serves in the U.S. Uniformed Services, common ground is a good thing.

While my husband’s Fighting Eagle Battalion at Ft. Riley, Kansas, is having to go without budget for office supplies like paper (and even toilet paper!), so is, say, the IRS office in Dallas, Texas. 

While the Fighting Eagles are being instructed to turn on and off lights as they go between rooms, the EPA office in Oakland, California might be getting the same directive (of course, since both likely use fluorescent lighting, the directive is actually less energy efficient, but I digress).

And while the Ft. Riley commissary (grocery store) is closed on certain weekdays, so too are social services offices all over the country. So we all understand the belt-tightening.

But the danger in thinking along the “we all get it” lines is that there are a few rather important differences when it comes to military sequestration: military readiness, combat preparedness, and wounded warrior care. And of course, that’s saying nothing of care for military families.

I think it’s safe to say that most of the country thinks of sequestration in terms of "less." But military families don’t just have to worry about fewer jobs, less money, or less day-to-day services. Honestly, those things feel like small potatoes when compared to the larger, much more fundamental concern: WAR. Specifically, its affect on our families.

My own family is now days from deployment, so many of those “war” concerns have been percolating in my head:

I have heard there were budget shortages for fuel and ammunition at Ft. Riley. Were there sufficient resources to prepare these soldiers for the situation they’re being sent into?

We were told that services are slowly being reduced on the installations in Afghanistan. Will there be sufficient resources to care for these soldiers while they are gone?

There have been reductions in healthcare and even in insurance. Will there be sufficient resources here to care for these soldiers if they get hurt?

Basically: WILL HE BE OKAY??

Therein lies the fundamental difference. At the very bottom, the concern over sequestration to a military family is personified: one soldier. A person beloved, needed, worried about, that we can’t imagine life without.

I think that’s why the military community’s reaction to talking about sequestration in terms of numbers is so negative. It’s not that we don’t see inefficiencies, or that we don’t understand that this country needs to reduce spending. We get it; most of us even agree. But there’s no number that accounts for a loved one. Not. One.

There’s no replacement value for a person. And here’s the thing: I don’t think that the “numbers” people mean to suggest that there is.

I think that maybe sometimes they just need a gentle reminder that “defense” may mean “spending,” but “military” means “people.”

To me, it actually means “person.” My husband, Jake Hicks, Fighting Eagle Battalion. Headed to Afghanistan.

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  1. I don't believe that the majority of Americans are affected by sequestration in a way that makes a difference in their DAILY lives. Until they are, very little will change and no one will be held accountable. We're on the path for this to happen again next year, but nothing is being done now, accusations will fly when the deadline looms, then it will again be forgotten when the vast majority are not affected. When will we begin to hold our elected officials accountable? When will THEY be affected?

  2. Awesome post, Reda!! You hit the nail on the head. It IS true that resources/food are being cut in Afghanistan: my husband and his brother can attest to that. They can't buy shaving cream and other necessities in the PX on base, whereas they could in their past deployments. Hot breakfast and mid-rats have also been eliminated. It affects morale in a negative way, and it is very frustrating to watch that happen to our heroes. Just because we're drawing down doesn't mean we support our fighting men and women less. I have made calls to our elected officials on the Armed Forces committees, but my guess is that that won't do much. The good news is that a Facebook group/non-profit called "Breakfast for Bagram" has been established, and they are collecting breakfast items to send to Bagram and other bases/posts around Afghanistan.

    Hugs to you and your family as you start your deployment!