Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Must be Tuesday--On Syria and Morale

"You know, maybe with the draw down of troops in Afghanistan you won't have to go..."
I can't tell you how many times we heard these words in the (many) months leading up to this latest deployment. Every time, it was a well-meaning friend trying to offer us hope that we might be able to avoid the plan laid before us. My husband, never one to make someone feel uncomfortable, would always offer a kind reply, along the lines of "maybe, you never know!"

But to me, it was always a different message, grounded in the reality he knew I needed to hear to steel me for the months to come:
"There is no draw down. Not really. If it's not Afghanistan, it will be somewhere else. Probably in the Middle East."
They were never words of bitterness--my husband chose a life of military service, wherever that might take him and whatever it might require. Rather, they were words of knowing

No one knows better than seasoned soldiers just how unstable many parts of the world really are. They see it in the faces of the people they run across serving in far away lands. They identify it in patterns of regime behavior. They know it from the tenor of the current administration, whichever it might be, because it trickles down throughout the uniformed services.

And our soldiers' knowing trickles down to us. We know instability means a high likelihood of boots on the ground. And we know that if boots are needed, the people nearest by--some already in harms way--are the most likely to be sent first. First, but not only. Not by a long shot.

So, while the civilian world is racing for every tiny news bit about Syria, we are watching in slow motion, wondering when the briefing will come that tells us the answers to the only three questions that matter: Are we going? How many? When?

If you were to ask us today, I think most military spouses are straddled between two different thoughts about Syria that are on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. One is something of a "must be Tuesday" mentality about the possibility of being sent to another war zone. We're military; it's what we do. 

The other is a sense of panic that comes from a very personal connection to the boots that might be sent to deal with a conflict (bad enough) that includes chemical weapons (seriously?!?!?). It could be my husband. It could be my friends' husbands or wives. That's terrifying.

But we know if the call comes, our soldiers must answer. And so we try our darnedest to stay in the "must be Tuesday" camp as much as we can. No reason to panic because there are no answers to The Three Questions yet. And even when there are, we will still have to carry on.

The need to carry on, whatever the news, whatever the military asks of us, is what makes family resources like the Everyone Serves book so important. They give us advice about how to handle what's ahead, and civilians advice on how to help us. The truth is, ready or not, things like Syria will come. So military families tend to err on the side of ready.

What makes carrying on a little harder, though, is when our lives, our soldiers' lives, are used as ammunition for the political machine. That has happened a lot this week. It is something we expect from the media, and even from politicians. But when people--soldiers or not--start using the uniform for politics, it is infuriating, saddening, and maddeningly disrespectful.

That happened this week, with the "hidden face soldiers" who were posting anti-war message on Facebook and elsewhere. Whether they were actual soldiers or not, no one can verify. Faces and name plates were covered. But the anti-Syrian messages were held by people wearing military uniforms.

Veteran John Lilyea over at the "This Ain't Hell" blog captured my sentiment about the whole thing really well, although with perhaps more colorful language than I would have chosen. I think the thing that bothers me most about the situation is the part where the "Syrian Electronic Army" hacked the Marine Recruiting website, using these pictures as part of their campaign of cyber-terrorism. I hope that the people in the pictures were not, in fact, soldiers. If they were, this whole episode is just plain head-shake-worthy.

See, here's the fact: our soldiers don't get to pick and choose when, where or how they serve. They swear an oath to "obey the orders of the President." There's no "when I agree" caveat. It's an obligation that, when disregarded, is heavily punishable.

We live in a free speech country, so things like the "hidden face soldiers" are bound to happen. That's everyone's right. But things like that are not helpful to military families. What they really do is stir up animus in the media, and in the civilian community, about a job we know our soldiers have to do. It makes maintaining a "must be Tuesday" mentality that much harder because it requires us to spend time and energy defending, and arguing, and banging our heads against a wall.

Time and energy that we might otherwise have spent maintaining sanity and caring for our families. Because our soldiers are already in a war zone. Fighting a war we may or may not agree with. Because that is what they swore to do.

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