When things like the situation in Syria pop up, people always want to know how military families feel. Do you agree with the president? they ask. Are you prepared for your husband to possibly deploy? Are you worried?
What’s surprising to military families, however, is that any of this should be, well, a surprise. It’s kind of like asking a doctor if she is nervous about the increase in heart disease in America. While the doctor isn’t happy about more frequent heart disease, she also wouldn’t be sitting on her duff otherwise. She tends to patients in either case.
Her whole career, she has thought about heart disease, even if the media and the public are just now recognizing the problem. That’s because it’s her job. It’s the same way for the military.
But I will answer each question anyway.
Do you agree with the president and his plan for Syria?
While military families have their own varied political beliefs (yes, there are liberals in the military), when it comes to matters of military action, we are skilled at having divided attention. Personally, the civilian part of me thinks our government blundered the whole thing in Syria. We are the parent who threatened Time Out then turned a blind eye while the child continues to misbehave.
Worse, we’ve made a media spectacle of ships’ movements and tactics.
Leaders from wars past are surely turning over in their graves. But from a military-spouse point-of-view, none of this really matters. When your spouse is assigned a job, no one asks if you agree or disagree with the mission. There is no “opt out.”
Trust me, I would have used it at times if there were.
Just as the doctor still cares for someone who’s wrecked their body with cigarettes, cholesterol and obesity, the military still serves even when they disagree. The unofficial motto is, We’re defending democracy, not practicing it.
In the end, my husband took an oath, and it doesn’t matter if I agree or disagree. To believe that it matters only invites frustration and helplessness. So I don’t go there.
Are you prepared for your husband to deploy?
Military families are always ready for their loved ones to deploy. Deployments didn’t begin on Sept. 11, 2001. I’ve been a military dependent since the day I was born, which was in the middle of my Navy dad’s first deployment.
Twenty-two years later, he had accumulated 11 years of sea duty. He had been deployed half my life, and all of it was during elative peace.
Having said that, deployments definitely changed after 9/11. While my dad as always predictably gone for six months at a time, my husband, whose first deployment was in 2001, has never had a full, “normal” deployment. In fact, he was on what would be the last “normal” deployment when 9/11 happened. The aircraft carrier had made many port calls, the kind that sed to make spouses green with envy — Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece — and it was headed back to the U.S. when the World Trade Center was attacked. Homecoming was in less than a month. That morning, however, the aircraft carrier turned around and went to the Persian Gulf. Homecoming was delayed indefinitely. Every deployment since then has not been “routine.” But service members still deploy.
They still train and practice. And so something like Syria never comes as a shock or surprise.
Are you worried?
I was mostly worried when CNN and Fox News were reporting on ship locations and plans because I know that we have friends on those ships. But I was also worried for military friends when tsunamis hit overseas, and when the nuclear plant in Japan melted down. In a very general way, our spouse’s job don’t become significantly more dangerous just because the U.S. is taking action.
My husband’s job has always had risks. For almost five years, he trained young Navy pilots in a single-engine airplane. No one asked me if I was worried then (Note: I was). And, indeed, most of our friends who have died in uniform died in training accidents. The gunman who walked into the Navy Yard last week and killed 12 people makes this point disturbingly clear.
Unlike in wars past, today it seems equally dangerous to be in U.S. According to Dustin, that September morning in 2001 was the first time he was concerned for my safety here. There he was, on an aircraft carrier in the middle of ocean, and the war was happening here at home. And so, sadly, I think an increasingly relevant question in the future will be, “Are the deployed service members worried about leaving behind their loved ones?”
Sarah Smiley is a syndicated columnist and author of “Dinner with the Smileys.”