A nerve was touched when a newspaper recently published a story delineating the ups and downs of a six-month deployment. A young couple with two small children opened their homes and their minds to the public eye. Anyone who read it now has a clearer idea of the trials and tribulations of an extended separation. However, some people of Hampton Roads are of the opinion that Navy families should stop their whining and just get on with it. After all, we knew what we were getting into when we signed up for this. These same people often tell how they just dealt with it when it was their turn – years ago. These are the people who fought in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. The stories of these people – both the active duty member and the family back home - stories which they all hesitate to tell – are chilling, to say the least. I can understand their response to so much space being given to the story of a routine six-month deployment. However, times have changed.
We have all witnessed the changing face of our elected officials.
People are being sent to Washington as our representatives who have never served in uniform. We also see highly qualified people who have retired from active duty say no to serving their country in an elected office. Moreover, the downsizing of our military is only going to reduce the pool from which we used to get people like President Harry Truman, Congressman Sonny Montgomery, and Senator John McCain. The people who choose to serve their country as an elected official without having first served in uniform cannot represent the military family unless they know us. Therefore, it is critical that we educate our elected officials on the impact that their decisions have on our husbands, our wives, and our children.
Our stories tell them about us – primarily that we are more than ready to support our active duty member. We know how to deal with a Christmas alone, we know we may be asked to guide a child through a high school graduation and on into college alone, we even know where to find support within the community to deal with a child’s illness alone. We are a savvy group of individuals. Consequently, we also know that three Christmases apart, in a row, is too much to ask – we are not prepared to deal with that in peacetime. So, don’t structure a Navy that will force you to ask us. Through our stories these facts of military life become clearer to the civilian world, the very world which controls our military through our system of government. Too many of our representatives in Washington do not know the military family lifestyle through their own personal experiences, as we once had in days gone by. Therefore, it is only through our stories that we will be understood, recognized, and better served by our elected officials. If we don’t tell them what a six-month deployment demands of the family unit, they will never know.
While serving as Commanding Officer of Guantanamo Bay (GITMO)during the Cuban refugee crisis, my husband was frequently the official meeter and greeter of countless senators and congressmen who went down to GITMO for a look. At least once a week, another group of VIPs would arrive, be briefed on the situation aboard the base, and then shown around the place. In each brief, the VIPs were told that the Naval Base families had been evacuated to make room for the refugees. These families would not be together again for ONE year. Only ONE elected official ever asked how the families were doing before boarding the plane back to Washington. Every one of the active duty military visitors did.
That was my wake up call. We must not only tell our stories. We must read each others’ stories, and then cut those stories out to send them to those people inside the beltway who represent us. It ‘s our duty.