(This entry is cross-posted at LIFT)
The deaths that occurred as a result of a Chinook being shot down in Afghanistan over the weekend (22 Navy Seals, four crew members, three Air Force combat controllers, a dog handler, and his dog) has generated not only an enormous outpouring of sympathy for the families suffering a great loss, but also fresh nationwide recognition and support for service members and their families–and with it, a renewed call for Americans to do what they can to lend assistance and support to military families.
First, I would like to offer my sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of each of these service members.
Second, I would like to ask that Americans not wait for a death or deaths to make the news before offering their support or making an effort to learn more about what military families have been experiencing in this decade of multiple wars.
Death, while inarguably one of the worst effects of war, is not the only adverse effect of war. Sadly, but truly, people lose loved ones and family members every day. They lose them in car accidents, to disease, to poor choices, and to unknown and unexpected causes. People die. Service members are no exception.
So what makes the loss of a service member unique? Why do their stories elicit so much sympathy?
In part, as some Gold Star Mothers and spouses of fallen service members have very eloquently explained, the loss of a member of the military is the loss of an individual who offered him- or herself voluntarily to America’s fighting force. The loss of anyone who has made it his or her work to protect others – whether that person is a service member, a firefighter, or a police officer – is the loss of one person, yes, but it’s one person whose mission is to help countless others.
What also makes the loss of a military member different for the loved ones and family of the service member is the time leading up to that death. There is significant stress, anxiety, worry, and a host of other complex emotions that accompany the wait for the deployment to end that plagues these friends and family. Weeks and months go by during which the loved ones aren’t able to see or touch the service member they love, and through all that time, they’re fearing the worst. And when it ultimately happens, it’s after a long separation, after daily waking thoughts of “One more day down,” and after having missed out on so much time with the loved one as a result of multiple year-long deployments.
It is not the death(s) alone that should persuade Americans to close the divide between military and civilian communities, or that should prompt the media to share the personal stories of military families; it is the experience leading up to it, as well. Be there now, not just for those who have lost, but for those who are still waiting for a safe return. And then, if one of the worst possible outcomes occurs as it did this past weekend for too many families, they’ll know you’re there…because you will have been there all along.