Dear Wife: This is What You Say About Iraq

iraq

My Dear Friend,

You asked me what you are supposed to say to your soldier when he sees Iraq go to hell on the news and he asks:  Did any of it matter?

You think this moment of questioning and regret and despair is about the military. You think this is about war. It might be.  But the way I see it,  this is about marriage. Your marriage. This is about what love really means when people knit their lives together. Can’t you see that?

Everyone questions their service.

Because everyone who ever served in the military questions some part of their service. It is the price of giving your youth to the military.

Some service members question an event that happened in war or on the flight deck or on an operating table. Some regret that they weren’t present when their father died or whether they could have saved a sibling.

Plenty of men regret missing the birth of their baby. Or they wonder what would have happened if they hadn’t done that geographic bachelor tour or dragged the family to Korea or didn’t work so many hours.

What makes this moment of questioning especially bad is when you are wondering too. When you are looking down at the throat of yet another 10-month deployment or you are dealing with another round of operations or PTSD is rearing its ugly head again–of course you have your own questions about whether it was worth it.

Sirens ought to blare at this moment. Searchlights should pop on.

When your service member questions whether or not his or her service mattered, there is only one answer. There is only one way to be:

This is the moment you blaze. This is the moment you roar. This is the moment that matters.

No matter what you personally believe about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, no matter what doubts you have about the wisdom of mixing kids and military life, this is the moment you must stand absolutely firm. You stand there and assure your soldier or Marine or Coastie or airman or sailor that it was worth it.

I’m not telling you to lie.  I’m telling you to witness. Remind your beloved that they were doing what they thought was right. Remind them what they said back then. Remind them that the story isn’t over. That things are not all good or all bad. That history is long and our part in it is short. So short. Too short.

(And you keep an eye on this kind of despair—espeically if it lasts too long, especially if it gets bigger. There are people to help them with that.  There are people to help you.)

When your own service member has this moment, I hope you will hear the sirens, see the lights, take a deep breath and see your partner as they really are:  one person. Your person. Doing the best they can in an impossible world.

Photo by Army Sgt. Alex Snyder, 123rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, 3d Sustainment Command public affairs.

 

About the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Military.com. Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom. Find her at JaceyEckhart.net.
  • Kristen Lancaster

    Props. Thanks Jacey.

  • Yes. Thank you for presenting everyone’s point of view on this blog.

  • IAgal

    I don’t roar. I don’t actually say anything.
    What can I say?
    I hold his hand and share the silence with him.

    He didn’t sign up for this. He signed up for the waters: first the Navy and eventually the Navy Reserves.
    Only by years of ongoing war and insufficient staffing, he got plucked as the next warm body on the list to plug a hole in the sands of the Middle East: an individual augmentee.
    He knew it was his duty.
    He went.
    If it wasn’t him, it would be the next sailor/spouse/parent on the list.

    And while there are bad memories of the violence, deep concerns about Iraqi friends left behind, a permanently damaged civilian career, and lasting effects on our family, the deepest, most lingering pain and anger is from the blatant inter-force discrimination as a Navy guy working for the Air Force in an Army command, and subsequently the ultimate betrayal by the Navy he loved denying hard-earned honors nominated by the joint command.

    His loyalty was one of the many qualities that attracted me to him in the first place.
    It’s hard to see this instance of loyalty betrayed by a Navy he loved dearly.
    So, I just sit in silence and hold his hand.
    I don’t know what more to do.

  • Peggie

    To IAGal:
    There is definitely time for silence, but I fear you may have missed the point of the response above. Your spouse is an individual who served with honor and busted his butt to do his best in extremely challenging circumstances, not because it was his ideal assignment and not for awards, but for the deeper values he holds dear. He touched other lives, no doubt, and they touched his. He is a hero not because of where he was assigned or because he helped “win the war” or because he got medal. He is a hero because he served with honor, strength, and commitment and he is obviously a caring person as well. I hope you can remind him of that.

  • Mimi

    To Peggie:
    There always has to be one person who denigrates and assumes what a spouse says or does. And you are that person.
    It’s hard to be a military spouse. Don’t assume. Hope we can all live up to your standards. (Not really. Quit judging and assuming about people you don’t even know.)

    • Toots

      To Mimi
      There’s a person that always contributes something meaningless to a to a beautiful response .. You are that person…in other words check your pie hole there’s a Bon Bon or two missing there