(photo credits: photo pin)
11 years have now passed since the morning we all watched in disbelief as we were brutally attacked on American soil. I was a fairly new military spouse on that day. We were on leave in Alabama, and when we came back to our base, it was clear that the landscape had drastically changed. I was still pretty clueless about military life and how things operated, but it was even clear to me. The base had changed. The tone had changed. The role of the military family had changed.
There was a feeling that things would never be the same again.
As I think back to that day, it seems like an entire lifetime ago. As I reflect to write this piece I try and remember what it felt like to be a military family on September 10, 2001. I find it nearly impossible to do so. The landscape of our lives has changed so drastically that I am not sure I will ever be able to conjure up the memories of what it felt like to be a military family during a time of peace.
In reality, it is hard to remember what it felt like to be an American during a time of peace either. The landscape of our country has also changed.
In America, we are now used to getting to the airport with a couple of hours to spare. We are used to the long lines going through security. We are used to flying with tiny little bottles of toiletries and making sure we don’t have any deadly nail clippers in our carryon luggage. We are used to taking off our shoes. We are even used to letting a stranger pat us down.
Every American now knows of places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Syria. We all know acronyms like PTSD, TBI and IED’s. We hear of the casualties (if they are even mentioned in a news broadcast that evening), but the number gets lost in the background while we are cooking dinner. We have become accustomed to seeing TV shows featuring homecomings, or celebrities raising money for military charities, and of course dramas that focus entirely on the lives of our military. Our radios play songs that were written specifically to honor our troops and remind us of how patriotic we are. We fly the American flag a little higher and more often than we did before.
Seeing young men and women with missing limbs or serious disabilities as a result of war is more common place and perhaps a little less shocking, even though we still feel a twinge of sadness when we see a disabled veteran struggle to get out of a wheelchair so they can honor the flag at a ceremony. We all know about The Wounded Warrior Project now and realize that charity (and those like it) will be a part of America for decades to come because we have so many who will absolutely need those services for the rest of their lives. We are angered every time we hear the news of another protest for yet another military funeral. Many Americans still step up to the plate to be there to protect the families during their time of incredible loss.
We can never go back to the time where none of us would have even considered the possibility that terrorists would use our own passenger aircraft to slaughter thousands of innocent people who were simply showing up to do their jobs on a regular work day. We can never erase the images of the towers up in smoke, of people jumping to their death, of our Pentagon in flames. We will never forget hearing story after story of countless Americans who lost their lives just to help people they never knew. In a few short years, kids graduating from high school will have little or no recollection of living in a country that is not at war.
For many Americans the changes have become common place. Even though we all felt the impact of September 11th, unless we knew someone who lost their life on that day or since, that day is most likely just a horrific day in American history, a conversation topic, “Where were you on 9-11”? It is probably not something that affects most Americans on a daily basis.
For the military family, that is not the case. No, 9-11 is not something that is in our mind every single minute of every day. After all, we are regular Americans too. We go to work, we raise our kids, we try to make tomorrow better than yesterday… just like everyone else. But our landscape has seen a much more dramatic change.
On a military base, we all know why there are barricades in front of many buildings now, preventing cars from pulling right up to the front door. We are used to seeing fences that are constantly covered in homecoming banners. If you live in a military community, you know someone who has a spouse, a mother, or a father deployed. You know someone who is suffering from some kind of injury. You probably even know someone who had to answer the door to uniformed personnel and live out each one of our worst nightmares.
We have just grown accustomed to frequent separations. We can put together an awesome care package and those special flat rate boxes and customs forms are in most of our homes even if our spouse is home. We have become masters at technology; loving the fact that skype has now allowed Daddy to see a baby being born and allows our kids to stay connected to Mom on a deeper level when she is gone for a year.
But those are the changes that everyone talks about. Those are the things that any military spouse could rattle off if a civilian asked what it is like to be a part of a military family. What about those things that we are not as open about in our community? What about the changes that go deeper? What about the ones that we may not really see come to fruition for years?
I know that I am not alone in my concern that our military and their family members have suffered a lot more than any of us are really letting on. Today, as I reflect over 11 years of war, I worry that because of the strong and resilient nature of such an incredible group of people, we are not really addressing some of those changes… that may not be as visible or often discussed.
I believe that we are starting to see some problems within the military family community. And I believe that many of us are not addressing them because we are either scared to damage our spouses career, or feel like we should somehow be able to suck it up and soldier on.
I believe many of our servicemembers are suffering from anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide, sleeping disorders, etc. And I believe that most of them are not getting help because they may not have seen combat, they are worried about their careers, or they feel guilty after seeing a fellow warrior who is missing a limb.
I believe many spouses are suffering from anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide, sleeping disorders, etc. And I believe many of them are not getting help because they think they are supposed to be stronger, or they feel guilty because they are not the one who actually went to war.
I believe our children are suffering from abandonment issues, anxiety, depression, sleeping disorders, etc. And I believe that because they seem so resilient and are many times pretty amazing kids, we are not always picking up on the problems.
And I worry that these problems are turning into changes. They are becoming a regular part of the military family. That they now are a part of our landscape.
What can we do?
It’s not about needing more resources. It’s not about needing more money.
It is about opening up these conversations. It is about not being afraid to speak up. It is about being willing to talk to each other without judgment. It is about realizing that seeking help does not make you weaker, that it actually helps you to be a better spouse or servicemember.
It is my hope that if, in 9 years, we are about to embark on our third decade of war, that we will have been able to change the landscape of the military family once again. Not back to a pre-war military family, but to a military family who is willing and able to get help for the many scars that come with years of supporting our brave men and women in a post 9-11 America.