I saw this post on Twitter and decided that it needed to be addressed. So of COURSE I’m going to address it. Below is the link as well as the text to the original article and after that is my response.
By Martha J. Sisk
Call me bitter, jealous or hardened if you like, but this new way of saying that our soldiers and their families are “sacrificing” just because the soldiers are in Afghanistan is a bit over the top. In my mind, the only families who are sacrificing are those who have lost a loved one to death in the wars in which we seem to be perpetually involved, or, soldiers who suffer from maiming injuries, either physical or mental.
My husband, Tom, asks if we, as a nation, have become so weak that we now must support military families with the results of mid-summer toy drives and stories about families’ “sacrifices” on TV so that the soldiers serving in Afghanistan or Iraq (or any of the other nations) won’t have to worry. Worry about what? Have we become a nation of complainers?
I can assure the reader that when my husband’s unit was under attack in Vietnam, the last thing on his mind was the quality of life his family in North Carolina was living. Hopefully today’s soldier is not different.
Tom was a soldier for more than 20 years, and those were good years. We never considered it a sacrifice – his being in the Army, even his being in Vietnam. We traveled around the United States and were privileged to live in many different states and to savor the various living styles those diverse states offered.
Let me give some examples. We lived in Texas, where we saw cows grazing in our front yard and ate rattlesnake and authentic Mexican food; Colorado, where we first became involved with Little Theater and viewed Pike’s Peak from our kitchen window; Kentucky, where our oldest attended first grade, (and we still have a blue Kentucky license plate on the garage wall); and Alabama, our very first military station. We always took advantage of travel and saw many places of interest we would not have otherwise seen. Was it sometimes lonely? Yes it was, but it also was inspiring and energizing.
We were stationed in Germany two times. The first time, from 1964 to 1966, we were fortunate to live on the German economy, where I shopped in German meat markets, farmer’s markets and dairies for our food. Where was the sacrifice? While there, I even tried some raw milk simply because my neighbors on Krautgarten Strasse were using it. I learned to speak German with such authenticity that no one I spoke to believed that I was American.
Even when Tom served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, neither of us considered his being in Vietnam a sacrifice. It was our life, and while the children and I missed him terribly, and he missed being at home, his fighting for our country was considered his job – he was a military man, and being in Vietnam was his duty. To earn money, I got a job in a hospital as an emergency room admitting clerk, and we never got toys for our children unless we paid for them. But sacrifice? I never even considered it.
On a historically sad note, when Tom came home from Vietnam that August of 1968, he was so concerned that people would view him negatively that he refused to wear his uniform.
Soldiers from World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam were sent overseas with little or no help from the military for the families left behind; consequently, families coped the best way they could. Tom’s mother told me that while her husband, Ed (Tom’s father), served in World War II, she lived in a hotel for a while, working as a night clerk so that she could pay for the room she occupied with her two boys because she had little money. It was just what she did to have a place to live while Ed was fighting.
She never considered anything she had to do as a sacrifice – and neither did Ed. He was a soldier for more than 30 years, and World War II was just part of his service. The fact that he was overseas for three consecutive years was not even considered a sacrifice because all soldiers were sent overseas for the duration of the war. They knew that when they signed up or when they were drafted. If they were already members of the military, they accepted it.
My husband’s parents never even mentioned the word “sacrifice” when talking about those years. That was the way it was. My question is this: Were the people in previous wars more rugged than today’s soldiers and families are? Our country was built on self-reliance. We seem to have lost that, becoming a nation of whiners in the process.
I am aware that soldiers today must endure numerous unending deployments and it is something we did not suffer. Remember that today’s military is 100 percent volunteer. Military families experience a different life from civilian families and, although military life is sometimes hard, with constant change and frequent deployments, it is also exciting and joyful.
Had I remained a Concord native, I most likely would never have lived the rich and varied life I have. Therefore, here is a big “thank you” to the military for allowing Tom and me and our three children to have such wonderful and diverse experiences. The military made us what we are; it will define today’s soldier and his or her family, too.
Martha Sisk is a member of the Observer’s Community Advisory Board, which meets regularly with the editorial board to discuss local issues and contributes op-ed columns. She is a retired special-education teacher and a retired English instructor from FTCC. She is involved with the arts community in Fayetteville
Your post misses a couple of critical points. During the previous wars, there was little to concern for military families because military service was largely compulsory. Men had no choice but to register with the Selective Service and many were called to service against their will, especially during Vietnam.
The focus on military families has occurred over the generation since the all volunteer service was implemented simply because now, the norm IS a soldier with a family. During those previous conflicts and previous generations of soldiers, military families were the exception, not the norm that it is today.
The simple fact is that a family’s well being is critical to whether or not quality soldiers remain in the military. THAT is why we care about quality of life. THAT is why we have family readiness groups to help young, inexperienced spouses handle everyday life while their soldier is off to war. We want to retain good, quality soldiers because, as you pointed out, this is an all volunteer force.
Despite your husband’s service, you obviously have no idea what its like to be half a world away and worry about a child with a fever or a child struggling with schoolwork or a spouse so overwhelmed that she can’t leave the house. You have no call to suggest that our soldiers and our soldiers families are not sacrificing as we as a military enter our TENTH year of constant war. No recent war has gone on longer. No group of soldiers has faced a more steady stream of combat. No soldier’s children have ever faced the constant on again off again rotation of their parents heading into COMBAT. A combat tour is not the same as going to Korea for a year long hardship tour. A combat tour damn sure isn’t the same as living in Germany for a couple of years and learning to speak German fluently.
Have a care how you tread on the notion of sacrifice. Congratulations, you’re tougher than many but your years as a military spouse were different than the years faced by this generation of spouses. You state in your article that your husband served in Vietnam from 1967-1968. I applaud your husband for his service but I wonder if you might look at the sacrifice our young soldiers are making if he had been gone every other year for four, five, six or seven years. Would you allow yourself to say, man, this is tough? Just maybe?
Our military families are cared for because the strain of constant deployments – something that no previous generation in the last 100 years has had to deal with – is a sacrifice. And still spouses wash the uniforms and kiss their soldiers goodbye so that people like you, who enjoyed the Pax Americana of the Cold War, can say that we are a nation of complainers.
Bravo. I applaud your willingness to join those who spat on your husband and his peers a generation ago by spitting on the notion that our soldiers and their families are not sacrificing today. I hope you’re proud and you achieved your goals. Your thanks at the end of your piece is paltry and hollow. You should have saved your breath, but I will don my uniform and defend your right to say it.