In anticipation of Veteran’s Day, I have spent a lot of time in recent weeks feeling overwhelming gratitude for our military women and men, and their families. Growing up, I remember Veteran’s Day as a fun holiday. In school we spent time talking about American history, sugar coating a lot of the scary war stuff. Our local VFW members would parade in wearing their uniforms and pins, each proudly waving an American flag. I have always loved the elderly (seriously, my grandma is my best friend), so this was truly a happy occasion for me. Then we’d go down the line, saying, “Thank you for your service” to each veteran, shaking hands as we moved along. For a time, I thought veterans, which sounded to me a lot like veterinarians, were responsible for taking care of the pets during war. And, I love pets, so naturally, I wanted to thank them for their valuable service.
As I got older, I learned that veterans and veterinarians are in fact not one and the same. I learned that my Grandpa is a veteran of the Korean War. I still blindly said, “Thank you for your service” on Veteran’s Day. And I was thankful for their service, but the meaning behind it hadn’t yet sunk in.
Now it feels personal. When my sister, Anna, married into the military, I started to realize more and more what it truly means to serve our country. I want to take this opportunity to share some things I have learned, as a third-party, to those serving and sacrificing for our freedom. While incredible service women and men are serving and sacrificing abroad everyday, I want to focus on the service and sacrifice that is taking place here at home.
Danger is not just for Deployment - I really thought the only time my brother-in-law was in danger, was when he was overseas. I had this pie-in-the-sky picture of him on the base, teaching in a classroom, running through mud pits and jumping over walls, always home in time for dinner. That is not the case. He flies a jet. He instructs younger pilots. He participates in training drills that are dangerous (in order to prepare for situations that could happen while on deployment). And the jets he is flying are not top of the line, new jets. They are old. They are dangerous to fly. He puts his life at risk each time he takes off. And each time he is on the flight schedule, my sister kisses her husband goodbye, always knowing somewhere in the back of her head that this could be the last time.
Dinner Time, Shminner Time - I also thought that when my brother-in-law was not on deployment he would be home for dinner every night. I figured he’d work a pretty standard 9-5 on the base. Maybe take an afternoon off to see his daughter’s ballet recital or watch his son play soccer. That is not the case. Even when our men and women are not on deployment, they still work extremely long hours. They sacrifice time and experiences with their families, and their families are left to accept that memories are made without their loved one. When my brother-in-law is deployed, my sister is a single parent. But when he is not on deployment, she is still a single parent most of the time.
Loss of Control - I did not realize until Anna was a part of the military that she would have to sacrifice control over her life. She does not get to choose where she lives, nor how long she will stay (orders range from 1-3 years). If she doesn’t like where they are stationed, she can’t leave. She has to stay. If she loves where they get placed, and builds a strong community, she can’t stay. She has to leave. She can’t need her husband to be home for dinner, or help her run errands. He can’t promise when he’ll be home. She can’t beg him not to deploy, persuading him by noting he will miss their kids’ birthdays, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. He will have to leave anyway. She chose to give up a teaching career to be the one constant in her kids’ lives, giving them the stability that is so often lacking. My sister, who loves to be in control, has had to sacrifice so much control in her own life.
It was not until Anna married the man of her dreams, who happened to be in the military, that I learned what service and sacrifice truly is. It was not until I spent time with Anna on each of her husband’s deployments that I learned it was not just him who was sacrificing by being away. I learned that Anna and her kids were sacrificing as well. And, this sacrifice by my brother-in-law is not simply an acceptance that the worst could happen, it’s a sacrifice of a family-life as well. A family-life in which he could attend his kids’ Halloween costume parades, participate in parent-teacher conferences, plan birthday parties. A family life in which he could tell his wife when he'd be home, knowing that he is in control of his time. Our military men, women, and their families are sacrificing every day, giving up control over their own lives.
I may be a third-party observer, but I see the sacrifice. I also realize the experiences of my sister and her family may be different from other military families. While different, all military members and families are making sacrifices each and every day. I now know the depth and the gravity of the thank-you’s I say to service members past and present on Veteran’s Day. Today, I want to say thank you to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. I want to say thank you to those of you who continue to make sacrifices each and every day. Thank you all, military women, men, spouses, and children for your service. I thank you for the sacrifice you have made in giving up control and freedom in your lives, in order that we have control and freedom in ours.