Friday, January 28, 2011

Epidemic of Disconnection

Yesterday, Oprah invited soldiers, reporters, and even the First Lady, to talk about honoring our military families. I was somewhat skeptical about watching the program, since I have been disappointed by many, many programs that have attempted to address this issue before. But, I must say that Oprah did the topic justice, and the show left me in tears.

One of Oprah’s guests, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, discussed what he calls our “Epidemic of Disconnection.” He explained that many Americans are simply not paying attention to what is happening in this war. People are disconnected from the war, from the soldiers, from the families. This term struck a nerve with me. I've been amazed, and discouraged, by the lack of attention given to this war, and to our soldiers. I was glad to see attention being brought to this epidemic, finally.

We are, as a country, very disconnected. This has been a war met with apathy and disinterest. When I hear news reports of people who have been killed, I am of course sad for their families and for the loss of life. But, I also wonder about all of the soldiers we lose each and every day who no longer make it on the news. As my husband sits quietly during news reports of shootings, I know what he's thinking. He, too, is saddened by these tragedies. But, I know that part of him is wondering, “what about us?” He, thank God, is safe at home with his family. But, many of his friends and colleagues are not. Many are serving in Iraq or Afghanistan now, and many never made it home. I know he wishes that, just once, public respects would be paid to these fallen heroes as well.

On this show, Oprah and Michelle Obama admitted that, until recently, they did not know anyone who was serving in the war. And that, without this connection, they too were part of the epidemic of disconnection. To be honest, before marrying my husband, I knew a few people who were serving, but I didn’t really understand their, or their families’, sacrifice. I, too, was very disconnected.

My husband's second Iraq tour was while we were dating. And although I worried about him every day, I didn’t fully comprehend what he was experiencing, or the impact that this war would have on him, or on our relationship. It wasn’t until his homecoming, and seeing the effects of his trauma, that it started to sink in. I started to understand what this could mean for us, just in time for him to leave—again. This time, we were married, and dealing with this separation and fear as a family. And it was harder than I could ever have imagined. I felt, during those eleven months, more disconnected than ever.

Even as a military spouse, I have fallen into this epidemic of disconnection. During his deployments, we lived an hour away from post, I never attended an FRG (family readiness group) meeting, and had very minimal contact with other military spouses. I justified that I didn’t need the support, that I could handle his deployment and our readjustment period alone, that I was strong enough to do this on my own. All typical justifications, and all completely delusional.

I, thankfully, had many supportive friends. They tried their very best to help me through the difficult times, but they couldn’t fully understand. And, to be fair, I didn’t give them much of a chance to. I would joke about how tired I was, but never really admitted how truly exhausted, depressed, and afraid I was. I didn’t talk about how worried I was that the man who was coming home may not be the same man who left. I didn’t talk about how alone I felt. I did break down, on occasion, but always brushed it off as fatigue. I know that my closest friends saw through this fa├žade, but didn't really know what to do.

I never truly felt connected to military spouses either, until recently. It wasn't until we moved halfway across the country, away from my comfort zone, that I started to realize how much I needed this Army wife community. Not long ago, my daughter asked if an event we were attending was 'on or off post' and talked about 'stopping by the PX' on the way home. “Wow, you really sound like an Army kid,” I quipped. “Well, I am,” she responded. Of course. I guess she understood our connection even sooner than I did. She knew that she was part of, not only our family, but of the military family. And when her teacher brought up the topic of the Iraq war, she proudly raised her hand and said, "my Dad has been four times. And we're really, really glad he's home." She knew that we had experienced sadness and difficulties that many other military families have felt. It took me a bit longer to make that connection.

Now, I can say that I am honored to be an Army wife. I finally feel connected to the thousands of other women who have cried themselves to sleep at night, waited for the messenger to buzz or phone to ring, and counted down to homecoming, only to wonder what the effects of this deployment may have been. I wish I would have reached out to this sisterhood sooner, for my sake and for our children's. But, I am so very glad that I have now.

Military families rarely ask for help. I know that this is true for me, and for many of the military wives I have had the fortune of meeting. If we do ask for help, it is usually of another military spouse. But, part of the reason that civilians feel disconnected is because we segregate ourselves. I truly believe that it is important for military wives to stay connected to, and build new connections with, women who are not married to the military--we need to be connected to them, and they need to be connected to us. If you feel like they can’t understand, help them. People want to be connected, they want to understand, they just need to know how. And we can never bring attention back to this war, and to our soldiers, until we start speaking up.

For civilians who are reading this, I'm asking you to find a way to be connected. It doesn't matter if you support this war or not. Many military members and their families don't support it either. But, they're fighting in it, and sacrificing, so they...we...deserve your support.

Bob Woodward suggested simply Googling "injured soldiers in {insert your city}" to find an agency that supports soldiers and their families. Excellent idea. But, I would also suggest finding the military families in your area and asking them what you can do to help. You can find a military family in your neighborhood, or your children's schools, or a faith group. They're close to you, somewhere. They may not ask for your help or your shoulder, but I can guarantee you that they probably need both. Whether you volunteer to build houses for wounded soldiers, or simply offer to shovel your neighbor's driveway while her husband is deployed, there are ways to get involved. You just have to ask.

Don’t let this be the war of apathy. Don't let this epidemic of disconnection continue. We have a chance to make soldiers feel like heroes again. We have a chance to make military families feel loved and appreciated. And we, as military families, have a chance to reach out and receive the help we so desperately need.

It’s time to help one another. It’s time we get connected once again.

4 comments:

  1. Terrific post! I couldn't have said it better myself. I find myself trying to stay more and more connected with what is happening overseas, but I admit it's because I have a loved one serving.

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  2. wow! Well said. I too was like you during my husbands first deployment. I didn't attend a FRG meeting and I keep to myself. It took a move for me too to understand why I needed other military wives! Even now as a recuriter's wife I need others who understand!

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  3. Beautifully written, I am sure a lot of spouses agree.

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  4. Thank you all for the kind comments. We do all need each other, and I'm so very grateful to have connected with each of you!

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