Do you know someone who has been fighting in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars? That was the question Oprah and Tom Brokaw asked in a recent show about The Bravest Families in America. The question was an easy “yes” for me – my father retired eight years ago as a Commander in the United States Navy, after serving in Iraq. But the next question they posed really made me stop and think. “What you have done to help and honor these brave people and their families?” Shamefully, I feel I haven’t done anything. When I see soldiers in uniform strolling through the airport in their fatigues, I always smile and tell them, “thank you,” but a simple thanks just doesn’t seem to be enough. I was astounded to find out that only 1% of the American population “bears 100% of the burden of battle.” This is so few people to sacrifice so much.
I know that the majority of us are grateful for the brave work of our soldiers, but it’s also important to remember the sacrifices their families make so that their loved ones can serve. I was very young when my father was called to serve in the first Gulf War. I remember being at a friend’s slumber party when her mom came to me and told me he was on the phone and had to leave that night. Being a military kid, you always know there’s a possibility your parent will “get the call” to leave at any moment, sometimes for days, weeks or even months. But no young person can ever truly be prepared for a parent being called to war for an extended tour. I’ll never forget that night, nor will I ever forget when he was called to action for the Iraq War. I was older, in my sophomore year in college, but still as frightened as a young girl. I am grateful that my Dad returned home from both deployments unharmed, and I know that there are many, many families who aren’t so lucky.
As difficult as it can be having a parent at war, growing up as a “Navy Brat” was an amazing experience that shaped me into the confident woman I am today. Being around so many people from different backgrounds, sharing such close bonds, influenced my decision to enter the world of public relations. The military is a unique family, and very few people truly understand what you go through. All the dance recitals, basketball games, birthdays, and holidays that your parents have to miss are made just a little easier when you have so many understanding people in the same boat. Being in a military family has taught me the value of strong relationships, both in my work and in life.
Only recently, however, did I have a “light bulb moment” when it comes to our obligation to U.S. troops and their families. Whether you are in support of the wars we are engaged in or are against them, one thing is certain: these soldiers, and their families, are making a huge sacrifice. As Oprah commented during her interview with Tom Brokaw, regardless of your political affiliation, “you bleed the same, and hurt the same.” Right now soldiers are hurting, families are hurting, and two parent households have become single parent households overnight while one parent serves. I remember my stepmom having to play both mother and father to me and my brothers while my Dad was away. While she – like so many other military spouses – did it with awe-inspiring strength and grace, the burden didn’t have to fall so heavily on her shoulders. Each of us should make an effort to support military families.
What can we do to help? It’s easy to search for organizations in our hometowns that support military families and enable us to lend a helping hand however we can. As the daughter of a veteran who experienced first-hand the big impact that little acts of kindness can make, I feel certain that I can do something to help. I was a makeup artist for years, so I’ve decided to reach out to a group of military moms and give them a day of makeovers. If a little break and some pampering could help ease their minds, even for a few moments, then I am more than happy to help.
Remember: Just 1% percent of the U.S. population is bearing 100% of the burden of battle. They are doing more than their share. What can we contribute?