I am not naive enough to believe that war does not involve ugliness beyond my imagination.
But what of the ugliness when it is experienced by the person you love most?
Who are the real casualties of war?
There are so many. So many faces near and far that haunt the soldiers we love the most.
Recently, I had a birthday – don’t ask which one, let’s play nice here – the good Sergeant Major (SGM) took me out to dinner at the restaurant we went to on our first date nearly ten years ago.
It was a beautiful, hot-as-hell summer day and I was relieved to be sitting in the a/c and sipping a glass of wine and chatting it up with the love of my life.
Behind me, above the bar area was a television displaying the latest headlines. One video clip in particular caught the SGM’s attention and he apologized for the interruption but he had to take a moment to watch. It was something regarding a group of Taliban training in the mountains of Afghanistan.
“Wow. I really miss that.”
What’s to miss? The sound of bullets piercing metal? The ringing in your ears after an IED explodes just a few meters away? The scattered, smoldering remains of the suicide bomber and his victims? The smell of death?
No thank you. I simply could not handle such things.
A knot begins to form in my belly and suddenly I am overwhelmed by the enormity of the parts of my spouse I do not know or understand. I am pretty sure I took a rather large swig of wine at this point.
How do you reconcile the man versus the soldier?
This is not a new subject between us. My SGM and I have always talked openly and honestly. He has shared the ugliness of war with me from the beginning, stories of his time as a scout sniper in Desert Storm. He speaks cautiously, carefully choosing his words as though he has yet to process these events himself. Often, it sounds as though he is reviewing a film he caught at the local cinema with a few buddies. Surreal, graphic detail of the reality of war. I find it all easy to take in at first and make sure that I am involved in the conversation. I maintain eye contact and ask questions. I ask him how it felt. I ask him how it feels now. The conversations flow, though they always come back to haunt my dreams.
I am not so disturbed by the graphic nature of war as much as I find it a strange reality to process. As if my brain is saying – hey, I don’t have a file folder for this. So it becomes an awkward bubble of information that floats from one space to the next, occasionally popping up into my consciousness and reminding me that my SGM is truly a hero in so many ways. That his service to our country to protect our freedoms does not come without a heavy price and many casualties – the lives that are lost, the lives that are changed forever and the distance that grows each day between a soldier at war and the loving arms of his family back home. The sights, the smells and the carnage of war. The heavy burdens our soldiers carry for a lifetime.
So many casualties. So many that go unnoticed –
The little girl who fell to her death from the shockwaves of a Taliban mortar – some nights I swear I can see her face.
The family whose son is ripped from their arms and made into a terrorist.
The mother and father who willingly hug their child with pride and send them off to serve this great nation – never to feel that embrace again.
The military spouse left behind to care for a child with autism – without the therapies that child needs and deserves – without a roadmap for this journey.
1 in 88 – unnecessary casualties of war.
It is time to change that.
Please support the Caring for Military Kids with Autism Act – HERE.
We cannot change the world without first being the change we seek.