(The following are my comments from the welcome home ceremony yesterday.)
Three weeks ago my wife was called for jury duty for this week. When she explained that I was coming home from a year in Iraq and needed to come and pick me up the woman said, “I don’t mean to sound cold hearted, but can’t someone else get him?”
Sixty five years ago we were a nation at war. The war was a part of the national consciousness and everyone made sacrifices. Hundreds of thousands of families hung blue stars in their windows. Industry altered its production to support the effort and no aspect of daily life went untouched from gas rationing to war bond drives.
Forty years ago the nation was again in a war that again elevated to the national consciousness, although at times the battle seemed to be among ourselves as some openly challenged the system and the government because the sacrifice of the draft in an unpopular war was a bitter pill to swallow.
Today, we are not a nation at war. There is no sacrifice made across the whole of society and the events in Iraq and Afghanistan barely register the national consciousness. Right now the greatest sacrifice the nation has to pay in the global war on terror is having to take off their shoes in the airport.
While we are not a nation at war, we are an army at war. The greatest strength of this army is that we have volunteered for our service, dedicated to the preservation of freedom at home and even the establishment of freedom in a place called Iraq. Without the nation behind us and with only volunteers, we go off to war. And indeed sacrifices have to be made. Most of these sacrifices are borne by our families and friends during our deployment.
Soldiers can endure most anything; heat, dust, bugs, and long days with little sleep. When they do sleep it’s on hard cots, or in seats on 15 hour bus rides. Most times a Soldier will gripe, for that is our nature, but they’ll also be thankful, knowing it could always be worse. It’s easy for a Soldier to make sacrifices and endure.
What Soldiers don’t realize and never expect are the sacrifices our families and friends make every day that we are away because, for us, there is no void in the deployment in Iraq where our loved ones used to be.
For our spouses and significant others; you went to bed every night feeling that divot where we used to lay. You acted as both sets of parents having to be both the disciplinarian and the sympathetic shoulder to cry on. You managed the household; the bills, the lawn, the dishes, the snow.
For our parents; rhere was no end to your worry when the phone rang unexpectedly late at night. You hung your blue star with pride and prayed that you’d never join that exclusive club who turned their stars from blue to gold.
For our children; you played your games with one less fan to cheer you on. You played in the band with one less set of hands for applause. You turned a year older without us there and hoping for a fifteen minute phone call and a good connection.
For our friends; you went out with the gang on Friday nights minus one; the one who could be counted on for a laugh or a ride home. You missed that one person who you could vent to about your latest soon-to-be ex.
Many of you had joyous moments that you spent alone, a child’s first smile, a great promotion at work, or a great report card. You also anguished without us being there during moments of tremendous sadness; intolerable loneliness, the passing of friends, the loss of a child.
You carried all of these burdens; many times with exquisite grace. You not only kept your selves afloat but also managed to keep our spirits up – 8,000 miles away – as well. There is no depth of our gratitude and we cannot begin to appreciate what you have accomplished in our absence. Without a doubt, of the two groups, you mission was harder.
When the nation’s attention finally does turn to the Soldiers standing in front of you they refer to us as “heroes” – a title befitting to each and every one of us. However, we stand before you today to say thank you. We are indebted to you. We could not have done our job without you. We applaud you.
(We're home. It's done. All of my Soldiers are on their way to their families. One more post to go.)