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POV Regarding War

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Deployments and children

written by Andrew Lubin
on September 15, 2010

My son is out on his fifth deployment. I've seen him off for every one; perhaps it's become a Lubin family ritual. The first one in January 2003 was difficult; neither of us knew what to expect from the anticipated invasion of Iraq. Both of us were nervous at dinner that last night. Under all of our mutual BS and bravado was his worry that he'd measure up as a Marine, and my worry about him coming home.

These days, deployment is no big deal. We have a few too many drinks, of course, but I'm reasonably confident he'll come home, and his concerns about performance under pressure were answered long ago. But he's got a seven-year-old son who misses his dad terribly, and my usual snappy ooh-rah answers are lost on him.

4th of July 014.jpg

Semper Fidelis is the Marine Corps motto, also known as Semper Fi. It's Latin for "always faithful" — to your country, to your family, to your fellow Marine. It's an elegant and refreshing code of ethics in a world of Wall Street chicanery and politicians of dubious integrity. But seven-year-olds don't yet think in these terms; to my grandson, "always faithful" means a dad who takes him to the park, who helps him with his homework and reads to him at night.

With Cpl Dad fighting in Helmand Province, Semper Fi means I'm filling in. A lot of it is fun; I got my grandson some USMC shirts and a boonie cap to wear, and he can "Oohrah Devil Dog" with the best of them. He knows Marines are the bravest warriors in the world — although it took some convincing that Marines were tougher and stronger than Power Rangers. Thanksgiving week with Dad at 29 Palms Marine Corps Base in California sold him on the coolness of artillery and tanks, but in truth his favorite part was staying up late with his father and watching movies. Perhaps adults understand Semper Fi as the Marines storming ashore at Tarawa, while children view "always faithful" as father and son hanging out together.

Buzz & Dad @ 29 Palms 050.jpg

Sometimes it's less than fun, like when I have to come up with a comforting answer when he says to me, "My brain said it was OK for my eyes to cry a little when my dad left us at the airport."

Cpl Dad left in April and now my reassuring answers to Grandson sound stale. I've used Google Earth to show him how far Helmand Province and Dad's base is from his home in Pennsylvania; it lets me explain time zones and how our evening is his morning — and then we take photos that we send as a "Good morning Dad" email. We watch the photos and videos of Dad that I took when spending a few days on his base during my recent embed; seeing his father, his tent, and those big machine guns reassures him considerably. I've shown him my photos of Afghan women and children and how they live; my idea is to explain Dad, war and Afghanistan in terms he can comprehend.

So I think he understands why Dad calls only sporadically but I never — ever — tell him that Cpl Dad didn't call because his base is River City. No child needs to think his dad didn't call because he's dead or wounded.

It helps immensely that the Marine Corps understands this; six weeks ago I received a video in the mail from Dad. A Marine Combat Camera team had spent a few days on his base and shot a short video of every Marine. Dad's was of him sitting on his rack, addressing his son, showing him his M-4 rifle and then reading him a short children's story. "How many fathers get to read their son a story from Afghanistan?" he asked in the video; we watch that video a lot.

The intricacies of geopolitics, however, are lost on a seven-year-old, so when I'm asked, "Why is my dad in Afghanistan?" my answer is along the lines of, "Some bad men are hurting moms and children, and your brave dad volunteered to make them stop." That's well and good, and I think he understands — until he asks me again, "So why doesn't my dad call me?" Then it's no fun at all, but "always faithful" enables me to smile at him and quietly explain again.

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