In our first conversation, Coming Home: Veterans Readjusting to Civilian Life, our contributors — including veterans, family members of veterans and members of organizations that support veterans — share their own stories, offer insights on the challenges facing returning veterans, and provide tips and resources on the kinds of support that families, friends and communities can offer veterans.
Throughout the course of our lifetimes, we make and break bonds with people. Some bonds are formed in friendship: schoolmates, neighbors, fellow workers. I have close friends from each of those groups. I maintain, however, that the bonds forged in military service are perhaps the strongest of all bonds. Stronger than steel. Stronger than adversity. Stronger than time.
We all know the story of veterans sittin' around and one says, "No kidding! There I was..." followed by a story of improbability or hilarity, typically punctuated with profanity, irreverent phrases and sordid images. It will end with much backslapping and hearty handshakes. The circle might contain members of a single unit or a single war, or it might contain an assortment of veterans from many of this nation's conflicts. But they are bonded and tied to each other by the commonality of their service. Some are bonded by mettle and the blood of battle. You need look no further than the Illiad or the St. Crispen's Day speech from Shakespeare's Henry V for evidence of the emotional connection these men share.
My husband's military service began almost a half century ago, and ended half that long ago, but the friends that could pick up the phone or walk in our door without missing a beat, the friends we welcomed most warmly, are those with whom he served.
There are other bonds in the military community — those between the families of our servicemen and women. Parents of soldiers form bonds with each other, as do the spouses and the children of soldiers. The relationships between some milspouses (military spouses) are as close as blood sisters. I cannot begin to count the number of spontaneous hugs I have received from and given to other Blue Star moms. We — spouses and parents — form these bonds based on our shared experiences and our shared worry; we find solace and consolation among our "brothers and sisters." We know that they know.
Some of my closest friends today are people I didn't know before my son deployed. We met via military blogs (including my own) and private online Internet forums established by parents of soldiers — one by a Third Infantry Division parent, another established by military moms for military moms. These were places to share information, to share worry, to celebrate good news and to commiserate when the news was bad. These were places that let us share this bond, hammered and shaped by our worry for our sons and daughters. Another soldier's mother, whom I had never met, was the first to call me after my son was wounded; the blogger wife of an Air Force blogger, who was stationed in Germany, emailed to offer their assistance when I blogged that we would be traveling to Landstuhl to see our wounded son there. Because I have publicly written about my experience with deployment, and my son's personal struggles PTSD, I receive emails and comments from mothers, wives and other family members of those who are deployed, about to be deployed and those who have returned. Some seek advice while others simply wish to say "I have been there, too!!" These relationships are equal parts ethereal and practical; as much emotional as they are physical. It involves both the spiritual and the material worlds — prayers and novena candles as well as care packages and cookie recipes. It is an inclusive sisterhood for which we did not volunteer, but in which we are now forever members.
We don't intentionally keep others out of the circle, but until you have been where we are, you cannot be in the circle. It's not that we believe no one else could possibly understand what we endure, but we know that other mothers and spouses of deployed soldiers fully understand. It's akin to knowing how to drive a stick transmission. You either do or you don't. I know many mothers and wives (and veterans themselves) will smile reading that sentiment.
Military service generally — and deployment more specifically — is the bond that ties us to one another. We are now related and connected — like hands held in a circle or people gathered in a group hug. It is that way now as it has been for all the centuries that men have gone to fight and wives and mothers have sent their men to war.
Blogger, Some Soldier's Mom. On what it's like to have a child at war.
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The Tradition of the Christmas Tree »
PTSD: A Different Perspective, Part II »