Military Families Wait and Wonder on Syria

Damascus at night/Wikimedia Commons

Damascus at night/Wikimedia Commons

A couple of weeks ago, Barbara Starr of CNN started a storm when she said, in response to a question about proposed air/missile strikes on Syria:

“ … I don’t think it’s really going to affect military families at all. This is going to be, if it it is ordered, a cruise missile strike, no U.S. troops on the ground, Navy ships out in the eastern Mediterranean that would be on deployment anyhow. So the capability is there. The money is there. Because what we’re talking about is something that will last, we are told, just potentially a couple of days.”

The military community reacted quickly and angrily.  As Rebekah Sanderlin and Molly Blake wrote in the Huffington Post,

“There is no such thing as a person-less war. Our military cannot afford for Americans to forget that wars and battles and military strikes are fought by troops, that troops are people, and that those people have families.”

They also wondered, as did we all, if the money is there, why we weren’t able to pay for federal employees for a full week during the summer!

Ms. Starr is a conscientious and talented journalist who has covered military matters for a long time. So this statement was even more puzzling.  We know that the “military civilian divide” is a yawning chasm, and while we don’t enjoy the common mistakes made by civilians and journalists [a Marine is NOT a soldier, really!], we have learned to roll with the and put them down to lack of knowledge.  Hearing something like this from someone who should know better, though (and to be fair, she has apologized on Twitter for saying it) was all the more shocking.

Sequestration has hit military families pretty hard; many of us have friends who have been furloughed, waits for medical appointments have become longer and longer, family support has been weakened, childcare on post is hard to find.   In the D.C. area, where many service members come to retire and hope for a contractor job, the pickings are exceedingly slim; and the contractors are laying off staff.

I won’t go into the pros and cons of the Syrian argument, although I can say that the differences in opinion are not limited to the civilian sector.  However,  the feeling of when is it YOUR turn has been bubbling up.  Resentment of the “Americans are war weary” argument  when most of America hasn’t been touched by the 12 years of wars (yes, I know, your taxes, your taxes…) is an inflammatory subject as well.  As Robert Samuelson of The Washington Post asked, what are most Americans weary of?

“The pain, suffering, sorrow and anguish of these and other losses are borne by a tiny sliver of Americans: those who joined the volunteer military, plus their families and close friends. There was no draft. There was no shared sacrifice, as there was in World War II, Korea and (to a lesser extent) even Vietnam. Those who have made the sacrifices have a right to feel ‘weary.’ For the rest of us, it’s a self-indulgence.”

Some may consider it whining, when Babette Maxwell of Military Spouse Magazine wrote,

“We’ve been surviving on emotional, mental and physical credit for half this war…and, the credit limit?  It has been exceeded multiple times over.  There is just nowhere else to go for us.”

But it does pose a valid question.  How much more are we, that little 1%, supposed to do?  Yes, I know, I KNOW, our spouses volunteered; and they will do what they are ordered to do.  But at some point, there has to be a price paid!  While retention panels meet and numbers of soldiers are slashed, while careers are being cut short, training flights are cut, and Navy deployments schedules are shuffled about like a toddler flinging a deck of cards in the air – we are being faced with yet another area of conflict.  We keep hearing that the military is just too expensive, too big and needs to be slashed, all the while continuing to fight one war (yes, please remember that there are still units deploying) and caring for  the wounded  that continue to fill the wards at Bethesda and Brooks Army Medical Center; and now we wonder if we are going to be facing another front on this never ending “war on terror.”

As the TV pundits on all sides pontificate and retired senior officials continue their prognostications, military families sit and wait on tenterhooks for orders, or wonder if the ships are coming home when scheduled.  I have been hearing from caregivers that veterans with PTSD are also being affected by this war news.  Waiting is not easy on any of us, and when military families are this tired, this worn out, it takes a lot out of us.

Karen Francis is a writer and military spouse in the Washington, D.C. area and is the Military Families Editor for The Broad Side. Karen is the principal of KFVA Virtual Assisting, a company that provides freelance writing and editing services.
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