I watched the colors being furled on BBC. The military community internet is full of reflections on Iraq – the nine years of war left a huge footprint in our lives. Opinion is, and always was, divided on this war. Those of us who were living through the deployments, those who were sitting by phones waiting for the once a week call, those who crossed yet another day off the calendar, were of many different minds about the war itself. We either turned on the news obsessively, or refused to watch anything to do with it. We didn’t wonder about the rightness or wrongness of the war. We were too busy trying to hold our lives together, we were too busy comforting our children, we were too busy trying to figure out how to handle our changed lives when our spouse or child came home forever changed.
I remember the first months of my son’s Iraq deployment, when mail took weeks to get to him; I remember trying to figure out where he was. Sadr City, Najaf, Fallujah, Balad, Mosul. Those names became as familiar to me as the towns in Minnesota. When my husband went downrange, I learned more names – the names of the little towns where the funerals of the Minnesota Guardsmen were held. The excruciating sight of the mourning families, the stunning view of the entire population of the town standing vigil on the side of the road watching the procession pass, the heart stopping roar of dozens of motorcycles starting up at once when the Patriot Guard accompanied the cortege to the cemetery, those were seared into my memories. The stunned shock when we were told about the Surge – you don’t forget the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach very easily.
Watching the Walter Reed scandal explode on the pages of every newspaper in the country and reverberate around the world, listening to the excuses of those who told us “you go to war with the Army you have” was so very painful. As Section 60 at Arlington filled up, and the Patriot Guard rode mission after mission, our families watched in pain and dread that they would eventually have to be in that first car after the hearse. I watched the divisions in the military spouse community split us apart. The war was played out not only on TV, but on the internet. Blogging became our outlet, and the stories of pain, love, hurt and triumph ricocheted through the community. Lines were drawn, and friendships ruined.
Family support became the new watchword for DoD, as they scrambled to figure out what to do, when they realized that they needed to do a lot more to support families; that the old saying “if we wanted you to have a wife, we’d have issued you one” didn’t apply; that this new all volunteer force was younger, had families that were coping with back to back deployments and needed support. Programs were thrown up, some remain, some collapsed, others are limping along. Support organizations sprang up, some collapsed, some should be closed and those in charge put in jail, some are working hard.
The flag has been furled – but the pain goes on. The families that were shattered, a friend who lost a son and misses him every day; the wounded who will persevere but whose lives were irrevocably changed — for them it’s just another day. The new programs that were put in place to help are under threat of budget cuts, but the problems continue long after the flags are furled and cased. Post-traumatic stress syndrome doesn’t care if a flag is flying or not; traumatic brain injury isn’t going to be healed because a page has been turned in our history. For military families, this war is NOT over. For many of us, it never will be. The country may think its heard the last of the Iraq War, but it will never hear the last of it as long as there are veterans and families who will need the support of their country.