For over 30 years my family has lived in the shadow of one of the largest military training bases in the country, Fort Jackson, in Columbia, South Carolina. I’ve attended church with, lived beside, and educated my children with those who serve in the United States Army. I’ve formed deep friendships with women whose husbands have served in Desert Storm, Iraq, and Afghanistan. But it wasn’t until my daughter married a United States Naval officer that I truly began to understand the deep sacrifices these men, women, and families make on behalf of our country.
We should never stop appreciating our military because of what they give and what they give up.
What Our Military Gives:
The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) website published the following list of ways the U.S. Army changes lives in America: They provide medical assistance in impoverished areas, food and humanitarian relief, security at embassies and other locations, policing in volatile areas, natural disaster relief, law enforcement, and piracy and drug interdiction.
The US Navy-Marine Corps-Coast Guard team helps keep the seas open and free. “The world’s oceans provide shipping lanes for commerce and cargo to move unmolested from their places of origin to the Amazon warehouse or small business or Wal-Mart in your home town,” the AEI website explains. “Over 90% of world trade by weight is transported by sea, including almost all commodities necessary for the basic operation of the global economy.” You thought most of our goods travel by long-haul tractor-trailers? The rigs we see on the roads every day usually carry freight that traveled to the US by sea.
Do you enjoy surfing the internet? Thank the Navy. Ninety-nine percent of global communications flow through undersea fiber optic cables. Not only does the Navy protect what’s above the water, it also protects what’s beneath it.
US Navy presence in the South China Sea contributes to economic stability in one of the fastest-growing regions of the world. Its presence in the Persian Gulf contributes to the low oil prices we’ve enjoyed for the last few years. Its global presence helps limit piracy, thus ensuring lower prices for the goods we buy every day.
What Our Military Gives Up:
A Normal Family Life
How would you feel if you kissed your spouse goodbye and knew you wouldn’t see him or her for six, nine, or 12 months? During that time your baby will learn to walk, your 5-year-old will complete his entire kindergarten year, and your teenage son will learn to drive—without them. Deployed members of the military sometimes miss their babies’ births, children’s graduations, and best friends’ funerals.
Depending on their assignment and job description, some members of the military are separated from their families for anywhere from three to 12 months at a time. “Many of these people spend as much time away as at home,” the AIE website states.
And while technology like email, texting, Skype, and FaceTime helps them stay connected, communication is often spotty or non-existent. If a sailor is out to sea or patrolling hostile waters, their ship often experiences internet outages or limitations, meaning no email or Facebook messages come in or out. Days or weeks pass before sailors are allowed to communicate with their loved ones. In the meantime, their families wonder, worry, and pray.
Separation takes a heavy toll on marriages and family relationships. Loneliness and boredom are often a military spouse’s constant companions. On overseas assignments, depending on where a serviceman/woman is stationed, their spouses may be prohibited from working, thus adding to their isolation. Unfamiliarity with language and culture make even the simplest tasks, like driving or grocery shopping difficult. Although married, military spouses often act as both father and mother to their children, shouldering the responsibilities of both partners when their spouses are away or unavailable.
Comfortable Living Conditions
I’m confident our United States Military does its best to provide soldiers and sailors with the best possible living arrangements, but because of the nature of their assignments, conditions are often harsh and spartan. As Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz said, “There’s no place like home,” and deployment assignments are no place like home. From the heat, sun, and sand of the Middle East to the artificially lit, cramped quarters of a destroyer’s belly, members of the military often live in close proximity with few creature comforts. Their assignments sometimes involve around-the-clock shifts with no days off.
Traditional Worship and Spiritual Guidance
As of 2011, the military has approximately 2,900 chaplains. Ministering to 1.4 million active duty military personnel, they conduct worship services, provide counseling, lead Bible studies, and support members and their families. These chaplains are hardworking and dedicated, but there just isn’t enough of them to go around.
Servicemen/women sometimes go for months without being able to participate in a chaplain-led corporate worship service. Larger naval ships may have an assigned chaplain, but smaller ships usually do not, especially on long patrols. The lack of easily accessible spiritual advisors, combined with long work hours and scarcity of quiet space, makes it challenging to maintain spiritual focus, especially while deployed.
The Absence of Fear
One of the greatest gifts our military gives us is the ability to live free from fear. We worship unmolested and travel freely from one part of our country to another. We live, shop, work, and play without worrying about stumbling upon an IED or getting caught in the crossfire of two warring factions. While we know that terrorism and terrorists exist, we rest in the confidence that God and our military stand watch over us. This is a great gift.
Ironically, the same servicemen and women who enable us to live without fear face fear every day. Those in combat situations wonder if they’ll make it home. Their families do, too. Those who serve in support roles know their job performance can either protect or endanger the lives of their comrades. Soldiers and sailors man their posts, filter intelligence, and stand watch, willingly putting themselves in harm’s way for the sake of those at home. Some pay the ultimate price and give their lives to protect us.
Monday, May 29, is Memorial Day. Before you fire up the grill, gather with friends, or head out for a leisurely day off, take a moment to thank God for the men and women who died while serving in our country’s armed forces. Then go a step further. Write a note, send a Facebook message, or make a phone call to someone currently serving in the military. Thank them for their service. Then thank their families. The men, women, and children who keep the home fires burning are perhaps the greatest unsung heroes of them all.
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).