Imagine decorating your home for the holidays, shopping online, slogging through the malls, making the rounds of holiday parties, all the while thinking about a loved one serving our country in uniform in a dangerous faraway place.
The website statista.com states there are 225,000 Americans serving in the military overseas. Another site, vetfriends.com, cites a slightly higher number while other sites list 170,000 deployed abroad.
The numbers don’t really matter if one of those people is your son, daughter, husband, partner, nephew, grandmother, aunt — you get the picture. Out of the 329 million Americans, there is a distinct minority who will celebrate the holidays and ring in the new year with the thought of their loved one’s safety always at the back of their mind.
If someone you love is deployed, their safety, happiness and well-being is always your concern even though you know the best you can do to make them happy is FaceTime them on a regular basis, send them care packages, and keep the home fires burning.
If you are a parent and your spouse or partner is deployed, you’re playing a mental game of balancing your own approach to parenting with the question, “OK, what would she do?” If you are a parent of someone serving overseas, you are the person who has the conversation with your kids when they are lonely and miss their mother or father. You are the one who answers questions and provides information when bad news from abroad about bombings, shootings, helicopter or aircraft crashes erupts on the internet or television.
I met someone who served five tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. and he said the key to keeping a family intact over that time span is making sure the spouse at home has the final word on everything that has to do with home.
He also tried to explain the complicated process of reassuring young children that safety has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with training, preparedness, alertness and, most of all, the support and professionalism of the people serving around you.
Most of his words went over my head and made about as much sense as an advanced physics lecture; I heard what he was saying but I didn’t really understand it.
Ask the average American their opinion about fellow citizens serving abroad in uniform and, for the most part, they are likely to reply, “I support them and I hope they stay safe.”
Most Americans will kick in a couple of bucks to support a school drive to send treats or toiletries to troops overseas. Most will applaud a member of the military returning home.
But most of us — maybe all of us — who do not have a loved one stationed in a foreign country don’t know what it is like to lie awake at night worrying about that person. We don’t know what it is like to go from being a partner in a relationship when it comes to parenting, bill paying, food shopping and housecleaning to being the sole provider while our other half serves in uniform.
One of the highlights of this year’s holiday commercialization onslaught is the advertisement showing people springing to action to help make the season brighter for the family of a woman deployed overseas. The ad offers an insight into Americans who get the job done because there is absolutely no way they are letting down someone in uniform who voluntarily serves for months, often years, far away from their family.
If you’re not in a military family, it’s hard to understand what people go through and what they need to do to make separation from loved ones tolerable. They bear a burden most of us are likely to never shoulder. Their needs, their worries, are not ours until we step back and realize their sacrifice and the sacrifice made by every American serving is as unselfish an act as any citizen of this nation can perform.
To endure privations, loneliness, and worry to keep the United States of America safe around the clock, 365 days a year, is as pure a definition of self sacrifice as anyone can make.
We will never repay the sacrifice Americans who gave their lives for their country have made. If we aren’t walking in their shoes, we will never fully know the sacrifices made by Americans serving abroad and by their families at home.
But we can start by thinking about them during the holidays and, when the opportunity arises, we can make the sacrifice and go the extra mile to ensure we help our neighbors, coworkers and everyone else serving abroad and their families.
Freedom, as any one of them can remind us, is not free.