Thursday, February 3, 2011

They Also Serve

We had a birth this past week. The wife of one of our air force medics gave birth to their first child, Landon. Mom and baby are doing well.

Newest addition to our unit

The occasion is a good opportunity to sing the praises of the military family. It sometimes feels disproportionate to compare acknowledgment of our contributions with the acknowledgment of our families. We, the deploying service members, are hailed with accolades, shows of support, care packages, and thanks while they are unheralded. Imagine being a single parent usually with young children living in a military community removed from your social support network for six, eight, twelve or more months. My own wife has often complained that she feels like she doesn't have 5 minutes to herself. Back home, I do a lot of work on the base hospital's labor deck. It is not an exaggeration to say that not a single day passes without a delivery in the absence of the deployed father.

It is not easy on the children either. A few months back, I saw a father Skyping home at the USO. On screen, there were three school-aged girls gathered around the kitchen table when the mother appears with a birthday cake. They were having a family celebration, deployment style. Nikki, one of our newly arrived nurses, managed a few days of leave after completing the six weeks of predeployment training. She had left her behind her 22 month-old son. Initially, he was quite angry with her when they were reunited. However, all was soon forgiven. Then after a few days home, she left again to come join us here. Her son is left to readjust. We are lucky that kids are resilient.

Two recent news items, one encouraging and the other devastating, highlight the plight of military families. First, was Michelle Obama's new campaign to advocate for military families. I do not know how effective the subsequent initiative will be but I do appreciate our leaders remembering the families left behind. The other item was news of the wife of a career army officer who murdered her teenage children while he was deployed. It was the talk of our unit last week as we gave pause to wonder how our families were holding up. Obviously, you cannot lay the blame for such an unfathomable crime with the military but, on the other hand, repeated deployments, moves, and transitions compound underlying stress. We pray for those impacted, especially the father.

I am going to finish this with a bit of homerism by way of  showing how much little Landon is going to change while his dad is overseas. My son, Jack, was born days before I left for the Middle East. I last saw him when he was two days old. He is getting to be a big guy now, very busy exploring his world, sitting up, and showing support for his favorite team. I look forward to making his acquaintance and watching future Super Bowls with him.

Jack, Steeler fan

After going blind, John Milton, the English poet, wrote a sonnet about his own disability and his contribution to society, in spite of his limitations. It concluded with the famous thought "They also serve who only stand and wait." This notion was co-opted long ago to apply to military families in the midst of war. We can attest that, indeed, they do also serve.

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