Friday, November 11, 2011

Please Honor a Veteran Today

Today is Veteran’s Day. Today is filled with memories for my family and me. December 28 will be two years that we laid my father to rest.  He was a veteran, served in the Navy for 20 years. My father-in-law was an Army veteran. Lots of family members are veterans of the Armed Forces. Having grown up “military,” I took for granted the discipline, the sense of honor, the order, the work ethic, the integrity. I fantasized about marrying a military man. I dreamed about entering the military myself. Then I grew up.

Now, I remember the long months my father was at sea. Often for 11 months out of the year—home for two months-gone again for 10 months. The strain on family dynamics was great. I had a front row seat to real “Navy Wives” drama. It was also very great.  I understand the high divorce rate among military marriages. Especially servicemen that have seen battle. It does something to them, that those of us at home will never understand. Inner-city ER personnel probably come closest. The rest of us don’t have a clue.

It wasn’t until I worked at Grady Memorial Hospital, Atlanta, Georgia's inner-city hospital, that I had a glimpse of how military service can affect a person. It was then that I got to know many, many homeless people. Too many are veterans. And sometimes they come back so traumatized, so changed that they can’t find their place at home any more. They don’t fit in with their families. Sometimes their issues so severe, that in order to preserve itself, the family has to separate themselves from the troubled vet because the resources to help the vet and the families transition back to civilian life are scarce or non-existent.
When I took my mom to Fort Campbell recently, for grocery shopping, I was struck by how young the soldiers were! I don’t remember the youth. I was young. My memories are of big, strong men doing their duty. They were my heroes. I saw wives shopping and knew they were struggling with tight budgets. I wondered how many kids were missing their daddies; how many of the young men I saw would be deployed and never return home; how many joined the Army because in this economy that was the best option, and then realized they’d gotten in over their heads. I began to pray. I prayed for everyone on the base—the soldiers, the wives, the children.

On the more positive side, I love to work with former military. There is often an instant camraderie among vets and "military brats." However, the unemployment rate among former military is reportedly higher than the general population. I don’t understand that.  Former soldiers are usually dedicated to getting the job done, and getting it done right. There’s a respect for the chain of command that drastically reduces the occurrence of insubordination. Yes, soldiers and former soldiers can be hard-nosed, but it’s what I know anyway and I can deal with it. The growth of our country after WWII can be credited, in large part, to veterans taking advantage of the GI Bill, a testimony to the value of discipline and self-sacrifice.

Please honor a vet today. My family and I will go the military cemetery in West Nashville, to visit my father, father-in-law and a couple of uncles, and honor their memories. In your travels today determine how best to honor a vet—a nod, a wave, a flag or flowers at a headstone, purchasing a homeless or veteran paper from the guy on the corner, or buying him or her lunch. Whatever you are led to do, please do.
For our future veterans consider buying Girl Scout cookies to be sent overseas, next year, Boy Scout popcorn, finding a penpal, sending “Care” packages to those you know or with whom you are acquainted, however slight. There are a lot of kids overseas without family, or home connections because the service was their best option.  The tiniest gestures are appreciated more than you know. Regardless of your philosophy on war or military service, please just reach out, human to human to let them know someone cares.

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