Sunday, September 30, 2012
Serving An Entire Country
Part of the emotionality came when my brother-in-law and his superior both spoke about the life and career that was coming to a close. I was reminded of the skinny kid from Indiana who went to basic training and traveled across the globe to Japan and Spain. I was reminded of the homes in California, Virginia, Georgia, Texas, Washington and Illinois and the months and years spent on a ship while his children grew up at home with their mom, my sister. I was reminded of orders that made sense to me like his unit being called to help after Hurricane Andrew and ones that didn't, like going to Iraq. It was intensely moving for me to hear him summarize his life and what all the choices had meant and what all the people in his life meant.
I've never really understood the military life that my brother-in-law chose. I was terrified when their oldest son enlisted during wartime and was called to serve in Afghanistan. I assume that most of our leaders aren't really thinking of the tremendous sacrifice of our military personnel and I get angry when money and power seem to matter more than people. I've had the painful moments where my "loving the soldier but not the war" stance left me feeling uncomfortable with my family. The bottom line though, is that I am proud of my brother-in-law. I'm really glad that I was able to share in the special ceremony. I think he was happy to have us be a part of the day as well, especially my son playing "Taps" for the closing.
The following morning the two of us, from two very different walks of life - military and human services, had the most amazing conversation. We talked politics for about an hour. Usually that is taboo and we did it during an election year! Both of us are pretty calm people and we were clearly trying to use language that wasn't too intense or accusatory but there was something else. We discussed health care, education, taxes, the role of government and the future of the U.S. We talked about budget cuts, gun laws and which Presidents had shown genuine concern for the military (his opinion was based on how they had treated the military personnel stationed at the White House and Camp David). We didn't reference which candidates we would be voting for (although he can see my bumper sticker for Obama) and we didn't lash out or put anyone down. We just talked about what was important to us.
It was a great dialogue because we both had the other's respect. No matter our differences, he knew that we had traveled to come and honor his 26 years of service. I knew that those 26 years were spent serving an entire country, not just the citizens who think like him or vote like him or pray like him. I don't understand a lot of things about the military but I understand that serving an entire country is what good leaders do. Our elected leaders need to practice more of that type of service.