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Sacrifice and Service of US Military Men and Women

With today being Memorial Day, I am not only thinking of the sacrifices of so many men and women who have served in our military, I am also thinking of one particular person’s willingness to serve her country – my daughter. The point of this holiday is to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice and died serving in the military. My daughter will be coming home soon, and there are too many who will never get to do that. I have a tremendous amount of respect, sorrow, and gratitude for this. I also have seen many smaller sacrifices our military service men and women make. I know I couldn’t possibly capture all of what this means here in a blog post, but read on for a tiny glimpse into what life is like for our military and their families, from the perspective of one sailor’s mom.

I think we are all aware of these things on some level, but now that I’ve been closer to the experience, I have a whole new appreciation for the details of what each of these means:

They leave their home and loved ones.

Almost four years ago, I attended her Navy basic training graduation. We didn’t have a clear idea of what was in store for the next four years – for her or for us back home. We were not thinking about sacrifices – we were excited and hopeful.

There are no words to describe how fantastic it was to see that door opening, knowing that in seconds I was going to see her march in, and be able to give her a big hug very soon. For her, she had not only been away from home, friends, family and all that was familiar – she had been immersed in a whole new life full of hard work, no privacy, some sailor puking at any given time, pain, and lack of sleep.

Over the next four years she would go on two deployments and have countless additional days at sea for training and testing exercises. In port, days are long and the work is tedious. At sea, days are long, busy, and aircraft are launching off and landing back on the carrier at all hours. All through this – she missed a lot of special events like graduations, weddings, birthdays, and holidays. And constantly missed everyone back home. Yes, there are bright moments too like receiving a care package, or getting a day of liberty in a foreign port. But none of this takes away from being homesick and being away from people you love.

Difficult living conditions.

I had the great fortune to do what’s called a Tiger Cruise, which is when family members can live on the ship with their sailors for the last leg of a deployment, usually for a week or two. Mine was from Hawaii to San Diego a few years ago. It is a fantastic experience and also is an in-your-face look at how they live on deployments. I absolutely know there are worse conditions for soldiers and marines. But sailors don’t have it easy at all.

How in the world do the big guys fit in the racks to sleep? There wasn’t enough room for me to turn over easily and I nearly fell out of mine in the middle of the night the first night. The rack I slept in was about three and a half feet above the floor, and it was comedy in action watching me get in or out. The pallet can barely be called that at about four inches thick. I have no idea how those sailors do it on seven to eight month deployments.

It is amazing to see how well space is utilized on a Navy ship, but this also means that there is very little room for a sailor’s personal space–either for your stuff or your body. Tight quarters mean that tempers can flare pretty easily, especially near the end of a deployment. I have gained a whole new respect for how being in the military means you must be able to organize your self and your stuff and be able to function with the absolute minimum. The limited space also means there is simply very little room for comfort.

In port, the barracks are not much better!

On top of having to live like this, every sailor I’ve talked to simply took these things in stride. Yes, they complain sometimes and yes, they can get irritated with the conditions. But they also accept them and deal with it, and often they laugh about it. When asked about the living conditions, the response I heard most often was something like, “Hey, it is what it is.”

Not-so-great food.

This probably falls under “difficult living conditions” but I felt it deserved its own separate place in this list. I can’t imagine the level of effort that goes into keeping enough food on a carrier to feed 5,000 sailors, or what goes into getting it prepared three times a day. I never thought about this before I saw it in action. And as you might expect, the quality suffers a bit. When I was on the ship for a week, neither I nor any of the visiting family members I spent time with expected great food, and it wasn’t. We knew this was a working Navy ship, not Carnival Cruise Lines. But apparently they brought better food on board for the Tiger Cruise, and you would have thought we were having the best food in all our lives to hear the sailors talk about how great it was.

They are in harm’s way.

Every single person in the military knows that he or she may be called on to make that ultimate sacrifice. They know it every day, and willingly put themselves in harm’s way. I have to say that it has astonished me when I’ve asked any soldier, sailor, marine or airman about this. Without exception, every single one I have asked has brushed it off as if they are embarrassed to acknowledge how important this is. It isn’t living in denial, and it doesn’t seem like fear either. It is humility. And acceptance that this is what they committed to. This is part of why we call them heroes.

Sailors manning the rails, USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74), entering Pearl Harbor. February, 2012.

I hope that my own gratitude for our military members’ sacrifices comes across here. If you are feeling this, too, you might be wondering what you can do to show it.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Send a care package – many military support organizations have occasional “packing parties,” especially as it gets close to the holiday season. If you are interested in learning more about this, give me a call and I’m happy to talk about it! Getting a package means a lot, especially on long deployments.
  • Say thank you – to any military service person you meet. They appreciate hearing it.
  • Contribute to an organization that serves the military community such as Give An Hour, or Wounded Warrior Project.

I’d love to hear from you if you have any comments, noticed I missed something important, or have a question.

Thank you to each and every one of you who have served, or are serving now.

Sailors manning the rails, USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74), entering Pearl Harbor. February, 2012.