Sunday, July 13, 2008

The serious stuff.

I heard on talk radio late last week that Sgt Jimenez & Pvt Fouty were found, and Murphy has a post and a link to a news article.

Byron Fouty apparently has a San Antonio connection. He will be buried in the National Cemetary here.

I know what I want to say, but not how to put it into words.

I support Operation Iraqi Freedom, have since it started. But I am a woman, a giver of life by God's design, and so even one death is too many.

There are, of course, no easy answers. But I want to talk about it a minute anyway.

I'm Episcopalian and every week part of the liturgy is the Prayers of the People. And in that we pray for peace, but not just for peace. We pray for peace and justice. Because although you can have peace--or at least, the absence of war--without justice...well, it's pretty meaningless. Without justice, without respect for human dignity and the right of every person to control his or her destiny, the fact that there's not an army fighting in the street doesn't mean a whole hell of a lot.

I hear a lot that we are fighting over there so we won't have to fight over here. And that's true, insofar as it goes. But I want you to consider something else:

There are American men and women fighting in Iraq not for Americans, but for Iraqis. They are giving their sweat, their blood, their brains and sometimes their lives so that, by the grace of God and the US military, total strangers half a world away can have not just peace, but justice and peace.

That's pretty damned amazing, isn't it?

I've been just close enough to the military, through my husband, to realize not just how wonderful these soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines are, but to realize just how much I don't know. How much I cannot grasp what all goes on. Every exchange has a sticker to the effect of "Navy Wife: the hardest job in the Navy." They always annoyed me. It's not the hardest. Not even close. Yes, you have the running of a household dumped on your shoulders. You have to pick up the slack of everything your husband did. You are essentially a single parent, and the fact that stuff starts to break the very day he leaves is so true it's an ongoing joke. It's not easy. But it's not the hardest job, not by far.

Hard is leaving your family. Kissing your wife and kids goodbye and taking your gear and your gun and going out into the great unknown without the slightest reassurance of whether you'll be back--or whether your family will still be there when you do return.

Robert was on the USS Boise, which enjoyed very brief fame as the first combat ship back from the war. They came back with a broom tied to the sail--clean sweep, all munitions fired, all targets hit. Two months gone, 13 Feb to 15 Apr 2003 (my middle daughter was born nine months, four days after their return, something that makes me laugh every time I think of it). Not much of a tour, but enough. Enough to change a person.

I met LTC Hector Villarreal by chance at the HEB near my house. He is seventy years old, he told me, a veteran of Vietnam, the genesis of the book Back from War: Finding Hope & Understanding in Life After Combat, and an advocate for veterans. It was fascinating to talk to him. He put away his memories of Vietnam for a very long time, he said, due in no small part to the way veterans were treated upon their return. But in the company of others he'd been with, he found reason, meaning, hope. And he is sharing it. We talked maybe ten minutes, and I told him about how it took four years to even start connecting the dots, even in a slight way, between OIF and the end of my marriage--and this is textbook stuff, people!--and he told me, at the end, "Don't give up hope."

That last paragraph is a bit of a nonsequitur, but it leads me to this: so much of combat and its aftermath is treated like something to be ashamed of. Back in the olden days it was called "shell shock" and the men who were sent back from the front lines because of it were treated like cowards. Now we call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and somewhat recognize its validity, but it's still got a stigma.

And it shouldn't. Christ, there are people here who can't watch news reports of the war because it upsets them too much. Think about being there. Even in relative safety, you know what could happen. You know what others are dealing with. To be in could that not be something that affects you? And why do we expect men and women to come back from war and be the same as before, to be unaffected? We have a name for people who can deal with the suffering and deaths of others and not have it bother them: sociopaths. I don't think that's what we want. I think we need to recognize that something so life-changing is, well, life-changing. And the men who need help with PTSD ought to be able to get it without fear of risking their careers and the men who aren't, young as they are, need to hie themselves down to the VFW and crack open a longneck with the men who've been there before. This is one thing women tend to know better than men: talk with the people who know about it. Talk with the ones who did it ahead of you, because they know. Whatever you're facing, they've faced. Chances are they know what can help to fix a problem, and if it's one of those that can't be fixed, they can talk you through dealing with it.

And in the meantime: Thank you. At the risk of sounding really weird: Thank you, I love you. You are my husband's brothers, my brother's brothers, my friend John's brothers, and so you are mine, and I love you as a brother.

Seek out those who get it.