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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Think: Military Versus Civilian

My husband is the one percent.

via this link
Nooo, I don't mean Mr. L is a part of the nation's richest one percent. I mean he is a part of the one percent of our nation's population currently enlisted in the US military.

That means ninety-nine percent of our population actually isn't in the military.  When you include family of friends of military, the percentage probably changes a bit, but the point still stands that an overwhelming minority of our population is enlisted to defend this country at a moment's notice.

I've heard reports in the media that this "99 percent" is feeling a growing disconnect with what military members and their families have to face during deployments and on a day-to-day basis.  (See: "Military's Gold Star Families Often Feel Disconnected" via USAToday.com -- I would absolutely recommend reading the article in full, not just the quotes I've chosen below.)  

To quote the article: "National leaders and advocacy groups say they see a widening rift between a military at war and a public at peace, distracted by a sputtering economy and weary of hearing about Iraq and Afghanistan...Fewer than 1% of Americans are in the military today, compared with 10% during World War II."

10% and 1% is such a huge difference, and I absolutely believe this difference is causing a lot of mystery within the general populace about military members and the military lifestyle, especially with the circumstance of the woman in the article, Jane Horton, who wears a Gold Star pin in honor of her husband who was killed in action.

"Jane thought the Gold Star pin would be a conversation starter. But it isn't.  'This is like code: 'My husband was killed in the war.' But nobody knows what it means.'"

The fact that our nation and its warriors are at such a disconnect is saddening to me.  As I read the article, I couldn't believe absolutely no one had asked that woman about her pin.  She seemed so incredibly proud to share memories of her husband, but no one was really willing to ask about them.  It's heartbreaking.

When you're in the position of a military member or that member's loved ones, it can sometimes seem as if most people just don't care, but I don't believe that to be true.  I think our citizens are curious about our lifestyle simply because it's a bit of a mystery to them these days since so few (relative to our country size, I mean) seem to experience it firsthand.

Being a military loved one, especially a spouse, is no walk in the park, and it sometimes seems as if no "outsider" (since spouses are civilians, I'll refrain from using that general term in this post) really understands what we have to go through in order to support our significant other's career in the armed forces.  And in a way, I think that in a small way we tend to allow this ignorance to continue.

When you're a part of the military community, you often feel like you are a part of something bigger, something special.  It's a good feeling to not only know you "belong" there, but that there are other people going through the exact same situations as you.  But sometimes we get lost in our military bubbles so to speak, and we forget to include outsiders in on our acronyms and military lingo.  It's easy to let it happen, especially when you're surrounded by the military lifestyle (i.e., you and your husband moved 4000 miles away from your respective hometowns and now you both live on a military base!).

We've all been in the situation where a seemingly well-intentioned outsider asks us a question that showcases their ignorance of military life.  We scoff at them and set them straight, or sometimes just completely ignore them, shaking our head at their lack of understanding.  Then we go off and laugh with our spouse and military friends at how some people just have no clue what's going on sometimes.  I'm no saint, I've been there too.  It seems to commiserate the bond we hold between our spouse friends, and bonding over similar accounts in military life is perfectly fine and natural.

I'm just not sure that we should brush these people off every single time.  What if instead we just gently explained to them the answers to their questions, or explained why we can't answer those questions at all?  Why must we feel so superior towards an honestly well-intentioned person's questions?  There are, of course, exceptions -- especially when a person is definitely not well-intentioned in any sense of the phrase and crosses a line, which unfortunately, people do far too often.  I tend to think of those as exceptions to this little vent.

I feel like, as military spouses, we tend to shut out outsiders, sometimes with a half-attempted explanation of "You just wouldn't get it."  Perhaps if we took an extra few minutes to help them "get it", we could accomplish a bigger kind of goal -- allowing an outsider to get a glimpse into our lives and what we have to go through so our spouses can protect our nation.  And the more often we educate an outsider on our lives, the more sympathy and understanding we could generate throughout the population.  Wouldn't that be a good thing for everyone?

If you're one of the people that already do this, I applaud you, and wish that I was more like you!  You understand that people are just naturally curious, especially about the "hard" details of our lives.  And if you don't really do this, I totally understand where you're coming from since I've been there too.  Sometimes there's too much going on -- your spouse is deployed, your kids are driving you up a wall, your job is a pain in the neck -- for you to sit and have a full-on conversation with someone.  You shouldn't feel obligated to explain every little detail when you have other things to take care of.  Just try not to brush said-well-intentioned person off entirely, if possible -- maybe answer some questions at a later date or something.

I certainly don't want to come off like I'm some know-it-all attempting to tell someone what to do, because I am absolutely not.  I only want to offer a different perspective on something that we military spouses experience a lot, and perhaps seeing it in a different light may change your outlook on things.  You could quite possibly end up educating a person about the difficult shoes we spouses and our military members have to walk in and change someone else's perspective at the same time.  Lord knows we all need a good perspective shift every once in a while!

If you are an outsider without any military affiliation, is my semi-generalization about curiosity towards the military in the ball park?  Have you ever been curious enough to ask about military life?  If you're a military spouse, have you ever felt this clique-ishness?  Do you think my thoughts on this subject are misguided?  Maybe we'll get some discussion going and possibly even answer a few questions about military life.  Comment below!  =)

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