You know how it is when something makes such an impression on you, or affects you deeply, and you just can’t get it out of your mind. My husband and I went to see American Sniper a couple of weeks ago and I can’t stop thinking about what I saw. Even more, I can’t forget what I felt as I watched Chris Kyle’s story unfold on the screen. We saw a glimpse of the incredible sacrifice his family endured while he courageously served his country and protected his fellow soldiers, yet it’s impossible for anyone to know the depths of fear and pain his family experienced, or the grief they have suffered. Regardless of your viewpoint about war, this brave soldier deserves to be honored for his service to our country. And so does his widow Taya. Being in the military is a family affair. Why is Chris Kyle’s story so important? Military service includes sacrifice by all members of a family.
The trial of the man who killed Chris and his friend Chad Littlefield wrapped up last week, and of course the trial and the verdict put the story on the front page again, as did the recent Academy Awards telecast. I sobbed in the movie. This story was emotional and it was heartbreaking. It was also patriotic. Chris lived through circumstances that defied imagination, and fought hard to reclaim a normal life after he returned. After all he and his family had been through and survived, his murder was even more devastating.
Chris Kyle’s military career was extraordinary. And the more I read about his life, he was a shining example of a compassionate, giving human being. He was a hero whose qualities are worth emulating – and whose unselfish devotion to duty and country represent values much-needed in our world today.
Serving in the military is an honorable career, yet I don’t think the vast majority of people recognize or understand that lifestyle and how it affects the family. I was a military wife for over twenty years, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I’m still in touch with wonderful friends from those military years. I was fortunate in that my husband was not called on to fight in a war. Yet, still, he did deploy – and our family had to make adjustments before, during, and after deployments. Uncertainty is part of military service. Make no mistake; adjustments are different and life is far more uncertain when a deployment is to a war-torn area. Regardless, stress is part of the equation.
In recent years, suicide among active duty service members and also veterans has been a growing and disturbing issue. The statistics are staggering. According to the U.S. military, suicides hit a record high in 2012, outpacing combat deaths – and totaling almost one a day among active duty soldiers. U.S. government statistics also show that suicide among military veterans tallies approximately one every 65 minutes, or 22 deaths a day.
Military service members work in perilous situations. People have died in training exercises. When our family lived on base, my husband often flew training missions at night. Our home was under the flight path of the base, and I knew the difference between normal flight activity and increased activity that signaled something unusual. Many nights I did not rest until my husband returned home because I knew the danger, and I suspected that some type of accident had occurred.
Military Life for Families
Military spouses must be able to operate as single-parent households much of the time – and on a moment’s notice. Orders can change quickly and unexpectedly. You always have to be ready to adjust and keep going, to stay strong for your spouse and your children. Military service members can be called on to act in life-and-death situations at any time, and they have to be able to stay focused. For their safety and the welfare of fellow soldiers, they need to be confident that they don’t have to worry about whether or not their spouse can handle things alone. Double-mindedness can be deadly.
Some military children adapt easier than others to the change and upheaval in their lives. Stress affects them, too. They must deal with changing schools and new neighborhoods when orders to move arrive. They have to leave friends and familiar surroundings and form new relationships. Depending on the age, personality of the child, and other contributing factors, these changes can be seen as opportunities or may involve varying degrees of struggle.
Service members and their families are often overlooked and discounted by our government. Why is Chris Kyle’s story so important? His story sheds valuable light on the effects of military service on individuals and families. Granted, Chris Kyle’s career was not the norm. However, he served in combat; he deployed; he returned home after deployments; his wife had to function as a single parent; his kids had to adapt to their father being away; and on and on. Military families sacrifice a great deal to serve. They deserve our support and attention.
I don’t want to mislead you. In spite of its inherent challenges, military life can be extremely rewarding and satisfying. Yet, the focus of this article is on the harsh reality, experienced in greater or lesser degrees depending on individual circumstances – and one that civilians may not be aware of. Hardships accompany military service—emotional, financial, relational, and even physical. Loneliness is overwhelming at times.
Chris Kyle’s story focuses attention on military service and its effects. My heart goes out to all who knew and loved Chris and his friend Chad Littlefield. They served honorably. They should not have died. Among the soldiers who served with Chris Kyle in battle, some died; others sustained injuries. Military service is hazardous, and these folks put their lives on the line when they agree to serve.
Service, Sacrifice, and Sometimes Grief
We must never forget what serving in the military requires – both of the service member and his family. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude and support. They do what so many others refuse to do. And they do it to preserve our country and our freedom.
Let’s not forget about grief – the grief associated with death, as well as grief related to a deep loss of any kind. Sometimes grief goes unidentified and unrecognized because we may not understand it. Yet, grief still affects one’s life – whether it is faced or avoided.
I’ve been a widow, and I’ve also faced deep loss. Grief was exceedingly more painful and difficult than I ever could have imagined. The struggles and challenges I faced were uniquely mine, yet they were similar, too, to those faced by friends, acquaintances, and folks I have never met. However, I would bet any of those people would agree that facing the pain and difficulties made them stronger, more resilient, more sensitive, and more determined. Grief will do that – if you cooperate. And when you’re committed, whether it’s to living your life well, or to working your way through the grief following a loss, you will emerge a better and stronger person because of your experience.
God bless America and God bless all who serve.
© 2015 Judy Brizendine
Photo courtesy of fotofrenze
May We Always Revere the Hero that You Are – Susan Mary Malone
Military Life: The Countdown to Deployment (Part 1) – Judy Davis, The Direction Diva
Military Life: It’s Different – Judy Davis
Military Life: The 7 Top Tips for Surviving The Rollercoaster Ride – Judy Davis
Military Suicides: One U.S. Veteran Dies Every 65 Minutes – Reuters – published on The Huffington Post
War-years military suicide rate higher than believed – Gregg Zoroya – USA Today
Honor Our Fallen Heroes, Our Military, and Their Families – Judy Brizendine