When I got back from Iraq in 2003, my battalion headed over to Camp Pendleton for what would be a month of debriefing and winding down from deployment. Now, I can vividly remember many Marines flying their wives and girlfriends out that way so they could, uhm, hold hands and stuff because let’s face it, after a long deployment people were a little tired of holding their own hand. Meanwhile, many other Marines just raced into Oceanside to find the first gal willing to, uhm, hold hands and stuff. But since I was always a little more discerning with whom I held hands I waited as I assumed any gal in Oceanside willing to hold my hand on such short notice probably had about a battalion worth of notches on her belt. And yet, I had this strange sentiment that I was somehow missing out because I didn’t have a wife and kids to come home to after the war. No one to run into my arms and welcome me home with a kiss or scream daddy and all that good jazz. But as I currently sit here a married man who has held hands and stuff with his wife enough to produce three kids, I now realize that I had the golden war ticket as a single Marine. Because this article is less about me and more of a hat tip to the men and women with children who deployed to war and most certainly a humble thanks to the children who will never see mommy and daddy again as a result.
To War or Not to War, That is the Question
Now I just wrapped an 11-day road trip with the family that took me all the way down from Washington State to Disneyland and through the old stomping grounds of Oceanside and Carlsbad just south of Camp Pendleton. Sorry for the long absence, but sanity required such a break. On the way back near Oceanside as I drove my wife and kids in the minivan, I looked to my left to see what was clearly 3 boot Marines crammed in the back of the car as what was either one of their mothers or the nastiest prostitute for which 3 Marines could have ever chipped in headed north to L.A. for what I assumed was weekend liberty.
And the question arose to me, in which car would I rather be? With my wife and kids on a memorable vacation or with my fellow Marines with the possibility of war in our future? Right? I mean we as Veterans often think fondly of our time in the military and all the more so when it comes to that unique bond and time at war. We miss it to one degree or another as it always holds a piece of us and from time to time there is this sentiment that we would like to go back. But would we really?
Honestly, when I was in Iraq I didn’t really care or at least I thought very little about death and what would happen to me. As I patrolled the streets of 2003 Al Kut, if a squad of Iraqi ninjas took me out there would have been a few sad friends and family but no one would be fatherless and I’d make no one a widow. Truthfully, I never realized what a gift that was to be single and fatherless at war. But more importantly, I never realized what those Marines with children patrolling beside me were really giving of themselves.
15 Years of War
The notion of my kids grieving as they struggled to grasp with why daddy isn’t coming home is just about more than I bear. I took read of a book titled, 15 Years of War by Kristine Schellhaas and it was a really eye-opening experience into the families who have endured this GWOT stuff since the beginning. You really can’t tell the full story of our war without adding this piece to the conversation. As a Marine spouse, she is the real deal and it won’t take you too long into this book to realize it. She is a friend of this blog and I really encourage you if you want to know the missing side of war go check out her book here, 15 Years of War. It gets two Unprecedented Mediocrity thumbs up as exploring what happens at home when we are away at war is the missing puzzle piece that will help both the Veteran and civilian alike understand the GWOT experience. We often muse that the nation wasn’t at war while we were, but make no mistake, our families most certainly were.
Because I’m here to tell you as a father, my hat is off to all you men who deployed with kids, especially those who have done it on multiple deployments in combat arms where you know what awaits you downrange. And to you mommies who deployed, you get a double hat tip. I’m telling you right now that if my wife deployed for 15 months and left me home alone with three kids we’d be checking a couple of them out of foster care when she got home.
I realize death can happen to any parent and any moment, but it takes a special soul to walk outside the wire knowing at any moment your kid will lose their father. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have done it and if the Chinese hoards come pouring across the Pacific tomorrow I’ll gladly kiss my kids goodbye and march off to war. But leave my kids today and return to Iraq simply because I genuinely enjoyed my war? Veteran fathers and mothers let’s have one last chat shall we?
Nothing Wrong with the Here and Now
My fellow Vets, you and I have served with or without children and when our nation called we can always be proud that we answered. If you are no longer in uniform I realize the call of Iraq or Afghanistan is strong, but please don’t let it drown out the calls of daddy or mommy from a child who desperately needs you. Our children don’t deserve a hollow version of ourselves and there is nothing wrong with letting the next generation of warriors pick up this fight while we raise the next generation of our namesake. Guys, my children needed me to Clark Griswald this road trip with them more than the Marines need an out of shape has been grunt, trust me.
Once again, I salute you parents who deployed and continue to do so. Me and you might have risked the same life, but as a father I realize now you risked multiple lives. Veteran parents who find themselves longing to go back perhaps you just settle into the mission at hand, namely the wee minion army who needs you now. In fact, stop reading the article now and go give your kids a monster hug on behalf of all the children of the fallen who will never again feel as much. And if you can swing it, why not even say something sweet to the wife and see if she won’t, uhm, hold your hand and stuff. Tell her Unprecedented Mediocrity sent you as at least then she’ll keep the expectations reasonable.
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