Do you know someone currently deployed? Not everyone does!
In the military community, we are used to deployments. Even if we haven’t experienced one yet, we still have friends and neighbors who are currently deployed, about to deploy, or just came back from a deployment. Sometimes we too easily accept that deployments are a normal part of life.
Then we get frustrated with civilians who ‘don’t get it.’ Civilians can certainly say rude or insensitive things to military members and spouses. They may be shocked by the amount of time our spouses are not around. They may expect the spouse who remains at home to be tougher, or more productive.
Or–if their views are shaped by TV shows–civilians may expect spouses who stay home to be complete emotional wrecks, and to cheat on their deployed loved one during deployment! (Let me assure you that this is not remotely true. Every wife I’ve ever known is WAY TOO BUSY during a deployment to get involved in an affair!)
It’s frustrating when civilians make insensitive comments about someone currently deployed, or about the spouses left behind… but it isn’t always their fault. Often, civilians don’t have a personal connection with anyone in the military. So their comments and opinions are formed from TV, country songs, stereotypes, or perhaps a friend of a friend.
When you are in the military, living on base, surrounded by military families, you view the military lifestyle as something completely normal. But from outside the military bubble, looking in, things are very different.
Americans don’t always understand why troops are currently deployed
I was in college when the war broke out in Iraq. I had been dating my boyfriend for a few years by then, and he had already joined the Marine Corps. On my college campus of several thousand students, I did not know anyone else who was in the military. I didn’t have any family members in the military in my generation. And this was before Facebook had been invented (yes, I’m old!), so there were not many online groups or resources available for military girlfriends.
So for a few years, I was literally the only person I knew with a currently deployed boyfriend. There were a few other friends with long-distance relationships, but none of them had a significant other fighting in Iraq! During that very challenging first deployment, when I felt so alone and had no idea who to talk to, I received all kinds of strange comments and advice.
People liked to corner me and discuss their views or theories of September 11. Or President Bush. Some people viewed me as some kind of walking marvel, ‘the girl with the Marine boyfriend!” At one point, someone even told me that I should break up with him, because what he was doing was too dangerous!
I learned a lot during that time. I learned to look for online communities of military girlfriends and spouses, (like this Deployment Support group!) so that I could find others who were experiencing the same pain and fear. I learned to pray for my boyfriend and trust in God’s answers. And perhaps most importantly, I learned to respond to judgement and rude comments with a quiet, but fierce pride that no one could take away.
I was proud of my man and what he was doing. I was proud of our relationship and the depth of our love. And I was proud of myself–proud of the letters I wrote every day, proud of my strength in only occasionally crying, and proud of my ability to still focus on school, work, and life experiences even though part of my heart was always with him.
Political views didn’t matter, politicians didn’t matter. I knew those things would come and go, but my pride could not be shaken. In fact, I channeled all the strength I learned during that time into my book, Open When: Letters of Encouragement for Military Spouses, which shares positive messages for the many common challenges of military life. You can find it on Amazon, and get the strength you need for your journey.
How to respond to civilians who don’t understand military life
Since we have been married, of course there have been more deployments, more wars, and more civilian comments. But that pride has only grown stronger with each passing year. So I believe that the best way to respond to civilians is with a quiet, gentle pride. I also think it’s important to forgive them when they insert their civilian feet in their mouths with strange comments and assumptions. Many civilians simply don’t have a direct connection to anyone in the military. Currently, a little over 1 million Americans total serve in the armed forces–less than 0.5% of the U.S. population. And of those, only 14% are typically deployed at a time.Less than 0.5% of Americans are active military, and only 14% of those are currently deployed. So BE PROUD #milso #deployment Click To Tweet
So it’s not surprising that many Americans have little contact with military realities. When they meet you, they start to voice all their thoughts and opinions of military life. Some of it will be wildly inaccurate.
Respond with calm and grace, and continue to be proud of your spouse and your life. In the past few years, there are fewer pictures of troops in the news and fewer announcements of casualties. Many civilians believe that things have gone back to ‘normal’ and been resolved. Many people do not realize that there are still about 150,000 Americans currently deployed overseas. That is about 14% of those currently serving in the military.
They aren’t all in combat. Some are on ships in forward deployed locations, while others are in peaceful stations like Japan or Europe. But most are there without their families. So even if it isn’t combat, it is still deployment. And that should make you intensely proud.