Unspoken sacrifices of military families … for freedom

My daughter, Kristin, and I had the privilege of following Keith across the globe as he served in the Air Force.

We’ve lived in the Pacific, in Europe, on the East Coast and the West Coast and in the middle.  Although Kristin and I were not active duty military members, I felt as though we served our country.  I had dreamed of a degree … but that was delayed. I had dreamed of a career … but that was delayed. Our priority was to keep the family solid … to support Keith as he did his part to preserve the freedom of America … the freedom of Americans who would never know the sacrifices we made.

The unspoken sacrifices.

I remember Kristin’s response when a new acquaintance asked her where she was from. Her reply, “No where.” You see, we moved every two or three years. She felt like no place was home, and yet, our home was where Keith was.

When Kristin was only 1 ½ years old, we set out for the Philippines into a world of beauty … and the foundation of our marriage … training ground that fostered flexibility, adaptation, and a can-do approach. We arrived on Friday, May 13, no small coincidence. A time of martial law during the reign of Ferdinand Marcos.

Our home was off-base for a long six months.  A wall with broken glass and concertina wire on top and civilian Filipino security guards with machine guns on every corner protected our subdivision. The road from our approved housing complex to the base was off-limits. In the night, we cringed to the sound of the sniper fire of the rebel communists (New People’s Army) on this road. Jogging on the road meant you might come home with no clothes.

An island of opportunities to do whatever your heart desired without relatives to judge you, the Philippines boasted the world’s highest rate of Air Force court-martials (and Keith was a lawyer-JAG), even officers were court-martialed. It was especially difficult for the JAGs. The pressure either made a JAG’s marriage or broke it. The pressure solidified our marriage and our family—all we had was each other, and we clung to each other.

Alone. The unspoken sacrifices.

When the sugar cane fields were burned to purge the fields of the mice, Kristin and the toddlers suffered temperatures of 105o or higher for about a week. Rushed to the hospital, only to learn that nothing could be done for the children, except cold cloths on their foreheads and children’s Tylenol … wait it out. The reason for the high fevers? Between the rows of sugar cane were rows of marijuana.

Illness. The unspoken sacrifices.

I remember Keith preparing young Airmen for military action. The preparation? Wills, last arrangements. If President Carter had chosen to send military troops during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, Keith would have gone with those Airmen.  His bag was packed, he had completed his own will, and had all of his shots.

Not knowing. The unspoken sacrifices.

Fast forward to 1984. We absolutely adored living at the base of a world-cup ski resort in the Italian Dolomites. We learned to ski on a glacier and enjoyed living in a 700-year-old town where our neighbors spoke German, Spanish and Italian, but no English.

Yet, even in Italy, there were the unspoken sacrifices.

When the United States bombed Libya on April 15, 1986, our family was living near Aviano Air Base … near terrorist headquarters in Padua, Italy.  Base entrances were guarded by soldiers in armored personnel carriers … 50 caliber machine guns on top and pointed at entering vehicles. We’d stop as soldiers examined our IDs, ran mirrors under our car and waited to see if the canines alerted.

During that time, I needed to travel to Ramstein AB in Germany for specialty care at the hospital there. Keith stayed behind with Kristin.

For the return flight to Aviano, we were transported in the military bus to a location on the tarmac, and the bus stopped. Although we had passed through security to get on the bus, a sergeant walked down the aisle, again examining our IDs, asking us the last four numbers of our sponsor’s social security number, or the first three or the middle two numbers. Then, a marine on the bus was identified. He was to follow us as we walked to the aircraft, scouring the area. We were told to run back to the bus if he yelled a key word.

Fear. The unspoken sacrifices.

We lived off base, and there were rumors that the terrorists had targeted our children’s school buses. Some women left their husbands and took their children back to the States. I strongly considered taking Kristin back to America, but I chose to drive her to school, using different routes every day.

We kept evacuation kits for each member of the family, and the airmen and officers regularly drilled in full chemical protection gear, including gas masks. They were trained to jab themselves with a syringe filled with atropine in case of contamination.  No chemical protection gear, no gas masks, no atropine for the families.

Risks. The unspoken sacrifices.

The sacrifices that Kristin and I made, though, were small compared to military families today. Although we felt isolated, alone, and very far from our extended families, we were able to live in the same house with Keith, for the most part. Yes, there was Keith’s travel, but it was only for weeks or days at a time. At that time, there was no Internet, no Skype, no worldwide capable cell phones, and we were on a one-year waiting list to get a phone installed in our home.

Think of the young mother-to-be today not knowing when she might receive an email or a phone call from her soldier in Iraq, not knowing if he will get home in time for his son’s birth.

Think of the daughter who will never see her mother again because she gave her life for America’s freedom.

Think of the mother and father who long to know that their daughter will return home … whole.

Think of the husband caring for his young baby as his wife serves in Afghanistan.

Think of the mother and father who tip-toe around their returned soldier, not knowing how to help him with his PTSD.

Think of the young son who sees his father approach him on crutches. Or the daughter running to hug her returning father, and dad embraces her with one arm.

In 2011, Michelle Obama recognized five young military children. She said,

a lot of folks don’t realize that when our troops are called to serve, their families serve, too.  A lot of folks simply don’t know the stories of our military families and their kids. They don’t know what it’s like to kiss Mom or Dad goodbye as they head off to war, and then have to go back to class, and do homework, and act like everything is fine.

They don’t know about all the missed soccer games and the missed prom nights and the missed shared daily moments — the hugs, the bedtime stories, the meals with an empty seat at the table.  They don’t know that every day, military kids are stepping up and helping to run the household and care for their families.

Lost moments. The unspoken sacrifices.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.“ John 15:13

These soldiers and their families have laid down their lives in service and sacrifice to their country. To preserve freedom.

Think of the unspoken sacrifices and say a prayer for the soldiers, the veterans, and their families.

Think of the unspoken sacrifices and thank the soldiers, the veterans, and their families for your freedom. For America’s freedom. For your freedom.

God bless these soldiers, these veterans, these families.

My prayer for you:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the soldiers, veterans, and their families for laying down their lives to preserve America’s freedom. Bless them abundantly with Your grace, peace, and joy. Fill them with the knowledge of Your great presence and Your love for them.

2 comments

  • What adventures your family went through around the world, Karen! Thank you so much for sharing these with us, and through it all, God’s faithfulness rings through. And thank you for this fitting tribute to those who sacrifice their lives for this great nation. God bless you and your family! Dee

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    • Dee, Thank you for your gracious words. God has given us a rich life of experiences. Please pray for the military families, their soldiers, and our dear veterans. Thank them and thank God Almighty that they laid their lives down for our freedom. God bless you and your family, Dee.

      Like

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