One reason I write for Care2, is to help some of you understand what it’s like to be in the military community as a family member. For many in the United States, there is no longer a personal or familial connection to the military. For the small percentage who are, not being “home” or even together as a family on a holiday is almost normal, or as we say, it’s our “new normal.”
Every country has a day of celebration, either an Independence or Founding day, or a certain day of significance. In the United States, our day is the Fourth of July –and we’ve made it a huge party, replete with food, fireworks and family fun.
Spending this day overseas gives a different perspective to the celebration. As a State Department brat I’ve celebrated in Libya (pre Gaddafi), England (where being in London gave a different flavor to the day) and Australia (where it was mid winter and downright cold when we barbequed!). Celebrating a national holiday in another country can make you more patriotic, and trying to explain the details of the holiday to someone who doesn’t know our history well is an education for you as well.
My husband, son and I celebrated as a family in Germany many years ago. The post had a huge party, complete with static displays of a helicopter, a tank and some jeeps for the kids to run around on. This is the same type of display going on this weekend at bases around the country, with the addition of a Humvee, an MRAP and maybe some bouncy castles and pool parties.
My son and husband have celebrated the Fourth of July in Iraq, at different times of the conflict. In 2003, our son was at Camp Slayer and remembers it only as being ferociously hot. Their barbeque consisted of showing off by frying eggs on a rock. No cake, no celebrations, no speeches and if there were fireworks they weren’t of the friendly variety.
The first time my husband was deployed for the Fourth of July, he was on a convoy, and when they realized that it was the 4th of July while somewhere in the desert south of Baghdad, they fired off a few flares for the “rockets red glare.” On his second deployment — he thinks there was something going on somewhere on Slayer in 2009 – but he was working and didn’t attend. The dining hall was decked out in red white and blue — and there was a monster cake somewhere.
For the spouses and families at home, it’s another day that should be a “family day,” one of those days that we are told should be spent with family and friends. For those of us who have someone downrange, it’s another painful day, one that makes us realize, more than ever, that we have a piece of our family missing. It’s called “the empty chair” syndrome, and for some of us it means we won’t be at a holiday gathering, we’ll be sitting in front of our computer hoping for a Skype call or an email. Some of us will meet up with other deployment “widows,” our battle buddies, and spend the holiday with those that understand only too well how we feel. During the alone holidays, I hate being invited to a gathering — who wants to hear “Oh, you poooor thiiiinnnggg” [said by sympathetic neighbors who ignore you the rest of the year] or in my case this year “But why is he still going? Isn’t it over?”
We are subjected to the stories on the news of reunions, the rah rah war movies and “tributes” to the troops. For some it’s a time of pride, but for some it’s also painful. If you have a friend who is alone due to deployment this year, invite them by all means, but understand why they don’t jump at the invitation.
Photo courtesy of Steven Francis Photography