Guest Post by Lorena
For our National Guard and Reserve Families: Lorena is the wife to a National Guard soldier currently deployed to Afghanistan. I asked if she would write a guest post and she did an excellent job. As active-duty (or "full-timers" as she calls us), one of the most vital tools to our "survival" is support and at times we may take that for granted. After reading this, it will be harder to do so. I know that she would appreciate any response from those of you in a situation much like her own.
"Guess what?" He types.
"What?" I type back.
"They show Army commercials here in between the TV programming."
"Really? Are they trying to recruit you?"
"Yeah. Apparently there’s this thing called the National Guard-- It’s only one weekend a month and two weeks a year. We should look into that."
“One weekend a month and two weeks a year.” Riiggghhhttt... A running joke in our household after eight months in to a yearlong deployment with his National Guard unit, we try to work the phrase into everything, just to have a laugh. If we complain about the Guard at all, most often it will end with a “but it’s only one weekend a month and just two weeks a year, babe!”
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m very proud of my husband—of his sacrifice. I’m proud of his unit and the mission they have been assigned. I’m proud of being a wife to a Guard soldier and his commitment to his country. It’s a core part of who he is and an integral part of the man I fell in love with. But being a National Guard family has unique challenges different from that of the full-time military. His armory is a hanger, two hours from our hometown. The nearest large installation is an Air Force base about an hour away. FRG meetings are held at the armory, and attending them is no small feat for a family with young children. The soldiers’ families in his unit are not congregated on a base, or even in one town; they are spread out over a region of about 100 miles. And so the cohesion and support network many regular duty families enjoy is simply nonexistent for National Guard families, something I’ve felt acutely over the past months. It’s been eight months and I have yet to see a single family from my husbands’ unit, which is a shame, since misery loves company and there really could be a great support group if we just lived closer. As such, we turn more to neighbors, friends, and family, most of whom have not the slightest indication of what it is to lose a member of one’s family for 12 months.
It can be a lonely world.
In the beginning, I heard the phrase “If there’s anything we can do to help, just ask” so much that my head would begin to ache with each time someone said it. Best intentions, but hard to actually act upon. As I tell my husband, people forget. When you’re not surrounded by other families who are going through the exact same ordeal or in the midst of it yourself, it’s very easy to see that yellow ribbon tied to a tree and offer, but then never follow through.
As for myself, I fully admit to having a hard time accepting help, even when it is offered in direct terms. Perhaps it makes me feel inadequate, like I should be Superwoman and be able to do it all. Maybe it’s that I don’t think the help really sincerely offered, but just something said since it seems appropriate. Maybe it’s that I don’t want to put people out or take advantage of them too much. After all, we are not their family, why should it be their issue if our toilet stops working? Regardless, asking for help has been a learned trait this past year. Lots of swallowed of pride. Lots of “If you have a minute…” or “if you don’t mind…” moments. Sometimes those who offered make good on their offer and help, other times they don’t. Sometimes I just wish they would barge through my front door and help without having to be asked.
I would never suggest that National Guard families have it harder than full time regular military families. To even think it would be an injustice to those families who go through these separations on a regular basis. Yet as the National Guard is used more and more outside of the realm of which it was intended—stateside and national missions—better assistance has to be found for those Guard families left behind. For the first time this month, the FRG meeting is going to be a telephone conference. Families need to find ways to communicate to with other, being that proverbial shoulder to lean on for one another like so many regular duty families are to one another. The Guard is no longer “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” like it’s advertised to be and service members join up knowing that they will face at least one deployment, if not more. Their families need access to the same support that full timers get.
Having been through this now, I have a greater appreciation for the military family as a whole. Of the sacrifices they make again and again and again. It is an appreciation that humbles me and makes me acutely aware of what that yellow ribbon means and what that family is likely experiencing… the heartache, the worry, and the pride. It is an experience like none other, and unless you endure it firsthand, you are unlikely to fully understand the implications of that yellow ribbon. I love a soldier, regardless if it’s a commitment of one weekend a month or a year deployment, I love a soldier. My eyes scan for yellow ribbons everywhere I go.
"A soldier doesn't fight because he hates what is in front of him. A soldier fights because he loves what he left behind." - unknown
"God is our refuge and strength. He will protect us and make us strong" (ps 46:1). For those who will fly today, for those who are there now, and for those who will soon join the fight, Lord, shield them from all evil, strengthen their hearts, and bring them home safely.