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A Necessary Strength

Kindness and support are critical for military families

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jake Klonoski, the usual author of this column, is now back safety from Afghanistan and his wife, Katie Potter, is here offering her perspectives in time for Memorial Day.

If I am honest, I will tell you that for a period of my life Army Wives was my favorite TV show. I would make great efforts to be home or wake up at odd hours so that I could watch it on the Armed Forces Network (AFN), a TV station provided to American service members and their families living overseas. AFN also showed wonderfully hokey commercials about how not to stand out in your host country and the important distinctions between general and special powers of attorney for those deploying. AFN was great and entertaining television. 

As a newlywed in 2008, living overseas with a husband deployed to Afghanistan and no friends or family nearby, enjoying those silly commercials and watching Army Wives made me feel less alone. Even when I went back to the U.S. while my husband was deployed, I found that my experiences and fears were not easily understood by those whose lives had been untouched by a loved one's deployment.

Fast-forward six years and I am now on active duty myself in the Air Force Judge Advocate General's Corps, where I have the privilege of serving military members, their families, and retirees. When I tell a military spouse how deeply I appreciate his or her service, and that I know just how hard it can be, I speak from experience. My husband, Jake, recently returned from his second deployment to Afghanistan and his fifth deployment overall. Yet as many sacrifices as we have made, so many have sacrificed and suffered so much more. Our blessings are numerous and for this we are forever grateful. Maddy, our spirited two-year-old, and I were there to meet Jake at the airport when he returned safely home. We got through his deployment  with a little more Sesame Street than Army Wives

But no matter how much time passes, I still remember the intense fear and sadness I experienced when Jake first deployed, and I will not soon forget the incredible kindness and support of others that helped me through.  Military members and military families (which, it should be acknowledged, now includes married same-sex couples under Oregon law) are strong, but it is a strength born of necessity.  We draw our strength from one another and from friends, family, and community who reach out to let us know we are not alone.

Everyone in a military family serves: spouses and children, siblings and parents.  And as recent news reporting highlights (http://wkly.ws/1r7), there are times when family members should also be counted among the casualties of war.  After tireless advocacy by the National Military Families Association and others, the Pentagon’s Defense Suicide Prevention Office proposed ways to track such casualties in March (http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2014/images/02/05/final_report.pdf).

While Jake, our daughter, and I are fortunate to be reunited after his deployment to Afghanistan, we know that many others are not so lucky.  We would like to take this opportunity in advance of Memorial Day to recognize and honor those service members and their families who have made the ultimate sacrifice, as well as those carrying physical and mental wounds from the last thirteen years of war and conflicts past. 

This Memorial Day help honor the fallen by taking action to support their survivors, those who are currently deployed, military family members who might otherwise feel isolated or alone, and all people who have been impacted by war. Some of the tremendous organizations doing this important work in the Eugene area and throughout the country are the following:

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, (800) 959-TAPS (8277), http://www.taps.org for grief counseling and casework assistance.

Eugene Vets Center, 465-6918, for counseling and referral services.

Oregon Employment Department Veterans Services, 686-7601, press 3 for employment placement and assistance.

Lane County Veterans Service Office, 682-4191, for expert legal benefit assistance.

Supportive Services for Veteran Families, St. Vincent de Paul, 743-7166, for housing assistance and family support.

Yellow Ribbon Family Reintegration, Oregon National Guard, (541) 736-4601, for family support services.

Because Eugene is a progressive college town, one might think there are not many around who wear a military uniform, or who have. But you may be surprised at the number of veterans and service members and families in your midst. An unexpected run-in with two other Eugeneans, Scott Parkinson and Jack Barnett, in Kabul in March certainly surprised my husband.

If I have learned nothing else from my time as a military spouse and on active duty, it is that you cannot pigeonhole or stereotype military members and their families. We come from all walks of life and, notwithstanding the distinctive men’s buzzcuts, you might not even be able to pick us out in a crowd. With more and more deployments coming from the Reserves and National Guard, service members and their families may even be your neighbors. 

Military members and their families may have little say in their assignments, but they serve because they love their country and its freedoms and they want to give back. Of course, they recognize that there are many ways to serve and some of the most brave and noble ways do not include wearing a uniform.      

You may never know how grateful veterans, military members and their families are for your kindness and support. Stoicism becomes a way of life in the military and often in military households as well. But please know that your efforts to reach out make a tremendous difference.  Thank you to Eugene Weeklyfor publishing my husband’s “Dispatches from Afghanistan,” and thank you to everyone who has helped support the people of Afghanistan, those who are serving or have served in uniform, and military families and loved ones.  We salute you.