Ask almost any proud American if our military makes sacrifices, and they will readily agree with you along with a "Bring our troops home, with a God Bless America" to boot. Let me preface what I'm about to say by stating this isn't a pity party or to make you feel guilty, I'm just being real here. Also I'm not trying to scare the poop out of those who are in the military, thinking about joining, or getting ready to deploy. There are so many positives that outweigh the negatives, its just a very unique job environment. The top 3 ways most civilians think soldiers make sacrifices would be:
1. Soldiers are away from their families. - Even when soldiers aren't deployed they are away from their families a lot. Evan normally works a 10 hour day, sometimes its longer. On top of these long days, when they aren't deployed they are in schools and training which often take them away from home. The Army trumps family a lot.
2. Soldiers are in 3rd world countries fighting for our freedom. - Would you just love to vacation in the dirtiest, hottest, coldest, and most foreign place on earth where everyone is trying to kill you? I'm betting the answer is no. Well this is where they go. During the day it easily reaches 100 + degrees and then drops below freezing at night; try camping in those conditions. During the day (100+ degrees remember) they wear full gear on patrol, which easily weighs 80-100 pounds. There isn't a bus, they walk. Walking itself is dangerous. IEDs are a major problem, and probably cause the majority of deaths. One bad step and you're legless, or worse, dead. You don't have any personal space or privacy. Evan had an average of 1 (cold) shower a month last deployment. You get to eat the exact same meal of jello eggs for breakfast, an MRE for lunch, and some form of "steaks" for dinner, everyday for a year. Some vacation huh?
3. Soldiers don't make much money. - So we're not millionaires, but we aren't doing half bad compared to most people our age. I'm so proud of us that we live below our income, and are paying off debt like its nobody's business! I guess in retrospect to what these guys go through the pay isn't exactly awesome, but Evan doesn't do his job because of the big bucks. To sound totally cliche, he does it because of what it means to be an American solider.
All of the above are true, but in my mind these aren't necessarily the important ones. Every person that chooses to join the military knows all of those sacrifices before they sign on the dotted line. There are other sacrifices that most of the population don't realize. Heck I didn't even realize these things myself until after a full 1 1/2 years in the Army. The mental burden of being a soldier, as I see it, is the ultimate sacrifice.
I'm no psychologist, but I know soldiers are impacted forever in war. I was a history major, I've studied the stories without a cushie layer to soften the blow. I fully understand the reality of war. Evan and I were watching a documentary on the Korean War last week. As I sat on the couch, I watched with a weak heart as strong, tough vets were trying their hardest to not break down while being interviewed. They can tell their story, but no one else, except fellow soldiers understand what its like. Most of them admitted they hadn't told anyone the stories they were telling in their interviews. It was breaking my heart to watch these guys relive the absolute horror of war. My mind kept racing with a million devastating thoughts. I can't imagine using my (dead) best friend as a sand bag. I can't imagine coming face to face with another living person and then killing them. I can't imagine looking down realizing my legs have been blown off my body. I can't imagine seeing my friends slowly die of horrible, painful wounds. I can't imagine...Then I realized I had a person, my husband sitting beside me, who might have gone through these very unimaginable things. A veil of anguish and inadequacy fell over me.
You see, Evan doesn't talk about Afghanistan. He talks about what his job was there, the funny things - like huge rooms full of weed, but its just surface things. Hes not being fake or trying to hide anything, hes just not comfortable with talking about it, even to me. I don't ask because there are some things that are OK left unspoken. I don't expect him to want to talk with me about it. The only people who know what he went through are his guys. They already know without speaking. Those guys will always have an steadfast bond because of the life-changing experiences that they have gone through together. I know not a day goes by that he doesn't think about the guys that didn't come home. Why can five guys step over an IED, but the sixth set it off? The question of "Why did I survive?" is a constant pain of guilt and torment for any soldier of war. Not only are these men willing to die for their country, but they are willing to take on a silent, struggle daily that none of us can imagine, only to sleep with dreams full of nightmares. Questions that can never be answered and moments that can never be erased from their eyes, minds, and hearts.
Evan and thousands of others will forever live with the mental battle of being a soldier. The battle of living with the impact of war, the things they saw, did, and didn't do. It is so our children will never have to see war. So our babies will never have to wear 80+ pounds of gear through the desert, praying they don't step on an IED. That sacrifice is one that Evan is willing to carry. Hes carrying it for me, for you, and for the future generation of people. So the next time you want to thank a soldier for their sacrifices, know it isn't just being away from their families, being deployed, or not getting paid enough. I hope this gives you a little insight to truly know what the real sacrifices our soldiers make everyday.