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Five Things You Should Know About Families of Deployed Servicemen

Deployment 2

Some time in the next day or so my son, who’s a 21-year-old Lance Corporal in the Marine Corps, will be shipped overseas. It’ll be his second deployment in the 2 ½ years since he got out of Parris Island, the first being a few months at a place with the catchy name Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Africa. (Note to the Marine Corps: Your marketing department needs to have a meeting.) This time he’d headed first to Okinawa, which I’ve heard is miserable from everyone I’ve talked to except Chaps, who liked it there. And who told me to tell him to go see the Banana Lady. Which I didn’t, because we are strictly a slice-them-with-the-cereal-spoon family. But I don’t judge. Then it’s off to Korea. And his unit won’t be back until around this time next year.

I say this just to offer a little perspective. A view from a non-military guy living in a military family. Hoping maybe I can explain what it’s like for people who haven’t been through the experience and, if I say it right, maybe speak for other families who do.

1. We have to check ourselves.
When people hear you have a loved one serving overseas, they are unfailingly nice about it. Friends. Neighbors. Stoolies I meet in the street. People on the Internet. Aside from the rare SJW ingrate who wants to tell you your kid is stupid for risking his life for the One Percenters (which always releases the monkeys from the witch’s castle who fly down upon them and tear them to shreds) everyone asks how he’s doing and tells you to please thank him. It’s great.

But for the families, it’s important to accept the gesture without being guilty of bravery by association. By committing what I call Borrowed Valor, and then congratulate myself on my clever wordsmithing. He signed up for this, not us. His mom and I might have signed the papers so he could go right out of high school, because he wanted it so badly. Yes, we gave up something. But I can’t use the word “sacrifice” when he’s wading through neck deep swamp water with poop on the surface and I’m sitting at home writing Barstool posts in a Belichick t-shirt. Sincerely, thank you for thanking our family members who enlist. But it’s all them.

2. We have to realize they are expendable.
This is the toughest one to come to grips with, obviously. In order to help us grasp what combat (if it comes to that) is all about, my kid gave me the DVD set of Generation Kill, the HBO series based on Evan Wright’s book about traveling with a Marine unit through the Iraq War. It’s supposed to be the most realistic depiction of the war done to date. Kind of a Band of Brothers for this millennium. And while I have full faith (as does he) in Mad Dog Mattis, it teaches you there are good and bad officers all up and down the chain of command. And the bad ones will order their men into senseless missions against useless targets just so them can chalk up “an objective” to make themselves look good. When your wife’s firstborn is one of 28,500 Americans acting as a tripwire against an insane, nuclear-tipped Bond villain on the other side of the globe, there’s no use in thinking someone wouldn’t sacrifice him and his buddies to serve some geopolitical end. Which is not to say I don’t try to think that. Just that it’s no use.

3. It helps to know they want to fight.
Another thing he gave me was the book One Million Steps: A Marine Platoon at War by Bing West, also embedded reporter. Only this takes place in Afghanistan and the author fought in Vietnam. The Marines he was with took over a British base in Sangin, some shithole farming area. The Brits were leaving because they couldn’t go outside the wire without being ripped apart by combatants and IEDs. And just to reiterate something from the last point, the US forces were put on all sorts of restrictive Rules of Engagement by the Pentagon. But the Marines refused to relent. They went on nightly patrols and took massive casualties because that’s their code. It’s why they join. Not for you and me. Not the flag or the Commander in Chief. They join the infantry because they want to kill bad guys and look after each other. My kid told me everyone in his battalion was going to vote for whatever candidate would send them off to war and they’re all hoping Kim Jong Un starts something. I’d prefer he stay stateside keeping North Carolina safe for democracy. Or better yet, be doing funnels in a frat house somewhere. But again, it wasn’t my choice.

4. It’s hard on the siblings.
Rightfully so, we all talk about how hard deployment is on the spouses, kids and parents of the ones being sent away. But I think we sort of forget the brothers and sisters. I remember when my last brothers moved out and I was the only Thornton kid in the house I was a mess. And he was just moving in with some guys so they could bring chicks home and get high, not sent into harm’s way. I’ll respect privacy and not give much away here. Except to say I’ve seen the happiest, funniest kid I’ve ever known get knocked off his pins by seeing his brother head off. To the point someone at the school suggested counseling. But I’m not big a big believer in seeking professional help for the clinical condition I call “genuine human emotions.” So we opted instead to go back to one hour sessions on Sunday mornings with a Jewish carpenter. They’ve helped a lot.

5. You cry a lot.
I’m not ashamed to admit this. But then again, I’m an Irishman. So I cried when my son called from his barracks right after James White’s touchdown and every time Rudy reads his acceptance letter to Notre Dame. So don’t go by me. But I think just about everyone who can’t be in touch with their deployed loved one and doesn’t know where or how they are goes through it. It hits you at weird, random times. Your friend getting a Snapchat from their daughter at a dorm party. Looking at old photos. The home videos are off limits; you might as well just pepper spray yourself. Tragic news of servicemen getting killed would do it to most of us anyway. But when you’ve got your own literal skin in the game, you’re on a hair trigger.

So you do what all of us should do, whether we’ve got a family member in the service or not. Remember that in 2017, every place is a war zone. That we can all be killed at a market in Barcelona, watching fireworks in Nice, dancing with some other dude at a club in Orlando or showing up at your elementary school, for the love of God. Danger is everywhere. It’s the curse the times we live in. And so if you’ve got someone you care and worry about, you take comfort in knowing that he’s trained, armed and surrounded by badasses who’ll risk their lives to protect him. As Eleanor Roosevelt put it, “The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen. Thank God for the United States Marine Corps.”

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God bless all who serve. And come back safe to the families who won’t stop missing you until you do.

@jerrythornton1