I have never been in the military. One reason for this is because when I was younger, we were not at war, at least not such that a draft or any compulsory military service was in effect. And I chose not to serve.
As I think about it now, and knowing many friends who did serve, I realize that the privilege I had to not serve was due to the sacrifice and service of many others, past and present. Others who did not have the option I had.
I suppose that if one has not experienced actual military battles, then they cannot adequately describe the experience. There are literally people on the other side who have trained and planned and implemented their plan in an effort to kill you and your comrades.
That would be scarier if you had also been trained, and your side has planned and implemented their plan to kill the other side. Part of that training is being deadly serious about how to do the job so that you are not killed or injured. Part of the training is to squeeze out the fear and replace it with confidence. In your training. In your equipment. In your leaders.
Military members are indeed a breed apart. They do a job that is inherently dangerous. They go to unstable, uncomfortable, unlawful placed. They are professionals. They are trained in the tactics and techniques they need to succeed in their profession.
They may not have much familiarity with the complex relationships between nations, or the geopolitical push-and-pull that results in military conflict. For this reason, it is difficult to generate the type of anger, passion, hatred, or other emotions the average person would need to try to kill another human being, one whom they have never met.
They face enemies with different ideological, cultural, or religious backgrounds. They are often facing enemies that are defending their homeland on their homeland.
Now imagine you are that soldier, airman, sailor, or marine. You are trained by the best. You have the needed equipment. You can rely on your squad mates and they can rely on you. You are a unit.
With all this as background, you find yourself in a battle. Deafeningly loud, hot, cold, and above all, dangerous. Remember, the other side is trying to kill you.
You keep your head down. You keep your cover. You stay at your station, you do your job.
You see weapons of all kinds deployed by your side and by the enemy. You see a comrade injured. You see a comrade killed.
You are in a crippled ship. Or a crippled plane. Your transport or your protection, whatever it is, is now a liability.
Yes, there is training. You have been taught what to do in these situations. Your team is well-drilled, confident, the best in the world.
You’ll be okay.
Unless you aren’t.
There are people – real, live human beings – killed, maimed, blinded, forever changed.
And there are those with no visible scars or signs of any injury at all. Some of these are truly okay. They have been blessed with the whatever it takes to get through an ordeal like this. Or maybe repeated ordeals.
Others are not so blessed. The violence has left a mark on their psyche that will never go away. They may have flashbacks or nightmares. They may become addicted to alcohol or drugs in an effort to deaden the pain.
After your service is finished, your country provides services to help you return to civilian life. You can go to college inexpensively. You can get medical care from the Veterans Administration. There are holidays and parades and celebrations for your service.
But you are different now. You have grown up, sure. You have accomplished things. You have skills and talents, most of which are directly applicable to the civilian world.
You’ll be okay.
Unless you’re not.
Your injuries – physical, emotional, spiritual – and your struggles – addiction, PTSD, anger, hopelessness – can combine to make you unfit for many social, educational, or vocational situations. They may make you violent, or they may just make you unreliable in a way that employers can’t abide, as you have a job to do and you have to be reliable.
You may lose your job. You may lose your family, your friends, even your home.
Those veteran’s services, though they are very nice, don’t cover everything. They don’t find you a house, a job, a place to live and people to be around. Unless you reenlist, then you can get those things back.
Like I say, I didn’t serve. So I don’t know any more than I’ve surmised from hearing stories, reading a lot, trying to understand. I am grateful for the service they gave to our country. I am sorry that despite attempts to support them when they return home, we fall short.
I don’t know what it’s like to stand in harm’s way.
But this, I know. Whether they just signed up, or they’re in training, or they have been deployed to a dangerous place, or even a not dangerous place, they need prayers.
Whether they are active duty, reserves, or discharged, they need prayers.
And whether they are mostly unaffected by their service, or if they are hurt a little, hurt a lot, hurt mentally, physically and spiritually, they need prayers.
And those who lose their lives in the defense of our country, many of them far too young to have had any sort of full life?
They need prayers the most.
Excerpt from "Call Him, He'll Help: A Regular Person's Guide to Praying for People" which will be published in early 2022.