The following is an interview with an Army soldier who asked to remain anonymous. He has deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq, and in the interview he discusses how he believes Americans perceive the military, his thoughts about deployments, and more.
LIFT: What do you think, based on what you see in the media or even in everyday life, is a common misconception people seem to have about the military, or people in the military?
ANON: There are a few, and they change and evolve as the media changes (or reduces) its coverage. One month everyone thinks we’re heroes, the next we all commit war crimes. Sometimes we are just the flavor of the day. The hero theme is the most common though from both the media and everyday people. And while I greatly appreciate the sentiment, it can sometimes become overwhelming and places unrealistic expectations on us. It is great to feel appreciated but when what we do is elevated to epic levels it seems… it seems less sincere if that makes sense.
LIFT: When you’re told you’re going to deploy, what is your immediate feeling?
ANON: Disbelief. I know with this era of constant deployments that seems ridiculous, but for me it’s true. I never really believe I’m actually going to go. I remember stepping off the plane in Afghanistan for my first deployment and really not believing I was actually in a war in Afghanistan. My third deployment is coming up and these days deployment schedules are very predictable. In the back of my head I still think it’s really not going to happen.
LIFT: Does how you feel about it depend on whether you’re going to Iraq or Afghanistan?
ANON: I’ve been to both, and there are two factors that influence my feeling on either one. Relative safety for me and my soldiers, and relative quality of life for me and my soldiers. These days it seems like Iraq is the safer place to be but I really remember how much nicer the weather is in northern Afghanistan than anywhere in Iraq. However, southern Afghanistan is just awful weather-wise and you really never know where you’re going to end up once in country (if you even know the country you’re going to in the first place.) As an aviator the terrain brings up other concerns – Afghanistan is a lot more rugged with high elevations and more challenging environmental flying. However, Baghdad or Balad have their own challenges as very busy metropolitan areas with lots of air traffic to contend with.
I don’t think I really answered this question.
LIFT: What is your biggest concern before you leave?
ANON: My biggest concern is hands down about how my wife is doing. Second to that is fearing I’ve forgotten to pack something.
LIFT: Did you experience different personal (family, relationship) concerns, things you would never ordinarily think about, while you were gone?
ANON: Yes. I had a lot of time to think about family and friends and it became really important to me to reconnect with them when I returned. It’s funny – when you’re in the United States and travel or phone calls are relatively easy it’s easy to take all that for granted. I had a strong desire to see all my friends and family while I was deployed.
LIFT: What did you find you missed the most when you were gone?
ANON: More than anything, I missed the woman I love. Seems like a standard answer but it is so true. Other things I missed in no particular order: freedom, days off, air conditioning, alcohol, driving my car, couches, TV, and not getting mortared.
LIFT: How has your relationship with your significant other/your family been affected by deployments, if at all?
ANON: After deployment #1 I divorced my wife. While this was not caused by the deployment, the deployment influenced it simply by forcing me to open my eyes to what I really wanted in life. During deployment #2 I was with the love of my life and I really think it cemented our relationship because it forced us to really focus on communicating with each other. I believe the deployment was tougher for her than for me just because I knew what I was doing every day and I knew my relative safety or danger levels. For her she had no idea what I was doing day to day and if it was a day of dangerous combat flying or just a lazy day in the tent.
LIFT: Those at home are often advised to not “trouble” you, their deployed significant other, with their home front issues, worries, fears – with negativity in general – because it could distract you from your mission. Instead, they’re encouraged to write uplifting, encouraging messages/letters/emails. As someone who would be the direct recipient of these messages, how do you feel about that advice?
ANON: That advice has some merit but is flawed. I’ll explain. It’s flawed because of the “distracting from the mission” part. Seriously, if the car breaking or the kids being sick or a bill not being paid distracts from your mission maybe you shouldn’t be in this career in the first place. If you as a soldier can’t handle your family’s fears or worries, no matter how they may differ from yours as the deployed person, they should really evaluate why that’s so.
The merit part I spoke of comes from the possible frequency these issues or negativity may occur. If every letter is negative or talks about domestic problems it can really wear on the deployed person. It is easy to feel really helpless when you’re deployed –communication is spotty at best and there’s nothing you can do about any issues at home except to listen, to write, and to understand. We can’t usually pay a bill or make a doctor’s appointment for the kids.
If I had any advice about this for deployed people or their loved ones I’d say don’t make up a persona; be honest; but really evaluate what is the most important things to write/talk about when you have such limited communication.
LIFT: The American soldier has been TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year twice (1950 and 2003). As you know, “’Like’ it for TIME” is an effort to get TIME Magazine to consider the military family for its 2011 Person of the Year as a recognition of their impact on our culture and media. What impact, if any, do you think the military family has made our culture?
ANON: They have made a tremendous impact. Just by virtue that civilian spouses are married to members of the military means they have knowingly (and sometimes unknowingly) put themselves in a position unlike any other spouse married to a person with any other job. Their spouses have a job with an incredible responsibility to the entire citizenry of the United States and to do that job they are often asked to operate in hostile environments for long periods of time for repeated periods of time.
At the same time, these families are just trying to live normal, loving lives no matter the abnormality of their situation. Service members ask for a very deep sacrifice from their families in order to have this normal life while having the ability to do their war-time jobs. I think it is very important to recognize the impact the military family has made on the success of our military successes and our culture as a whole.