Military life foreign concept to many

By Anita Doberman: Columnist

It’s almost impossible not to think about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan during the holidays. As military families, we may have loved ones away and the holidays can be a particularly trying time.

I found that to me the holidays reveal a deep disconnect between military families and civilians. Most non-military people I come across are kind, supportive and helpful.

Regardless their political beliefs, many of them muster some words of appreciation or acknowledgment for military sacrifice — which has not always been the case.

But at the same time these individuals often have a complete lack of knowledge about military life. I can certainly understand the difficulty in trying to understand a world that seems so foreign. Before my husband joined, I can honestly say I didn’t know much about military life, beyond clichés from movies. My mother-in-law still doesn’t get it. After many years of my husband being in the service, she still wonders why he cannot come home for holidays, birthday parties, or even vacations, or why his deployments can’t be scheduled around them. She has often said to me, “They should understand families’ needs.”

Oftentimes the disconnects are wide, but humorous. When my husband first came in the military, he was in personnel, a support career field. Yet every time someone heard he was in the Air Force, they inevitably asked what he flew. He would get a lot of confused looks when he explained how few flyers there are compared to the many people who make their flying possible. He jokes he finally became a pilot mostly to avoid having to explain his job.

In some ways, the ignorance of military ways is a sign of a good thing, even if it’s frustrating in itself. We are fortunate that we don’t live in a country and in a time when everyone is forced to know far more about the military — and about war — then they ever would have wanted. And to be fair, I’m sure people in other careers complain that no one else knows much about them.

But the military is different than most jobs, because it officially represents the country as its most direct instrument of power. And the military is different because, unlike any other job, you can’t just quit. And of course, there’s the notion that I’ve quaintly heard called, “unlimited liability.” Unlike most jobs, being in the military means knowingly accepting the possibility of death.

I do wish, though, that more civilians had a better understanding of the military. Greater diversity in the military, not just racial and ethnic, but geographic and financial, would help ensure that there were fewer places where being military was so foreign. And perhaps it’s time to revive the civics classes that once were classroom standards. Whatever the ultimate solution, I am glad, at least, that while many Americans might not understand what those in uniform do, at least they appreciate it.