My trip home from the Military Experience and The Arts Symposium (MEA) was littered with obstacles as was my getting there in the first place. Problems out of the pilot’s control on both flights meant deplaning and significant departure delays. But rather than allow the obstacles to steer my attitude, I chose to see them as much needed time to unwind and reflect. A wise friend once told me, “we can’t always choose what we go through, but we can choose how we go through it.”
Those insightful words have helped me to maintain perspective on many occasions. It’s when I’m in the company of those going through life’s most difficult journeys, however, that I am reminded of the exceptional muscle in those words. For when I am with them, I learn life-changing lessons about gratitude, stamina, and humility.
My military service began and ended in the early 1980’s. It was an honor to serve, and the experience left an indelible mark upon me. There’s a sense of pride that ensues as part of my fiber. I’m still part of the “family,” years after the nearly three decades as a career member’s spouse and raising two brats immersed in military culture. Having served on active duty and then spouse beside a former-enlisted retired officer as parents of two brats, one might conclude I’ve walked on all sides. Yet, my family and I did not walk on the side of combat—an outcome not probable for the majority of military families.
Until last weekend, I hadn’t realized how mentally removed I had become from the active duty mind-set. Appreciating those who serve is entirely different than being one who serves. Perhaps that describes well the broader intention of this symposium: to bridge the gap between veterans and community. Pfc. Lee articulated that thinking to the Stars and Stripes Newspaper in saying, “We don’t need people to understand us completely. But, we do not wish to be alone in our pain or joy anymore.”
Understanding and comradery were prevalent throughout the MEA symposium. That shouldn’t be unique to an event at Eastern Kentucky University, but rather a template for others across the nation. I learned of the agenda through an online search for veteran conferences. Travis Martin, the MEA Director organized the symposium with the goal of providing “creative, cathartic outlets for veterans to express themselves on their own terms.” The outcome of his team’s efforts far surpassed mine and other attendees’ expectations.
I served as one of many workshop leaders, each engaged with veterans and support leaders from across the nation. My objective was to pass on what I’ve learned as a writer while sharing tools for coping with life’s difficult journeys, including deployment. In the midst of delivering a workshop I entitled “Fear Eraser,” I had an epiphany. One slide after another evoked inspirations and shared stories of war’s fall-out. From struggles to find a new normal to watching comrades die in arms to concerns over being an ill-equipped, wounded parent, it was painfully clear that war’s fall-out cannot be avoided. Being wounded comes with the territory of war—whether visible or invisible.
That eye-opening moment struck me in a profound way as it begged an important question. What is being done to prepare military members and their families for the inherent fall-out, in addition to a member’s absence? Even if they are not directly injured, there is the threat of and witness to injury; at some level, children inevitably sense those consequences too.
As a writer for children in the midst of these repeated deployments, I’ve often heard civilians talk about PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) with qualms about its prevalence. All at once, the capacities in which I’ve served fused together in thinking about that important question. Undoubtedly, the voice for which I began writing is not being heard loud enough—the voice of children. A parent who knows his or her children are taken care of is able to go about the mission with a clearer mind.
The collective voices of military families must be heard in an effort to keep war’s fall-out from consuming their lives. Managing such fall-out enables our troops and those around them to easily recognize and celebrate their positive traits. Our troops also return from war as strong leaders with translatable skills, resulting in enormous blessings to their families and the nation at large.
Writing and the arts provide a voice that is both powerful and effective. It’s not one story or one painting or one play that makes all the difference—it’s the collection of works that speaks volumes. Each one orchestrates a path to understanding and restoration. I boarded that delayed flight home as a proud veteran who is part of a strong and cohesive family. I vowed to make a bigger difference for military brats, while embracing the soldiers, spouses and community who surround them.
Pictures tell a thousand words more than I could ever write. The gallery that follows brings home the collective voices of hope I was so privileged to be among during our nation’s birthday week.
Get your copy of the Journal of Military Experience by clicking this link.