I was walking through the lobby of the building I work in this week when I noticed a lot of soldiers and their families were checking into the hotel our building is a part of. There was a high degree of emotion in the air. I watched fathers walking hand in hand with their children. I watched husbands and wives embracing and even wiping an occasional tear away. I saw spontaneous prayer groups spring up throughout the afternoon.
I finally asked one of the soldiers what was going and he told me that they were having a Yellow Ribbon Deployment Conference. In Army terms this means that this group of soldiers, both men and women, were getting ready to deploy to combat zones, and this weekend had been set up for them and their families as one last send off. The weekend includes counseling sessions, workshops for spouses on how to handle the deployment, but most of all, a chance for the families, both the individual families and the collective military family, to actually come to grips with the reality that beloved family members will be lost, at least temporarily.
As I thought about what these families were going through, my mind wandered back to my own youth growing up in the home of a man who served 28 years in U.S. Special Forces. I thought back to deployment days when I was a youth, when families watched as their loved ones prepared to go away to serve. I remember the fear and the hope. You hope they will all return, while you fear for those who won’t, and maybe you feel just a tinge of shame for hoping your loved one is not one of those who does not return.
I could not help but feel for these families. And I could not help but think about how isolated they are in their suffering. I am an American citizen, but I do not have anyone I know who is directly involved in these conflicts. It is weird how some families can have to sacrifice so much, while other families’ lives go on as though there is not a care in the world.
When you watched the emotions on display by these families, you are not reminded, you are overwhelmed by the reality of the differences in the sacrifices they are making and the ones that are expected of so many of the rest of us who do not choose to serve.
To the extent they do for us what we are blessed not to have to do for our country, then we as citizens owe it to them to be advocates that our country provide every possible resource for them in return, both as tools during their service, and in the form of quality medical care when their service is over.
But then I am writing this column in a week in which the country announced changes to Veteran’s care that are almost a slap in the face to young families like the ones I saw at this deployment event. Just this week Congress announced steps to cut back on the program that allows Veterans in underserved areas to seek help outside of the VA system. Instead of making a lifetime commitment to this program as a necessary resource for Veterans and their families that have sacrificed so much for this country, Congress announced that the program would end when the current funding runs out. This same week there were also articles about efforts in Washington to reduce the resources for family caregivers to provide for disabled Veterans in need.
The faces of the families at this Yellow Ribbon event really reminded me of the cost of service and the price that our soldiers pay to defend our position in the world. It also reminded me that those of us who don’t have to serve, owe it to those who do, to do all we can to see that they get every benefit after service that they need and/or are entitled to.
Or at least that’s the way I see it.
Hollis Wormsby has served as a featured columnist for the Birmingham Times for more than 27 years. He is the former host of Talkback on 98.7 KISS FM and of Real Talk on WAGG AM. If you would like to comment on this column you can go to Facebook.com/holliswormsby or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.