Help me help my loved ones.
January 4, 2007 1:31 PM   Subscribe

How can I, as a soldier, minimize the worry of those I care about?

I get home from Afghanistan this month. In the process of trying to figure out how to see everyone post-deployment, and with the various complications I am dealing with there, it has been revealed to me that my mother had to get an Ambien prescription. My boyfriend is dealing with an academically challenging college, devoid of financial or emotional support from his parents who are increasingly estranged from both each other and him, and on top of that obviously can't have me there every day. I am extremely unhappy with my current unit and do NOT want to go to Iraq with them, so I have volunteered for Ranger assignment. At least in Regiment I'll have better equipment, better support, better training, and better soldiers to my left and right. I'll be happier and, I think, safer in Regiment. But that unit's reputation has done nothing to ease worries.

I am torn with guilt over this. I failed to consider what I would be doing to my loved ones when I joined, and now I am caught between that failure and the things it's doing to them. I can and have dealt with being shot at, but I have cried or wanted to cry over god knows how many emails and phonecalls. No one is near an Army post, so the Family Readiness Group stuff is useless, and my boyfriend obviously can't make use of Army resources regardless (they do not let female soldiers serve in Regiment).

Please quash any urges to bring up politics. Even if you think I'm a criminal, this is for my loved ones, who have done less than nothing earn your ire.

Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I did research involving German Soldiers' letters home during the First World War. None of them really talked about combat. It seems that was kept to one's self. Probably obvious, but don't bring that stuff up.

You made your choice, and its something that your loved ones have to live with, just as you have to live with their choices. At some point you have to take your own path and do the best to help others around you deal with it.

Just keep in touch a lot.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:42 PM on January 4, 2007

ah, it's a tough one... lying often to them is bad, but I honestly see no other way. I can only offer a quote, too small a thing, I know: Courage is not scaring others, wrote Philip Larkin. Good luck and be safe.

Even if you think I'm a criminal

you're a criminal if you committed war crimes and/or willingly obeyed unlawful orders. no one is a criminal just for joining

posted by matteo at 2:01 PM on January 4, 2007

I'm confused.

You say you have a boyfriend (so I'm assuming you're a woman). You also say that you're volunteering for Ranger duty. Now, I've only been out of the army for a year, but I don't recall women being allowed to serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment.

So what gives?

You've got all my best wishes, but something about your post doesn't make sense. Can you elaborate?
posted by arkhangel at 2:06 PM on January 4, 2007

arkhangel - boys can have boyfriends. That's why the boyfriend can't seek support from traditional military infrastructures. Also, I assume, why this question is anonymous.
posted by muddgirl at 2:07 PM on January 4, 2007

Anonymous, have your parents and boyfriend send you a sheet or pad full of self-addressed, self-adhesive address labels (the kind the ACS sends out). Go to a local used bookstore or stationery place and buy a whole mess of postcards: funny ones, colorful ones. Buy a bunch of stamps. Given the optempo of the regiment, I doubt you'll have time to write long missives, so just jot down quick messages to them and mail them out as often as possible.

OT: Also, if you like, feel free to contact me via e-mail and we can chat USASOC.
posted by cog_nate at 2:18 PM on January 4, 2007

First, I think that you have to accept that there's no way you're going to be able to stop them worrying about you. You've chosen a career that involves people firing guns at you, and there's no way that's going to make your loved ones feel at ease. But from your post it sounds like you have a very logical reason for changing regiments, and I'd put it to your parents and boyfriend exactly the way you did here. Let them know why this move increases how secure you'll be. And, as someone who's brother may be joining up with the National Guard in the next year or so, I'd say that one thing that would make me feel better is to really get to know the people he'd be working with -- if not in person, at least through letters. So I'd write them often, not about the dangers you're experiencing, but about the guys you trust with your life. Let your loved ones know them like you know them, and that will go a long way toward making them feel like you're protected. I think the unfamiliarity of your day to day life probably makes them worry more, because they can imagine more into it.
posted by MsMolly at 2:30 PM on January 4, 2007

I too am confused. Assumed the poster was female from this - "my boyfriend obviously can't make use of Army resources regardless (they do not let female soldiers serve in Regiment)."
posted by A189Nut at 2:46 PM on January 4, 2007

And yet: I'll be happier and, I think, safer in Regiment. As Spock tells us, when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable,
must be the truth.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:53 PM on January 4, 2007

The way I read it, anon is male. He is joining Regiment where females cannot serve, and since he is in a same-sex relationship his boyfriend cannot take advantage of any of the Army resources for spouses, etc.

I agree with what others have said about frequent communication. I have a friend who just got back from his second tour in Iraq, and he kept in contact with us in various ways - email, letters, instant messaging when he could, and MySpace. He mostly talked to us about day to day life, and the guys he was serving with - making us all feel a little like we knew some of these guys and could trust them to watch his back.
posted by bedhead at 3:02 PM on January 4, 2007

Oh, lordy.

Just to make it very clear so we don't waste a few thousand posts back and forth on the semantics: the poster is a gay man, not a straight woman. He says he is changing his assignment to Regiment, and later explains that women are not allowed in Regiment. It follows that he's a man with a boyfriend. That's the reason why he also goes onto say that the boyfriend can't make use of Army resources, and perhaps why he feels some might view his behavior as criminal.

Anonymous, I unfortunately have nothing to suggest to you, but take heart: I think other MeFi-ians will probably hit a few home runs for you. If not, I'll see what some targeted searches on Google can dig up for me ... but gotta go for now.
posted by WCityMike at 3:04 PM on January 4, 2007

Anon, it makes me sad that you feel the need to chase that very human question with, essentially, "please don't be a jerk, you guys."


I'm not sure how to say this without making it sound blamey of your family and boyfriend, but-- are they aware that with where you currently are and with what kind of job you're currently doing, you are the one who needs shielding from their emotional anxiety?

...okay, that totally sounded blamey. Sorry. I just think that maybe they're underestimating how incredibly tough it must be for you to be so far away and unable to do anything about their worries, and then to have to hear about them.

You mentioned that it's impossible for them to access military resources to help them with their concerns, but is there even one other military family relatively near where your mom lives? Or perhaps some kind of email list or something? It would probably be really nice for your mom to be able to hang out with another mom who knows what she's going through.

Is there a chaplain or similar you yourself could talk to? Not because I think there's something wrong with you, blah blah blah, but because I imagine that this is a fairly common concern among deployed soldiers, and perhaps he could have concrete tips on helping to reduce the emotional strain on your loved ones.

I think the above tips about sending happy emails/letters/postcards are great. I imagine this would depend on where you end up deployed next, but do you think you'd be able to keep a blog? Having regular access to (non-sensitive) information about what you're doing, who your friends are, hilarious things that happened recently (invented if absolutely necessary), photos, etc, would, if I were your mom or significant other, go a long way toward helping me feel calmer. It's easy to imagine lots of terrible things in the absence of other information.

Best of luck to you and your family and young man! Have a happy homecoming! :)
posted by thehmsbeagle at 3:06 PM on January 4, 2007

I'm aware that boys can have boyfriends.

All that being said, even if Anon was a woman, FRG resources are available only to spouses, so boyfriends/girlfriends and the like are denied that avenue of support. I went through the same thing when I deployed to Iraq.

Given that anon is agonizing over what military service is doing to his family, there is one clear, yet painful path out: come out of the closet. He'll get an honorable discharge, and relieve his loved ones' worries.
posted by arkhangel at 3:10 PM on January 4, 2007

Keeping a blog is a great idea. I've heard that internet access in foreign theaters can be crappy, but that many people can at least send emails, and there are lots of online blog services that allow you to email posts. Or, to get your mom and boyfriend involved, you can send them emails which they can post for your friends and family. A friend of mine spent a long vacation bumming around China - I know it's not the same as the military, but I was still really worried about his health and safety, since he was travelling alone, and he doesn't speak the language! But reading a blog of his travels, which included all the fun stuff he was doing (and didn't include stuff like getting mugged, etc) really helped me relax.
posted by muddgirl at 3:13 PM on January 4, 2007

Ah, like many others I thought the criminality reference was an assumption that we might think the deployment to Afghanistan/Iraq was such.
posted by A189Nut at 3:24 PM on January 4, 2007

A while back I regularly read a blog by a guy serving in Iraq. His blog was not (mostly not) about his military duties, but about his hobby/vocation, which was birding. I got quite attached to him (well, his blog), and realized after several months that I rarely worried about him because what he wrote about was birds and other natural stuff. While I never forgot that he was in a war zone, it was more in the background. If a blog is do-able for you where you'll be, consider keeping it mainly focused on a non-war-related hobby/vocation you have, if possible. It allows the folks at home to feel connected to you, but hopefully not panicked about bad things happening.

Your boyfriend might try contacting the Servicemember's Legal Defense Network, which, although focused on the political/legal end of don't-ask don't-tell, may have some support group contacts. Oh, and there are these folks, who say they are "a resource for active duty LGBT servicemembers, their partners, straight allies, and families."
posted by rtha at 3:42 PM on January 4, 2007

Can you get them to ask, or get yourself to tell? IIRC, your discharge is considered honorable.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 3:51 PM on January 4, 2007

It's great if you can communicate with them on a consistent schedule. Instead of calling out of the blue, or even whenever you get the chance, make an effort to call at the same time over and over. This gives them something to look forwards to and allows everybody involved to do a little planning and think about what they really want to say. It also makes those magic words, "I'll talk to you later," more meaningful if they have a good idea of what later means.

And, yes, you have to lie to them. Your situation on the ground may suck but you've got to try to be upbeat for them. Feel free to come clean with your boyfriend, but no mother wants to hear her is miserable in the midst of a warzone.

Ask them to do stuff for you. Ask them to send you packages, ask them to clip articles in magazines, ask them to record television shows -- anything you might want done, ask them to do it. This makes them feel useful and gives them something else to do besides just sit up and worry and, of course, you get plenty of freebies out of it to. Don't be afraid to say "I need you to..." Be blunt: tell them that you need them to be strong and they'll do it for you.

It's a bit dangerous but try to send pictures. A single, goofy picture of you looking fat and happy is worth a thousand letters to your loved ones.

Finally, don't stop thinking about the date when the ordeal will be over. Being in combat isn't that difficult if you and them can intellectually grasp that it'll be over soon and you'll be together again. Your travelling down a dark path but in this case you know (and you've got to be 100% certain) it'll end in a good place. Drive this point home, to yourself and to them, whenever you can. Don't be afraid to talk about the future and make sure they understand that when you get back to expect to be everything will be in good shape.
posted by nixerman at 3:57 PM on January 4, 2007

Anon, obviously you're one sharp cookie, good for you.

It's also very clear that you know what you're doing. That alone should be very helpful to your family. There really is no way of assuring them that everything is going to be perfect, but you couldn't do that as a civilian either.

Just try to share the love and the bright side of things as much as possible.

Aside from some very particular particulars, you're not alone and hopefully you have some buddy's to share you thoughts with. They're suckin' hind tit too.

MeFi may seem packed with a bunch of liberal wankers, but , man, we're behind you all the way! No pun intended either, soldier! Good luck to you and your loved ones!
posted by snsranch at 4:39 PM on January 4, 2007

Anon, I think you have to realize it is up to them to deal with it and in a real way none of your business how they feel about it. I agree with upthread-they need to NOT be broadcasting their anxieties onto you. I live near Fort Bragg and the local spouses culture is very emphatic about not letting the deployed one worry about the folks back home. It's YOUR butt on the line if worrying about them makes you distracted. Please don't take on their stress; your job is stressful enough.

(My son will be an Air Force officer as soon as he is done with school. He's the type that would look for something"exciting" to do and even toyed with the idea of crosscommissioning and going Army Infantry. He would be offended with me for worrying.

So I don't.)
posted by konolia at 6:58 PM on January 4, 2007

konolia makes a good point. But please let me say something about your character, which really exemplifies what it is to be an awesome soldier and an awesome man.

YOU are the one concerned about how your loved ones feel. That is awesome. You're taking it upon yourself to not only volunteer to fight, take care of your own self but you have time to worry about other peoples feelings.

E-mail me if you feel like it. (profile). 659th Corps Support, 18th Airborne Corps, Gulf War combat vet.
posted by snsranch at 8:09 PM on January 4, 2007

As mentioned above, communication is key during deployments.

What to write about?
Write about the minutae of your daily life. The people who love you want to know about your life. Share the day to day details of your life. Do not write about your work. There are a million things that are unique to deployment that the deployed Soldier never thinks of as being special. How do you do laundry? What's chow like? Does chow come from an MKT or from KBR? Are the sunsets especially beautiful? What's the soil like? Is is sand like everyone imagines or is it clay? What happens to the soil when it rains? Is there a rainy season? Is there local wildlife? What about bugs? Do camel spiders really jump?

How to write?
Can you afford a used laptop?

If you can, you can email your family and even blog.

1. Set up a webmail account that works with mail clients. Gmail will fit the bill.
2. Set up a blogger account.
3. Install portable thunderbird on a thumbdrive and configure it to work with your webmail account.
4. Someone in your unit will have internet access. It may be personal, an internet cafe, or NIPRnet but somebody will have access. If you use portable thunderbird you can download and receive emails to your loved ones in seconds. Once they're saved on your thumbdrive you can read and reply to them offline. The best part is that you can do it in private at your leisure.
5. Use blogger's email posting feature and make regular blog posts via email so that your extended relatives/family can keep in touch with you.
6. Be aware that MNC-I policy probably requires you to inform your chain of command of your blog.

Feel free to email me if you wish.

Best of luck. Just remember that the unit you're in is always the worst and your last unit will always be the best.
posted by sleepyflywheel at 7:04 AM on January 5, 2007

Sheesh, presumably anon didn't just wake up this morning and notice he's gay. He's even careful not to use the word gay, presumably because he doesn't want to be drummed out of the service. So suggesting he Tell so he's bounced is just a waste of everyone's time and makes you look like a jackhole. You wouldn't want to be a closeted person in the service? You don't understand why someone would subject themselves to that? Me either, but clearly anon has decided it's what he wants. Also note the complete lack of any statement about wanting to be out of the service in the question. In other words: shut up and respect his choice.

Anon, the simple answer is there's nothing you can do to relieve their worry. You cannot control the things beyond your control, and amongst those things are what happens halfway around the world to other people and how other people feel. The first thing I think you should do is not make the same 'mistake' that they are making by hanging your happiness on those things you cannot control. At some point they're going to have to decide to learn to live with reality or they're not.

You can help them by reassuring them that yes, it's somewhat scary, yes, there's risks - there always are. Casualty mentions on the tv are frightening. But for that one person you see on the tv there's the 152,000 others still there and unharmed. That's the entire Superbowl crowd, times two.

You can also help by not making claims about your safety but reminding them that this is important to you. You had reasons for wanting to sign up and maybe you should share them (again?). Or maybe just remind them that regardless of your reasons or what they think about them, this is what you want to do.

Along with that, you should probably present a strong front to them. I think it's not an accident that families talk about their kids and siblings who have gone off to war and say they never seemed to have a moment of doubt. That just can't be because they didn't feel fear: it's because they kept that strong front up to help their families be brave. It sucks to not be able to lean on everyone you can - you've got a tough and scary road - but if their worry bothers you this much that might have to be the tradeoff you make.

Good luck.
posted by phearlez at 9:31 AM on January 5, 2007

Yes I agree with everyone who has said "communicate communicate communicate."

I love the idea of writing about the people and cultures you encounter in your journeys and telling the folks back home. The "daily grind of a soldier's life" may not be interesting to you, but it may reassure people that normall stuff goes on and you stayed safe through it. This all sounds like something you should keep copies of and make into a book when you are out of the service. Not any personal stuff, obviously, but you know what I mean.

Best of luck, and I sincerely hope you are "safer" in your new unit.
posted by ilsa at 10:29 AM on January 5, 2007

I'm not sure military personnel in Iraq can blog. I had a friend who had a blog who got forced to take his down.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:29 PM on January 7, 2007

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