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Archive for September, 2011

Today I watched the hail and farewell for Adm. and Mrs. Mullen. The speeches were wonderful with sincere heartfelt appreciation. The Admiral showed everyone the love and respect he holds for Deborah, as well as his boys. He read his wife’s letter to the rest of us; the milspouses for whom Deborah Mullen has worked, advocated, and been a friend to.

“Nothing can be more trying at times than life in the military — the deployments, the stress, the uncertainty and the fear,” the admiral read. “But then, nothing born from ease and comfort can ever foster the pride and the resilience that military families exude every day. It has been my honor — my deep honor — to be a military spouse and a Navy wife, and to know so many others who wait and worry and work so hard.”

Mullen concluded the message from his wife, “Thank you for your quiet sacrifice and for empowering me to represent your concerns. It has been the greatest privilege. I will miss the life and I will miss all of you.”

It is no secret, at least from anyone who has read anything I have written about Deb Mullen, that I am a great admirer of hers. Let’s be frank, I’m a huge huge fan.

A couple of years ago, I was volunteering at a Congressional Military Family Caucus event and my post was at the desk where the nametags had been set out. Other Senior Spouses had come to the caucus, with advisors and aides trailing along behind. A woman approached the desk, and in a quiet voice let me know that the staff had misspelled her name. I looked up at a lady, with no entourage, who I recognized immediately. After we corrected her name, she sat at my table, we began to discuss with the other members of the group various aspects of military family life. At this function, only first names were used. The ideas came fast and serious, and criticism of senior military members was free-flowing. “Deborah” had to leave for a family engagement, and after she left some of the other table members were wishing she could have stayed. One point I asked didn’t any of you know who she was? No one else seemed to and were in shock when I told him who she was; Deborah Mullen. She was easy to talk to, had great ideas, and wasn’t shy about giving them.

Today I watched as the Admiral and Mrs. Mullen held hands as they were “piped ashore”. We in the military spouse community are going to miss her, are going to miss both of them. I always felt that caring for military families was more to them than just a subject for speeches. Her gentleness and compassion were brought up over and over today. She may have been gentle, but the lady is no pushover. I remember her standing in front of a huge conference and asking how do you think you can help military spouse suicides when you aren’t even counting them. She didn’t overtly “ wear the rank” but her quiet authority was undeniable. I have read of her gentleness and kindness to the families of the fallen and wounded, and the care that she takes, e-mailing and writing to many of the family members.  As Sec. Panetta said she has been at the forefront of issues, especially the special challenges of military children, she is a “powerful voice of military families”.  While none of us begrudge her a quiet retirement, I can only hope she will continue to give us the benefit of her knowledge and compassion.  In her words – we will miss her.

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This wasn’t the piece I was going to write. I had a piece full of milestones and thoughtful phrases; reminiscences and remembrances. But when I hear political speeches about the costs and know that these people are talking about just the  dollar signs: when I see the politicians with their flag pins in their lapels grinning and shaking hands with men and women in uniform on their websites, but see their voting records when they cut funding for veterans programs and quibble about paying for mental health care for the families, all of those thoughtful phrases become meaningless and fly out the window.

With the upcoming first decade anniversary of 9/11, I’ve been asked how has my life, how has our life as a family changed since that day 10 years ago, what has been the cost since that day to my family. I can talk about the multiple deployments, sending my son to Iraq and my husband to Iraq and now Afghanistan; I can talk about the toll that has been taken on the families of my small military community. I can write about the wonderful friendships I have made, both the online and in person that would not have been possible without the need to construct a community of our own, in the midst of growing apathy in the civilian world. I can praise the wonderful groups that have sprung up and evolved, to help troops, veterans, and their families.

But Wednesday afternoon while I was speaking as a guest on a radio show, a woman who I know only online, a woman who is the best friend of my good friend, opened the door to two soldiers in ACUs.  They told her that her husband, who is an EOD specialist (explosives and ordnance demolition) had been wounded. The world as she knew it came to a halt as they told her he lost both legs, one below and one above the knee.

As her online community absorbed the news, we did what we always do; we rallied around her. Another friend  M, with whom I sat while her husband lay in the bed at the now closed Walter Reed, immediately sent her a list of suggestions, hints, knowledge to help her get through this.  I watched M as she negotiated the days and weeks after doctors amputated one of her husband’ s legs and the multiple surgeries on the other leg; I watched a young woman with strength, grace, and grit be her husband’s caregiver, negotiate the corridors and bureaucracy of a military hospital, all while keeping her small children calm and holding her family together.

For all of us, 9/11 changed the world. For the military community the world turned upside down. For my friends and for the families of the thousands upon thousands of wounded in hospitals across the country, the world will never be the same. All the money, all the time, all the families in crisis, all the anger and pain; for me the cost is reflected in the faces of those families.

After the chest thumping and flag-waving, the grim face television announcers, the poignant stories on the news and documentaries about that day and the aftermath are over, the reality will live on. The reality of men and women learning how to walk again, or dealing with wounds none of us can see; the truth of the lives of their families, who adapt to their new reality and go on, somehow keep going on. We go on while the politicians talk, the flags wave, and the ambulances roll up to Bethesda/Walter Reed.  That is the cost.

 

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