9/11: US troops today feel more appreciated, but still poorly understood
Eleven years after 9/11 there are more frequent overt expressions of support for US troops. But with so few Americans in uniform, military families say, the true cost of service is little understood.
(Page 2 of 2)
The problem was, Ms. Sanderlin didn’t know that. Few troops actually go to events like this, says Sanderlin, who writes the blog “Operation Marriage,” about her experience as a military mother and spouse.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
“I think there’s this idea in the civilian world that ‘We’re showing all this support – we do this all the time,’ ” she says. “But places where the big military bases are – like Fayetteville – these are small towns without big events. And most military families cannot afford to go to these big events.”
And even for those who can, the daily business of caring for children while one spouse is at war means “anything outside of daily survival” often becomes “too much of a hassle.”
She points, too, to another gesture troops appreciate, but which is also a secret pet peeve among soldiers, who quietly joke about it: care packages often hopelessly out of date.
They contain baby wipes and other items that troops have been able to buy at base exchanges in Iraq and Afghanistan for at least half a decade, as well as candy that often offers unwelcome temptation for troops trying to keep their weight down in a war zone.
While such care packages represent a great deal of kindness, they may also contribute to the disconnect troops feel from the civilian world, she posits. “The person who needs to feel supported doesn’t feel that way, and the person sending the package doesn’t realize their efforts are maybe not the best use of resources.”
Instead, Sanderlin says, there are other causes that benefit troops and their families. With many marriages struggling in the wake of multiple deployments, “If someone wants to donate money to a good cause,” she suggests marriage retreats.
She also recommends a group called “Give an Hour,” in which counselors donate their time to troops.
For her part, Dr. Greentree, who is also a military spouse, says that the 9/11 commemorations remind her of the “amazing sense of solidarity and community that can arise from tragedy – and that it’s up to us to sustain it.”
She points to the military ethos, and the community it has engendered. “In the military, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. So if there is a weak link, we figure out how to fix it, how to keep their heads above water – whatever you need to do to rally around that person, because that is the strength of your unit.”
It is a way of life that she hopes inspires the civilian world. “I don’t think people have to understand what it is to be in the military, or to be a military family,” she says. “I don’t understand what it is to be a doctor’s family or a teacher’s family. But I do know that I have a role to play in the success or failure in my community.”
In the military more than a decade after 9/11, the hardship has also led to “a social capital that binds us,” Greentree says. “That’s a very positive thing that has come out of the tragedy, and out of 10 years of war.”
IN PICTURES: A Day of Remembrance: Honoring 9/11