Ten years ago today, a young sixteen-year-old girl made a phone call to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Her desire was to send letters of appreciation to injured service members who were recovering in the hospital. That girl was me…and little did I know at the time how that simple phone call would launch me on a journey that would change my life and the lives of countless others. A decade later, I find myself reflecting on the amazing opportunity I have had to get an insider's perspective on the daily life of those who serve our nation. Over the years, I have had the honor of sitting down with WWII veterans and recording their stories; I have attended the joyful homecomings of hundreds of soldiers and seen them reunite with their loved ones; I have corresponded with dozens of other service members during their deployments and received first-hand accounts of what they are facing on the front lines; I have comforted the grieving family members whose dear one didn't return; I have personally experienced the loss of a Marine that I knew who died while serving in Iraq in 2006; most recently, I have assisted a young Marine as he struggled to deal with his injury and subsequent post-combat transition. All of these interactions and experiences have provided me with an interesting outlook on the military issues of today.
Recently, someone was asking me about my take on the movie "American Sniper." He wanted to know if I'd seen the movie yet, and I had to tell him that I hadn't…largely by my own choice. Since I have spent so many years of my life around the military, this probably surprised him but, after I explained my reason for not going to see the film, he asked me to please write a post and share my thoughts. Contrary to what many might think, it wasn't because I didn't think I could handle the realistic elements or graphic scenes of the movie - I have read many books and heard many veterans' stories that closely resemble that of Chris Kyle: the main character of the movie. It wasn't because I wasn't interested or that I didn't think I could learn something from the story. Rather, the simple reason why I chose not to go and see "American Sniper" is this: I know people who have lived through the things described in that film, and I have journeyed alongside them through it's traumatic effects. Having spent a decade of my life around these brave individuals, I do not need a movie to explain to me what they go through. I already understand it. These people have taught me everything I know about the life they gladly choose to live and have trained me…a humble civilian like everyone else…to think the way they do. To see the world the way they do. It has been an unfiltered perspective that I have been privileged to have and one that I do not take lightly. The lessons I have learned from these courageous service members have shaped who I am and how I live my life.
On the other hand, I realize that not everyone has been offered the same opportunities to meet and learn from a service member and their family. There are many people in our society today who have never met one military veteran or service member in their entire lives; others feel uncomfortable talking to a wounded warrior and get uneasy because of their physical injuries; still others may walk up to a service member and say, "Thanks for your service," but be unable to say much beyond that. You see, even those of us who truly do appreciate the sacrifices of those who serve in uniform, will not fully understand how to help and support these individuals unless we take the time to really get to know them. Unless we earn their trust by our kindness and listening ear, they will continue to feel alone in their transition back to the civilian world. They have so much to teach us, but we have to slow down enough to learn. While thanking them for serving is certainly better than saying nothing at all, going a step further and inquiring, "How are you transitioning? Is there anything we can do to help make your post-combat adjustment any easier?" will speak volumes to them. There is so much about their experiences we will never fully comprehend and, for our sakes, they will never tell us everything they went through. But as a society, it is our responsibility to go the extra mile for these brave individuals since they have done the same to protect all of us! For this reason, I am glad that so many have had the chance to go and see "American Sniper" and really learn, for themselves, what life as a service member on the front lines is really like. By hearing the personal story of someone like Chris Kyle, others are given a glimpse into the challenges of military life that are largely unknown to the civilian population. Perhaps this film will help the average person to gain a new-found gratitude for what our military members and their families go through on a daily basis. It is my hope that those who see it, and have a change of perspective because of it, will build on what they learned from watching the film and will be motivated to give back to those who serve in a greater way.
It's been ten years since I first began working with the military community in a closer capacity, and I have never regretted that decision for one minute. Just maybe, the public interest that "American Sniper" has created will be the start of a nation that re-discovers its need to embrace those who give life and limb for its defense.