A sister, love, and war

by Jennifer on March 16, 2008

Five years. This week marks five years since the United States began attacks in Iraq.

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.

And there’s this.

My younger sister, who I will refer to as W, is in the Navy. And today she left for a six month deployment which will take her to the Middle East. I can only infer from her statements that she’s headed to the Persian Gulf, including this assurance from her that “the safest place to be is on a carrier.” It’s a small assurance, but I’m holding on to it.

She lives with her two children in Washington state. They are 6 and 5, and she will be away from them for the next six months. There are stories like hers unfolding every day, and some parents who are deployed for even longer and to locations that are inherently less safe. Still, let me tell you a little about her circumstances. When she returns to the States, she has orders to Mississippi. So while she’s away, her dad and step-mother (who I’ll just refer to as her parents) will pack up her house (which she can’t sell because of the current market, so it has to be rented out), find a new house in Mississippi, locate a new school for her children, and carry out the move most of the way across the country. When W steps off the ship, she will go to a completely different home in a different state, to a house she has never seen.

My sister has a job and she’s doing it. But that job creates a set of circumstances for her that are not asked of the rest of us. She’s making sacrifices that the rest of us are not, and I’ve never been more aware of that than I was last night when I talked to her.

We haven’t discussed our opinions about the wars our country is fighting right now. I don’t know whether we would disagree or agree, but it seems irrelevant, in light of her job. I think that all of us, no matter what we think about this issue, are supportive of our military. (Though couldn’t we fight for better benefits for them?)

My feelings about all war are complex. Our presence in Afghanistan is the only part of what we’re doing that seemed to be grounded in reason when we began, so my thoughts about that are more muddled. However, my opinion about our presence in Iraq is much less complicated. From the beginning, I was against our invasion of Iraq, and that opinion has only grown deeper roots as these five years have passed.

And what of the 40 years since My Lai? What of our involvement in Vietnam? What have we learned? It seems we’ve learned nothing, taken responsibility for nothing. And that once again we moved ahead without caution where we were not wanted, or needed, and to what end? What did we accomplish 40 years ago, and what have we accomplished in these last five? (The politics are complicated, and I’m aware of that, I assure you. It’s a longer discussion that I would want to begin here. But.)

My husband served in Vietnam, as part of the Phoenix Program. Please take a moment to look it up, if you’re not familiar with the mandate of that program, which was devised by the CIA in the late 1960s. I’ve heard some of his stories, enough of them to know that what our government did there was, at best, complicated. And at its worst, went utterly against the Geneva Conventions and against all sense of humanity. I’ve come to believe that everything about modern warfare is murky, and it’s not always easy to identify the good guys. Maybe it never was. Maybe war has always been subjective.

I could go on, but today is not really about that. This is about my sister.

I haven’t caught you up on this part of the story yet, but W and I have only met once, when I was 20 and she was 14. Yet, in recent years especially, we’ve built a relationship that is startling in its ease, despite the fact that we haven’t spent time in the same place. Our personalities are similar, just as I suspect my sister, who you know as Ducky, shares things in common with our other sister (there are four of us in all).

If you’re asking right now why we haven’t managed to see each other, there’s no good reason to offer, just that life has gotten in the way. But we will, and soon.

But not this summer.

Before we got off the phone, I told her that I loved her, which is something we don’t often do. Last night, though, it seemed important, because of today and where she is headed. Because I wanted to be sure she knows it. Because we have that, after all that has happened in our family. I know in my heart it won’t be the last time she hears it from me. I have faith that I will see her soon after she returns. But I said it anyway. Because.

And because I meant it.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

suburbancorrespondent March 16, 2008 at 7:10 pm

Yes, those moves are designed for people either without children or with a spouse able to take on the responsibility of orchestrating the relocation. It is hard to be a single parent in the military (though I think they still have a better support system there than they would in civilian life). What’s her job on the carrier?


Landon March 16, 2008 at 7:31 pm

I am overcome for your sister – for her and all the people sacrificing so much for such “murky” reasons. I send her and the world a wish for peace. I wholeheartedly agree with the issues you have with the war. Don’t get me started…
Keep writing.


the mama bird diaries March 16, 2008 at 9:17 pm

It is just unbelievable the sacrifice your sister is making. Wow. It’s really amazing. Thanks for this moving post.


Sports Mama March 16, 2008 at 9:35 pm

Speaking as the big sister of a Navy sailor…. I can completely understand the complex emotions surrounding everything they do. He served four years aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, at the start of the current conflict, and we were given the same reassurance: The safest place to be right now is on the carrier. I remind myself all the time that I don’t have to like what he does to support him in it. I am proud of my baby brother, proud of his accomplishments and achievements, and proud of his dreams and goals.

This is an unsettling year for anyone in the military. After all, they know that when their boss changes at the end of the year, so do their futures.

My thoughts and prayers will be with your sister as she begins this deployment, and with the children she leaves stateside.


Jenn @ Juggling Life March 16, 2008 at 9:37 pm

She’s lucky to have all your support; it is definitely not most of the American public making the sacrifices for this war, it is people like your sister.


Deb March 16, 2008 at 9:50 pm

I think it’s easily forgotten how many sacrifices the men and women in our military make every day.

And it’s posts like yours which make us remember.



Kellan March 16, 2008 at 10:41 pm

My father was in the Army for 35 years and I was an Army brat – so I know the military some. But, I don’t often think about the sacrifices women in the military might have to make – might actually be making. I hope she stays safe and returns home to her family as soon as possible. Thanks for sharing a bit of her story with us – for sharing her with us!

Take care – Kellan


Brenda March 17, 2008 at 5:05 am

There are no words for this kind of sacrifice. I am only grateful now that the American public is a little more respectful of the Troops than they were when Mr. H was in the military.

I’m also extremely thankful she has parents willing to help through this. Can’t imagine –on so many levels– if she didn’t.

Thanks for reminding us of the sacritices others make while we sit comfortably reading blogs and doing the other things we do all day–most of us without much fear, or even uneasiness. And too often without thought of those sacrifices by people like your sister.


HRH March 17, 2008 at 5:56 am

What an amazing sister you have. What an amazing sacrifice she makes for me. What an amazing gift she is to me. She continues to fulfill her promise despite politics (both world and military) around her. Please thank her and know that she is in my prayers.


Slow Panic March 17, 2008 at 6:17 am

stop making me cry. this was beautiful. i’m e-mailing you.


Meg March 17, 2008 at 6:35 am

Gosh, what an amazing, well written and touching post. May God reach down and wrap his loving arms around your sister, keep her safe and bring her home to her loving family. I will keep her (as I do all our troops) in my prayers.

Have a blessed day!


cce March 17, 2008 at 6:41 am

I can’t imagine the ambivalence that must plague our soldiers right now. A friend of mine is a Marine serving in Iraq, before he was redeployed he sent out an e-mail explaining that he was going back to continue fighting in a war started and perpetuated by, and I quote, “our misguided President”.

It’s impossibly complicated for those in uniform. It is their job, their promise and yet they may be totally against the mission personally.

Thinking good thoughts for your sister today.


Hatchet March 17, 2008 at 7:21 am

I can’t think of anything useful to say other than I hope your sister returns safe and sound as soon as possible.


Melissa March 17, 2008 at 7:24 am

Godspeed to your sister.
I agree, we may fight about the war(s), but we should ALL fight for better working conditions and benefits for those willing to go fight for our security and freedom.


we_be_toys March 17, 2008 at 9:42 am

My god, girl – I hate that your sister is enlisted and has to leave her kids behind. i know its what she feels she has to do, i just hate it for her, and all of you.

Your life saga is fascinating. i feel a little like a voyeur when I’m reading it, but its wonderfully written and well, fascinating (sorry, I sound like Mr. Spock!).

I want more!


Tootsie Farklepants March 17, 2008 at 10:42 am

I can’t imagine having to leave my kids, home, and entire life behind! Your sister is amazing!


JCK March 17, 2008 at 11:09 am

The relationship that you are building with your sister is lovely, especially for the complicated circumstances.

5 bloody years. I am completely against the war in Iraq. This administration’s actions have been unconscionable. I will be keeping your sister in my thoughts. I can’t imagine having to do what she is doing – all of it. She must be incredibly brave and strong.


SteveCinNM March 17, 2008 at 1:29 pm

I so enjoy your writing. I want to respond to most every post, but I feel like I don’t have time to “do them justice,” so I wait and never get anything submitted. This time, I had to respond.

Politics aside, you have hit upon the fundamental aspect of military service: sacrifice. Sure, ultimately every person in uniform might have to lay down his/her life, but prior to that, every day is about sacrifice, and through sacrifice (hopefully) duty, honor, country.

The military has developed a support system for those who serve, and it has adapted as our society has changed. Single parents (of either gender as well as when both parents are in the military) are not uncommon, and the “system” is prepared (more or less) for supporting servicemembers in a variety of situations. Is it perfect? No. Is your sister alone and abandoned? Definitely not.

War is indeed a messy business. People have to kill other people and try not to feel bad about it. But barring any fundamental change in human nature, I suspect we’re stuck with it. Wishful thinking does not make it go away. However, we have learned a lot since My Lai. No military goes so far to avoid killing noncombatants as ours. If someone does “cross the line,” they are court-martialed. Still, try to put yourself in the shoes of a soldier on the ground who has to determine (very quickly) if that person approaching is going to try to kill you and your buddies or just wants to chat. Tough stuff. I think we (needlessly) put our soldiers in too much danger by asking them to try to be diplomats (and psychic ones, to boot) as well as soldiers.

At the end of the day, all those who serve our nation deserve our thanks, our support, and most of all our respect. They are doing something that most would never even consider, as military service is decidely inconvenient. How can someone worry about American Idol or the latest celebrity to enter rehab when someone is shooting at you? (sorry, I digress…)

Your sister is feeling and thinking everything every soldier, sailor, airman, or marine has thought/felt during every conflict. I am not attempting to diminish in any way what your sister is going through — just the opposite. Courage is not the absence of fear (that’s insanity); rather, courage is the ability to act in spite of the fear. Your sister is someone you can be proud of. I know I am.

Well done.


Angela March 17, 2008 at 3:27 pm

Oh, I wish she could just be home with you and with her children. I could rail against this war, if I had more energy. But I’m just so tired….so so so tired of it all. Five years is a long time. It needs to end.


Crazycath March 17, 2008 at 6:03 pm

Oh God that is so …. can’t find the words. After everything else.

Has it really been 5 years? Believe me many feel the same in UK. I hope she stays safe and comes back home to her own land for that long overdue meet up with you.

And I’m so glad you told her you love her. Even though she knows it. I bet she’s glad too. And you.

Thinking of you all.


Suzanne March 17, 2008 at 7:53 pm

Thank you for a very thoughtful and balanced post on the war, which brings it right down to its most human level, the sacrifices of those who go, and those left behind.

You are right, in modern warfare there is no black and white, our motives are a mix of human interest and political or economic gain. And even then, there may be reasonable motives, even there.

No matter what, I admire and support the men and women who go where many others will not and do what many others cannot. They are brave and love our country with a fierceness that takes my breath away, whether they do or don’t agree with our motives for being there.

God speed your sister’s tour and safe return, and her children’s journey to Mississippi in her absence.

She is lucky to have you as a sister.


slouching mom March 17, 2008 at 8:39 pm

oh, jennifer.

such a perfect tribute to your sister.

i will be thinking of her.


Sandy (Momisodes) March 17, 2008 at 9:52 pm

I’m welling up here. I am speechless. My thoughts will be with your sister. Wishing her safe a safe and speedy return.


Kellan March 17, 2008 at 10:00 pm

Hey Jennifer – thanks for coming by tonight – you made me laugh – you are so cute! Have a good Tuesday and I’ll see you later – Kellan


Hazel March 17, 2008 at 11:28 pm

hi, first time here.have a nice day


Daryl E March 18, 2008 at 7:37 am

I hate, detest and abhor war and our involvement in the Middle East .. I am hoping your sister (and her crew mates) stay safe .. my cousin’s husband is an AF pilot so I know … sort of .. how you feel ..


Suzanne March 18, 2008 at 10:20 am

Your post has been on my mind since I first responded to it last night. By the number of comments, it touched a cord with a lot of your readers.

Anyhow, this afternoon I was doing my usual trolling through the news sites and came ac ross this article on the impact this war is having on women serving overseas: http://dailynightly.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2008/03/18/778710.aspx

I’m know that is also applies to our sons, husbands and fathers that serve there as well…

The combination of your post and this article really brought their sacrifice home.



Coco March 18, 2008 at 10:26 am

Jennifer, what a touching tribute to your sister.

Your views on the current wartime situations our country is mired in are so close to mine, and my husband, too, is a Veteran, of the first Gulf War. At the same time, we absolutely need to support our military families, and especially the parents who are leaving children and loved ones behind.

Your sister and your family are in my prayers.


AMomTwoBoys March 18, 2008 at 4:56 pm


One step-brother just got home from the gulf (USS Stennis) and the other one is just on his way out. Crazy-ness.

Hope she’s well and you get to see each other soon!


molly March 18, 2008 at 5:12 pm

My heart goes out to all the women who have to leave their families and children behind. I know it is hard for the fathers as well, but as a mother myself, I just can’t imagine how difficult it must be.
I hope she and everyone else will be coming home soon.


Mary Alice March 19, 2008 at 12:48 pm

My hat is off to your sister. She sacrifices so much…..also the troops couldn’t do their job without the support of their families. Your sister is very lucky to have such supportive parents.


Lisa March 19, 2008 at 3:34 pm

Please tell your sister ‘thank you’ from me.
She must be a strong woman like her sister Jennifer!


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