Monthly Archives: September, 2015

Soul Care Conversation (Context of War – Korea)

September 30th, 2015 Posted by Blog 2 comments

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversations is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

Last week, we began our conversation on the context of war with a general overview. Why is this important?

REALITIES OF WAR

It is easy for our country to put the reality of war behind it once combat operations has concluded. For our nation, war is about:

  • national defense
  • strategic and geopolitical calculations
  • patriotic implications

For the warrior, it may be difficult to put behind what has happened during war because it is intensely personal. War for the warrior is about:

  • courage and honor
  • pain and suffering
  • sorrow and tragedy

What is missing is a clear understanding of what our nation has required of it’s sons and daughters who served during war. The warrior’s concerns are not the fulfillment of national goals, but survival and protecting his/her battle buddy. Our warrior’s departed from their civilian lives to do the remarkable, often distasteful, and always dangerous things while in combat.

These are the reasons we must look at the context of war:

  • between the tension of  what our nation requires of its warriors and what our warriors experience in war, gaps of understanding often result
  • there is a correlation between changing strategic military objectives and the likelihood of accomplishing them with the number of US casualties to public support of the war
  • the debate at home often influences the morale of the warrior
  • lastly, once home the veteran may still be at “war”

So, we will begin with the Korean War. This is not intended to slight those who fought in World War II. We have so few World War II veterans who remain active in our communities. However, we remember their courage and sacrifice in most US towns and villages with a war monument. We honor those who died serving in Europe and the Pacific in 14 overseas cemeteries. We recognize the living during anniversaries of significant battles. Thank you to our World War II veterans!

POLITICAL AND CULTURAL CONSIDERATIONS 

Following World War II, the US was recognized as a dominant power and with that came responsibilities. The Marshall Plan provided economic aid in order to restore our former enemy, but more importantly, to develop an ally. Treaty commitments were negotiated and formed. All of this was out of response to a perceived threat, communist aggression. A new kind of war began, a “cold war.”

Another factor that set the stage for our involvement in Korea was the division of the world following World War II. The victors, Soviet Union, US, United Kingdom, France among others established agreed upon zones of influence. The US and the Soviet Union agreed to a temporary division of the Korean peninsula along the 38th parallel, where the Soviets would occupy the north and the US the south.

Additionally, the already high tensions between the Soviet Union and the US, and a series of miscalculations, resulted in the North Koreans invading the south on 25 June 1950. These miscalculations included:

  • US never claimed it would defend Korea
  • North Korean, Chinese, and Soviet Union did not believe the US could defend the south
  • Communist Chinese growing strength

Within a week the US and the United Nations resolved to protect the South Korean government and its people, and thwart the aggression of the North Koreans.

The Korean War was an undeclared military action. Several thoughts:

  • initially described by President Harry S. Truman as a “police action”
  • has been referred to as the “The Forgotten War”
  • American politics influenced the strategic considerations prior to US involvement and during the war

In relation to the global scale of World War II which preceded it, the Korean War received little attention in the US. However, nearly 37,000 warriors would die in Korea and over 100,000 wounded.  Families at home would morn, but the country at large failed to recognize the scale and cost of the war.

In the first weeks of the war, a Gallup poll suggested that 81% of Americans supports the war.  There was little criticism.

This mood of confidence quickly eroded due to set backs in the conduct of the war.  US politicians began debating the conduct of the war and its aims.  In a year, a stalemate seemed accepted by the public.

Lastly and not surprisingly, the debate at home influenced the attitudes of the warriors.  With the strategic goals shifting to negotiating a truce along the same lines as when the war began a comment like, “No one wants to die for a tie” became prevalent.

(Above information largely taken from Those who have Borne the Battle, Wright)

IMPLICATIONS FOR TODAY

Understanding the cultural and political context helps put into perspective the mindset of the veteran who fought in a “forgotten war.” I have heard stories from Korean and Vietnam veterans who after they returned from war would go to the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars posts only to be told by World War II veterans, “We won our war, how about you?” Some veterans refused to go to a local post because they were not in a “war.” (Note, the Korean War is not over. An armistice was signed 27 July 1953 that halted combat operations.)

For many Korean War veterans, when they returned home they found the following:

  • most US citizens did not recognize that a war had taken place or that they cared
  • there were no parades honoring the veteran (it was not until 1991 that the Korean War veterans received a parade in New York City)
  • very few towns or villages put up memorials to honor those who fought and died in Korea (in fact the Korean War Memorial was dedicated 27 July 1995, 42 years after the armistice)

This is the past, but so very important to understand for today. Why? Many Korean War veterans remain bitter. Some just want to continue to forget the “forgotten war.” Others can not forget.

Our Korean War veterans are in the 80’s. Some are in hospice care and some hospitalized. They live in our communities and attend services in our faith communities.

What do we need to know? For many, they are prone to suffer from disabilities experienced from cold weather injuries. Many have unresolved guilt. Some may feel the abandonment of God. For many it may be the feeling of being on-forgivable, because of what they have done or saw while in combat. Most are proud of their service and sacrifice. And most have not shared their stories with another person, but now as they face the end of life, they may desire to do so.

What can we do? If we understand the political and cultural implications of the war, and the personal sacrifices made by the warrior, possibly we can be an integral part of the veterans’ journey in seeking a restorative path. And we can listen to their story! We listen with the heart so that through our actions of hope, love, patience, forgiveness, trust, and comfort, we live out the grace of the Divine providing remarkable healing power. If you have specific examples of what we can do, please add to the conversation.

We also can read about the war, became acquainted with the personal stories of those who sacrificed much.

Next week, we discuss the context of the Vietnam War. Until then, let’s continue the conversation…

 

Soul Care Conversation (Context of War, Overview)

September 23rd, 2015 Posted by Blog 2 comments

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversations is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

For the last 15 weeks or so, we have reviewed the aspects of military culture and defined some of the dynamics of the military family.  The next step in our conversation is to put into context our combat warriors and the wars they fought, beginning with the Korean War, and updating our discussion to the post 9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

OVERVIEW

All wars can be described in terms of:

  • length
  • costs
  • casualties
  • justification and outcome
  • public understanding and support
  • strategic implications

From the birth of the US, our citizens have debated the size and role of the military, and the political discourse at times has included very intense debates on whether to go to war. So, each war has had its unique aspects that posed challenges to:

  • public’s view and role
  • care system for the warrior in war
  • care system to each veteran following the war

What do we do with a large standing military at the end of war? After most of our conflicts or war, Congress has determined to “right-size” the military, which means that the military goes through a reduction in force. At times this is called a “peace dividend.”

And, what do we do with the veteran after war? In Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, close to the end of the Civil War, he stressed that the nation had an obligation to those “who have borne the battle.” This long standing understanding became crucial following the First World War and World War II. Going to war required a special sacrifice. For this reason, the nation owed the veteran special acknowledgement.

AMERICA AT WAR

From the American Revolution to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there have been significant changes in the ways wars have been fought and the ways in which the US has approached war. America’s wars prior to Korea were in direct response to an attack or provocation.  There is a line that follows from Korea to Vietnam to Iraq.  Korea was the first of 4 sustained, multi-year wars that responded to presumed or implicit threat.  Although each began with some clear political objectives, only in the case of the Gulf War of 1991 were the objectives met and only in that case did withdrawal follow the meeting of the objectives. Since World War II, the only sustained war in which the US was directly attacked was Operation Enduring Freedom. However, the attack came not from a country, but by from a group training and working within Afghanistan.

Commonalities of war since Korea are:

  • no formal declaration of war
  • marked with political constraints on the use of military force
  • military objectives were marked by imprecise and changing objectives
  • witnessed a fundamental shift in public enthusiasm and support
  • understanding of the mission and support for the troops depended on some ambiguous premise and soft assumptions

COSTS OF WAR

I often see the cost of war only listed in resources and money. The US spends an estimated 4-5% of its GDP each year on the military. The military portion of the budget goes to any military-related expenditure such as pay, training, health care of uniformed and civilian personnel, maintenance of arms, equipment and facilities, construction, and development and purchase of new equipment.

Beyond the cost of the military, there is the added cost for war, and it can be steep. The estimated cost of war to the GDP is:

  • World War 1: 14%
  • World War 2: 36%
  • Korea: 4%
  • Vietnam: 2%
  • Iraq: 1%
  • Afghanistan: no final figure
  • Libya: 0.01%

However, it is in the human cost of life that one begins to recognize the sacrifice made by those who put on the uniform and the families who remain at home. Of course statistics do not tell all, but just a glimpse at the following will suggest the number of families affected by the toll of war. The number of combat dead and wounded US service members from some past wars:

  • American Revolution – 8,000, 25,000 wounded
  • War of 1812 – 2,260, 4,5-5 wounded
  • Civil War – 212,938, 476,000 wounded
  • Mexican War – 1,733, 4,152 wounded
  • World War I – 53,402, 204,000 wounded
  • World War II – 291,557, 671,000 wounded
  • Korean War – 33,746, 103,000 wounded
  • Vietnam – 47,424, 153,000 wounded
  • Post 9/11 (Afghanistan and Iraq) – 5,281, 53,000 wounded

The above list does not even begin to tell the whole story. The US still has warriors missing in action. The number of dead does not include those who died due to accident or “friendly” fire. And, recently the VA recognized that there has been more Vietnam veterans who have committed suicide than were killed in action. The same holds true for Post 9/11 veterans.

As in every war the wounded are far more numerous than those killed. Common combat injuries have included second and third degree burns, broken bones, shrapnel wounds, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, nerve damage, paralysis, loss of sight and hearing, post traumatic stress disorder, and amputations.  The warriors have suffered grievously as have their families who provide care for them after their return.

BIGGER PICTURE

In the American political discourse, often the only discussion on the cost of war surrounds the financial costs, strategic costs, and US military casualties. But the human cost affects the fabric of most US communities and families. Our warriors return as veterans to their families and communities with the wounds of war, some are silent wounds. The effects of war linger and can be seen by the employer, college or university faculty and staff, hospital and hospice care providers, and even in the movie theater. Others face a variety of problems reintegrating into their families and communities resulting in joblessness, isolation, divorce, and drug and alcohol addictions among them.

Also, we soon forget the human cost to those whom we fight, to their families and communities. The consequences of war for the people in other countries remain higher than for the US because our wars have largely been fought on foreign soil, except the American Revolution, War of 1812, and the Civil War. Consider the number of civilians killed due to direct violence and fighting, number of war refugees and displaced persons, and violations of human rights.

Lastly, as we look at the places where the US has been involved since the Korean War, it appears the US has been engaged in come conflict or war constantly. The conflicts include:

  • Lebanon Crisis
  • Bay of Pigs Invasion
  • Cuban Missile Crisis
  • Dominican Republic
  • USS Liberty Incident
  • Iran
  • El Salvador Civil War
  • Beirut deployment
  • Persian Gulf escorts
  • Grenada
  • Bombing of Libya
  • Panama, Gulf War
  • Operation Provide Comfort
  • Somalia
  • Haiti
  • Columbia
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Kosovo
  • Afghanistan
  • Iraq

In all of these operations, the US military experienced loss of life. Also, each operation requires time; time in training, time away from family and community, and time engaged in stressful and dangerous situations. Time spent in stressful situations has a cumulative effect on a warrior, both short term and long term. What may be some mitigating strategies?

Over the course of these next several weeks, we will begin to dig deeper into the specific wars and conflicts since World War II. Next week we will discuss Korea. Please consider joining the conversation…

Soul Care Conversation (Military Family Dynamics: Children and Services)

September 10th, 2015 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversations is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

Last week we began our conversation on military family dynamics by discussing how the military family is in constant transition and that the military family exists in a self-contained community. This week we will share about a specific aspect of the military family, the children. And, we will conclude our conversation on the military family by reviewing the resources and services available.

MILITARY BRAT

I am sure you have heard the term, military brat.  Some may misunderstand the term as it appears pejorative.  However, in military culture the term is largely viewed as a phrase of endearment. The military brat is a unique subculture and lifestyle.

My two sons are military brats.  They are part of a unique group of individuals who are immersed in military culture.  They have lived in foreign countries where they have been exposed to foreign languages and cultures. They have lived in various states.  They changed elementary schools 4 times.  They were part of 4 different scout troops and lived in 9 different houses in 12 years.  The reality is, my sons did not have a “home town.” They did not have many opportunities to experience their grandparents or other extended family.

My sons also experienced the absence of their father due to numerous deployments and training exercises. They felt the threat of losing their father due to war. They experienced the stresses with the psychological and spiritual aftermath of my deployments. And yet, my sons are resilient, adaptable, resourceful, flexible, and self sufficient. They are amazing young men! And if you cannot tell, I am proud of both of them!!

Understand that the military is a very diverse demographic.  Because of this diversity, military brats live, play and go to school with children from many cultures, races, and faiths. Because of constant transition, military brats understand the value of friendship. Due to the close proximity of military culture, they often are inculcated into the warrior ethos, and patriotic ideals.

However, being a military brat comes with an “occupational hazard,” war-time family stresses. Just recently the Stars and Stripes published an article, “Are military children prone to high-risk behavior in wartime?” The article highlights a study of California school-age students and suggests that “a sizable subset of military-connected students are struggling to cope with the ramifications of two long wars.” The study reflected that the military family student was more likely to report alcohol and prescription drug abuse, carrying a gun, and exhibiting physical violence.

Military families are not immune to negative behavior or other adolescent struggles. What can we do?

  • awareness education within schools and other youth service agencies of the possible issues the military child could face
  • identify military students within the school systems (not to set them apart, but to acknowledge a unique demographic with the challenges)
  • train support personnel within the school system that understand military family dynamics
  • rally efforts in the civilian schools and communities to support military families

The faith community also has a role with hospitality and receptivity. Also, the faith community can understand the dynamics as in the schools in order to be better trained to be a support.

 RESOURCES AND SERVICES AVAILABLE

The active duty service member and her/his family have numerous resources available:

  • installation volunteer programs
  • support groups
  • individual and family counseling
  • financial assistance
  • recreation (bowling, swimming pool, theater, etc)
  • shopping
  • housing
  • medical and dental
  • chapel
  • child and youth services

These same services are available to reserve and guard personnel who have been mobilized. Often the warrior returns home and their priority is reintegration with the family.  Of course this is important, but the warrior and family should also use these resources at their disposal.

This concludes our conversation on military family dynamics. However, if there is a specific topic that we did not discuss, or you have questions or comments, please add to the conversation. Our next topic for discussion will be the context of war. Until then…

Soul Care Conversation (Military Family Dynamics: Transition and Community)

September 2nd, 2015 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversations is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

Last week we concluded our 8 week conversation on the unique components and histories of military culture. Of course our discussions were not exhaustive, however we now have a reference point for our future conversations around the challenges that a warrior and family experience. This week we will expand our conversation on military family dynamics. I hope that this topic will generate some dialogue among us.

I remember hearing a First Sergeant tell a new Soldier who has having family or marital problems, “if the Army wanted you to have a wife, they would have issued you one!” Do you recall that several weeks ago we shared that first and foremost, mission takes precedence? “Mission first, people always.” One of the outcomes of mission focus is that family concerns are always secondary. As such, the military’s responsiveness to family needs is in direct proportion to how the service sees these needs as they support the mission and the war fighter.

Understanding this helps put into context the unique culture of the military family and the implications on family dynamics. We will look at the following:

  • Transition is a way of life
  • Self contained community
  • Military brat
  • Resources and services available

For this week’s conversation, we will discuss transition challenges and the implications of the military being a self contained community.

CONSTANT TRANSITION

We recently discussed a critical component of the military culture, constant transition.  When a service member receives orders for re-assignment, he or she has no choice, the service member moves. If the service member moves, most likely so does the family. However, there are times that the service member moves alone:

  • unaccompanied tour (re-assignment orders for a hazardous duty location)
  • spouse has employment in career field at current location
  • spouse or children have medical or academic requirements that limit places of residence

Family separation presents challenges for the service member, spouse and children. While stationed at Fort Bragg, NC, I was selected for senior service college at the Army War College in Carlisle, PA. Joel, our youngest son was entering his senior year in high school. In order to make an informed decision the family made the trip to Carlisle to check out the school and community. We visited the teachers, soccer coach, and school campus. After several months of prayer and deliberation, Joel decided he would prefer to graduate from the high school he started three years prior. So, I made the move to Carlisle and the family remained in North Carolina. This was not an easy year for any of us, however, Joel was able to complete his education with friends as well as play varsity soccer for his high school team.

Moving brings added stress to families. Military families understand unique challenges after each move:

  • find a new home
  • change schools
  • change doctors and dentists
  • spouse searches for new employment
  • securing a trusted child care provider
  • locating a hair fashion specialist or barber
  • leaving friends and finding a new support system

Perhaps this is the most important thing to remember in your relationships to military families, that they are in constant transition.  Military families face frequent moves, often without the financial help provided by corporate moves.  Frequent moves become a sacrifice.

Because of frequent moves, the military family readily builds new friendships.  For some in the civilian world, this may appear pushy.  But realize, connections are extremely important. Our family have life long friends from most of our locations where we lived.

Additionally, not only does the service member and family move frequently, but the upheaval in family life is compounded by the numerous deployments or time spent away in lengthy training. This creates adjustment challenges for the family. It seems that there is one constant, an absent spouse or parent. The requirements placed upon the stay-at-home spouse/parent:

  • providing emotional stability and security for the family
  • maintaining balance in home life
  • disciplining of the children
  • maintenance on the house or vehicle
  • shopping
  • attending school activities
  • “taxi driver” taking the children to appointments

This is not an easy task for the spouse.

Also, finding work and life balance for the service member is difficult. Work/life balance in the military is not a scale where hours are weighed and measured. Instead, work/life balance comes from family. We discovered early in our military service that what’s important is not the amount of time but the quality of time spent with family. The family is the foundation upon which the service member stands, constantly shifting to balance the demands of a military life. This is the reason why the Army in a campaign has projected the importance of family, “Army Families, Army Strong.”

SELF CONTAINED COMMUNITY

Military communities are closed societies with loose boundaries between work and social life.  Many active duty military members live on a post or base, where they live, work, and play in a self contained community.  The military community has a great diversity of faith groups, races and regional cultures not experienced in most civilian communities.  Therefore, the importance of esprit de corps for the family is just as important as it is to the warrior.  The support the family receives from like-minded and situationed persons becomes valuable, especially during the service member deployments.

While the warrior is deployed, the family attempts to keep everything as normal as possible.  The spouse and children attend school functions, church, continue playing soccer, baseball, cheer, visit the grandparents, go shopping.  Normalcy is paramount for the family.

Often spouses may find it difficult to navigate the military systems in order to better integrate into the community or to find resources, so the help from other experienced spouses in a like situation  proves beneficial. For this reason, the military has implemented family support systems. In the Army, the FRG (Family Readiness Group) provides resources and support to the family, especially during deployments.

The self contained concept has its advantages as stated. However, this can cause isolation from other support mechanisms and relationships in the civilian community. The opportunities for the civilian community to develop and sustain relationships with military families can be challenging and rewarding.

At times when the warrior deploys, the family may decide to move “back home.” This can be both good or bad depending on the support the family may require if something happens to the warrior while in combat, or if there is a medical emergency for a family member.

Also, the Reserve and Guard families do not have the built in support mechanisms, or the distance to reach support systems are too far. This can prove problematic for the family, who possibly a week ago was a civilian family, but now because their spouse is deployed, are considered a military family with all of the challenges a deployment offers. Community support for the Reserve and Guard families is essential. This is where the faith community can have an impact.

This is a good place to ask you, how do you see knowing about military family dynamics will help you in initiating and developing a relationship with a service member’s spouse and children? Next week we will discuss the military brat and the services available to service member families. Is there anything else you desire to know? Until next week….