This Is How We Bridge That Civilian-Military Divide

(Stock image)
(Stock image)

It's not a new problem to the military community, but it's still a difficult one.

You're balancing the wounds of separation and service as a family, while your warfighter spouse nurses his or her own problems -- and the civilian community around you just doesn't get it.

Yet you desperately need them to do so. You can't stay sheltered by your military community friends forever. You need to be known and seen. You need America to understand your experience. But how?

Warriors are trained to reach into their most primal selves to fight an enemy that threatens those they love and represent. In a culture that can often seem to emasculate its men and bend to the individual, the military continues to channel ferocity and unity.

And warriors love it. They welcome the uniform and anticipate the opportunity to push beyond their limits. Even training days filled with monotonous administrative tasks leave a service member antsy to live out the identity of a warrior, ready at a moment's notice to confront evil.

Why do you think they put up with all of that paperwork? Trained to bond with their weapons and overcome adversity, what they are called to do sometimes teeters on the edge of what the human spirit should ever be asked to do.

While the culture they protect identifies with unicorns, warriors seek out personas like the honey badger, one of the most fierce and fearless animals. There's a reason the meme "honey badger don't care" exists.

You, the family of the warrior, are not that different. Shaped daily with little guidance, you dig deep to define your own identity: that of a warrior's helpmate.

Which is why warriors don't marry just anyone. They find someone with a strength that complements their own -- the quiet kind of strength that can settle a warrior's spirit.

Creating a home where a honey badger doesn't have to be a honey badger is no easy task. It is an honorable position, one in which we take great pride. Where civilian community members see the warrior as an intimidating hero who is "different," the warrior spouse sees the inner child who longs for home.

With great internal resolve, the warrior spouse aims to be a complementary, yet contrasting spirit, who allows a honey badger to close his eyes and rest.

And yet from the military community's perspective, the civilian world would rather bicker amongst themselves than see a horizon emblazoned red with battle, or the people who stand on the frontlines.

Is it any wonder the warrior family feels such a divide from that community? Meanwhile, that village gets to freely enjoy blissful innocence under the protection of its warriors. The warriors themselves don't have that privilege. Neither do you, the spouse.

Maybe that's the root of the civilian-military divide: the stark difference between those with innocence and those with innocence lost.

They are distracted by what seems meaningless to us. And so military families respond with bitterness, and the divide widens.

How does the warrior return to the community to talk of lattes and politics after leaving innocence on the field? How does the warrior spouse enter back into a community that seems unaware of the deep wounds and moral injuries he or she continues to nurse?

We listen.

Battle, and the consequences it brings, changes us. Paired with exhaustion, the sacrifice changes us in a way that we often don't see until we are around those who have been unaffected by it.

Our own fear widens the divide. We fear we don't fit in, we fear the community won't put down Instagram long enough to hear about our scars -- the evidence of our devotion to them.

But what we don't see are the scars of perseverance and heartache our civilian communities also have from their own, different, battles. They, too, fight for health, family provision and marriage. And we've all changed over time. We changed on or near the battlefield; our community changed while we were gone.

It's time for us to show a new kind of courage: facing the fear of human connection. The vulnerability it takes to reintegrate in our own homes after war is the same required of us to reintegrate with the community that sends us.

What we have most in common is human connection. Our family members who don't have direct knowledge of military life deserve our grace, as do our surrounding communities.

We sometimes forget that the honor of being a warrior family is that we willingly take on the mantle of responsibility so that others don't have to do it. It's unfair for us to ask the community to bear the burden of understanding that weight when we willingly carry it for them.

Connecting with family and community will require the willingness to be vulnerable at the risk of being misunderstood. We are all shaped by our own unique experiences.

Listen more.

"We are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person." -- W. Somerset Maugham

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