It’s been a rough week on our military and their families. We have dealt with an anti-war protest that included the police being told to stand down during an incident with spray paint and then we discovered that William Arkin considers our troops “mercenaries”. For that reason, I would like to introduce you to one of those so called mercenaries: my husband.
My husband Carl grew up in a very small town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Carl joined the Army at the age of eighteen for two reasons: First, to get some kind of training that would give him a chance to make a decent living as the area where his family lives is extremely poor and job prospects are very limited. The second reason was because he believed it was truly his duty to serve his country.
In 1988 Carl joined the Army and was stationed in Fort Ritchie, MD as an MP. During his enlistment there he married another soldier and had a son. Like many marriages at such a young age, it did not work out and he became a single father. At the end of his enlistment he realized that he could not raise his son on his own and remain a member of the active duty Army and do both well, so he went back home to raise his son. Shortly after returning home he returned to the military in the only capacity that was available under the circumstances: He became a reservist with the Michigan National Guard.
When Carl and I married in 1996 he made me one promise: He promised if it ever came to the point that America would find herself in combat, he would get out of the military and stay out. As I sit here ten years and one deployment to Iraq later, I can tell you that is the only promise he has ever broken to me. We made the choice together that he would remain in the military or if I am honest this was our compromise when he wanted to return to active duty after September 11. As each enlistment has come up since [Septemeber] 11, he comes to me with that silly look on his face and all the reasons why he needs to stay. In the end, I knew I could stop him but I also knew that if I did he would have never felt right about himself and that would have changed the man that I fell in love with.
In the past six years since September 11 and then our entry into Afghanistan and Iraq, Carl has reminded me more times that I can count that he defends the right of those who don’t support him just the same as those who do. Somehow, that is easier for him to take than it will ever be for me.
He spent a year in Iraq after volunteering to a unit that was on alert and preparing to mobilize. Like many, he came home not exactly the same as he left. He lost a level of innocence that I had always envied in him. Carl once believed that all people were inherently good; needless to say he has seen the uglier side of people and no longer believes that all have good in them.
Like most Carl came home to a the usual pomp and circumstance of returning troops. He would also discover that while there were many that had respect for his service there were others who would have the [gull] to tell him to his face that they don’t support an “illegal” war. He would discover that it didn’t matter what he said or how he explained to some his point of view, they really didn’t care that much about first hand experience. He has taken all of this in a manner that only a soldier can do. He maintains pride in his service and a belief in the country he defends. He believes in the principals this country was founded on and he still believes they are worth defending even if those that he defends throw it back in his face.
This is a man that will give anyone a ride that might need one, holds the door open for women and older people, the first one to notice a child too close to the street and the last person to do harm to another. I could go on forever about this man that has been known to give a kitten mouth to mouth in order to save it because it was loved by his wife and daughter and the same man that loves his family with all that he has but for some he will never be seen as anything but a “mercenary”. To me and to those who know him, he is a loving and giving man with a sense of humor and a very clear cut set of values. He is the person that would put himself in harms way not only to defend those he loves but also for those who hate him. This is my soldier. He is not the exception nor is he unique when it comes to the men and women of our Armed Forces, in fact he is the norm among those who put on a uniform in order to defend the country they love so much.