Saturday, April 04, 2009

When Mom Goes to War

Note: This posting was moved from the "comments" section for Navy mom of five leaves for Iraq today. You can also read my December posting about her here.

My reason for posting this item was to share with other non-combatants, some insight into the preparation and sacrifice that our men and women in uniform make in order to serve our country and yes, fight for our freedoms. I didn't plan on making it a debate about whether or not a mom should be sent to war. In this case, the mom volunteered.

And to set your minds at ease somewhat, she is supposed to be assigned to an intell unit that will be safely enclosed in a compound away from heavy street-fighting. But as we know, the enemy has a way of bringing the fighting to the innocents, so she has to be prepared for all contingencies. But her plan is to stay inside the compound for her entire tour, keep her head down, and not get shot.

I can't speak for Eileen, but I can tell you she is a dedicated mom as well as a dedicated naval officer. She and her family have made the decision to place the needs of our country above the needs of her family for this year in their lives. This decision was not made lightly, and yes, she could have said "no," after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 changed the nature of military service from one that prepares for war, to one that actually fights in a war. Indeed, her first response after 9/11 was to volunteer, as did many patriots. Her pregnancy meant they couldn't use her at that time. She could have left the service, but she stayed in the reserves because she obviously felt "called" to serve.

I put her in the same category as Sarah Palin. Lots of folks were shocked at her gumption to think she could run for Vice President while she had a newborn child with Down's Syndrome and a pregnant unwed daughter. "She was supposed to be home taking care of her kids," they said. But Sarah Palin isn't an ordinary mom. Eileen isn't an ordinary mom either.

Not everyone is called to serve in such a heroic fashion. Most of us stay-at-home moms serve by taking care of our families at home. But perhaps she is serving something higher than herself and her personal needs. I doubt if she would be able to commit to this level of military service if she didn't have the love and support of her husband, family and friends.

By the way, she told me her father said the same thing, when he heard she was going to be activated to Iraq. He is a retired Navy admiral and was used to being the one sent on dangerous missions while his family stayed home safe. It just didn't seem right to him that his daughter should be the one called. But Eileen assured him the Navy needed officers of her specialty and rank, and no, they didn't need any more admirals over there.

So, in answer to your questions, they do need her to go. She has the training and skills they need right now.

I'm constantly amazed at our nation's all-volunteer service. We have some of the most highly-trained and highly-skilled service men and women of any nation. And they are all volunteers. She volunteered to go. And she is one of many mothers and fathers who are serving as military forces and civilians in dangerous parts of the world.

As for the question of whether or not a mom should go to war, that's an issue that a woman who becomes a mother while serving in the military has to ask herself and her family. As for me, something clicked in my brain the moment I became a mom. I suddenly had an overwhelming desire, rather a primordial need, to be with my baby. I had a very difficult time even going back to work (which was a desk, in an office in Washington, DC). I entertained briefly the notion of staying in the reserves because it was only one weekend a month and two weeks a year and the pay was quite good. But the Gulf War became a reality during this time and my mother bear instinct was re-awakened and I knew I couldn't leave my babies, for I had three by this time.

I don't expect every mom to have the same gut feeling I did, though many do. And obviously, many men feel a mother should stay safe with the children while they do the fighting.

But the facts of life today are that women are in the military and as long as these women are mothers, they face the same deployment realities the men face.

The men and women who volunteer today face the stark reality of a post 9/11 world and they all have to be ready and willing to pay the ultimate price.


The Bookworm said...

Thank you for the clarification, Debbie. As I said before, I'm full of admiration for your friend's courage and sacrifice ... but my gut instinct says there is something wrong with a country even allowing a mother of young children to volunteer to be deployed and separated from them except in extremis. (Please don't think I'm knocking the US - I think the rules are pretty similar for women in the UK forces, also of course all volunteers.) I can see arguments against myself ;), but the instinctive reaction is still there.

Debbie said...

The interesting thing is the folks who so virulently support a "woman's right" to go to war are usually the far left who don't even volunteer themselves or their wives or daughters. So what we're left with are the more traditional-minded sorts who value things like patriotism and motherhood and what we have is a conflict of values. When I was an active-duty naval officer with three young children I often felt like I was at the center of this conflict. And yes, I believe the rules are pretty much the same for the UK or any other Western (progressive) nation.