I recently had the honor and privilege of visiting the United States Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune, NC. My husband had been stationed there several years ago. He had many wonderful memories, but the last time he was there and the circumstances leading up to his departure had been heartbreaking and honestly devastating. The last time he was there, he went from preparing for his next deployment to being diagnosed with lymphoma cancer and facing the end of his military career by being medically discharged from the Marine Corps. This was the first time he had been back to Camp Lejeune since receiving his medical discharge. He had left facing the thought of loosing his life to a disease rather than a bullet, but returned cancer free and healthy. It was a homecoming for him under much happier circumstances. He returned to the base cancer free, able to take in all the new changes to the base, enjoy and relax on the beach he’d once had to do PT on, visit his old barracks room and the room of a dear friend he’d lost in Iraq. It was wonderful to see him so happy, at ease and enjoying life at the place he felt most at ease, the world of the USMC. He was surrounded by fellow marines, in a world he fit perfectly in, understood and had not only acclimated to, but had grown to love. The lifestyle of a United States Marine was his element. The place he understood every aspect of how it worked, which provided him with a feeling of safety and belonging. It was like slipping on your favorite pair of old jeans that fit and conform to you perfectly. I saw a side to my husband I’d never seen before… he was full of smiles, laughter and relaxed. PTSD symptoms were practically none existent. It was awesome! Being on the base gave me even more clarity into my husband and what made him who he is. It depended my understanding of his struggle to return to civilian life and the challenges he faces and why he handles things the way he does. A whole lot of things clicked and suddenly came into perspective and made sense. It was an experience that brought us even closer together, made our marriage even stronger and caused me to love and appreciate the man he is and the sacrifices he’s made to a higher level. It made me even more proud to be his wife and even more proud of our military fighting forces.
The other thing being on the base did was make me aware of just how young the warriors defending our country are. I looked around and saw young men who could be my sons. They looked so small and I don’t mean that degrading at all, I just mean they were lean and not towering warlord looking giants. Although their physical appearance may not have been massive, I know that each of them have the heart of a lion and the resolve, training and ferociousness to attack and defeat any foe. The most elite fighting machine of skilled warriors did not look like I’d expected. They were impressive, inspiring and strong, but so young. I was a bit taken back to see the young faces of those who have taken on such responsibility, show such valor, strength and sacrifice. To think that some of those young men we saw on our vacation will be deploying soon, to face evil, horror, injury and death. I know they will run headlong into the battle without a second thought or hesitation. They do that for you and me and every American. Shame on those who burn the American flag. Shame on those who don’t support our military and their families. Shame on the government entities who promise to care for them when they return from battle, but don’t keep their end of the bargain. Shame on our society that shows no compassion and takes no action toward helping to prevent veteran suicide.
The warriors and soldiers deployed are not toy action figures, disposable and replaceable. Veterans returning from war or long retired….. they are real, human beings with parents, siblings, spouses and children. They are not some nameless, faceless statistics. They are exceptional human beings who answered a call to protect and defend that many, including myself, would not be able to answer. Not everyone is called to be in the military, but everyone is called to care for his fellow man. Let us not become callus or entitled. Let us not forget those who have and continue to sacrifice so much. Semper Fi, always faithful, is a foundational principle of the United States Marine Corps. I propose that be our attitude toward helping those who are, have, and continue to protect our freedom and way of life. Let us be faithful to support and encourage military personnel not only when they are active duty, but when they return home and need help transitioning back into civilian life. Everyone can do something to make a difference in a life. Let’s start today. Do what you can, where you can to make a difference.