15 September, 2007

How it All Started

In the last two years, I've often been encouraged to tell the story of how I got involved in milblogs, and how I ended up in the middle of Valour-IT. The story has been told in brief, but the truly interesting parts are in the details--it wasn't inevitable. This may break up into several posts, but here goes...

Ever since shortly after 9-11, when it became public knowledge that we had troops (Special Operations, etc.) in Afghanistan, I had been wanting to do something to encourage and support them; I felt deeply the imbalance of sacrifice when thinking of people fighting and dying on my behalf, but I hadn't even remote connections to anyone in the military. Every few months I would search online for ways to directly adopt soldiers, but could never find anything until the summer of 2004, when I discovered AnySoldier.

I immediately adopted several units and got to work turning my tiny living room into a Care Package Assembly Line (I loved it!). Being a complete civilian, I was acutely aware of my ignorance of warfighters' daily lives and experiences on the front lines. So I turned again to my computer and did some online word searches in order to learn how to better "support the troops."

And then I found the milblogs...

I mostly lurked, but I learned and learned, and I left comments of love and appreciation on the blogs of deployed personnel. Another commenter wrote something particularly lovely on "American Soldier's" blog in January 2005, during his pre-deployment training. AS now password-protects that post, but I still have the words written by someone who called himself "Sgt. B:"

As you travel in pursuit of your Duty, remember another song… “We Are With You”

And, when you have a chance to pause, and rest during your training, and on your missions, you will feel a gentle pressure on your right shoulder…

It is the pressure of a million hands… A million hands laid upon your shoulder in support of what you are doing, and why you are doing it.

It is the pressure of a million hands, whose owners bow their heads in prayer, praying for your safety, praying for your family, and praying in gratitude that there are men and women like you who go in Harm’s way in the name of Freedom, Duty, Honor, and Country.

We’ll see you when you get home!

It was so beautiful, and seemed the perfect words to include in my care packages to new adoptees. So I emailed Sgt. B for permission to steal his words and--to my gratified surprise--he responded with more than just a "yes" or "no." I discovered Sgt. B was a former Marine who was itching to be out there again, and he closed his email with, "...it was an honor to serve."

That little phrase was the catalyst. I wrote back, "I suddenly realized that I understand that phrase much more than I used to." And thus a friendship was born.

I continued my email reply to Sgt. B with a report on the education I'd been getting from milblogs and my adopted soldiers, and my sense of guilt for being the recipient of others' sacrifices. That was when he got downright prescient:
...the real support that us "homefront" types can show is to help these war-fighters make the transition from a front line soldier, back to that father, mother, brother, sister, regular human being...

And this is where compassionate people like you come into your own. By taking the time to understand "your" soldiers, you'll be better positioned to be part of that whole healing process. I would submit that your best days (in the field of
troop support) are ahead of you. [...]

So: Just because you aren't running through the ruins of some far off town, guns blazing and a bayonet clenched in your teeth, don't feel like you are any less important to this effort than the guy behind the rifle. You and I are a VITAL part of this, but we enter the ball game towards the end, and our actions might have an even greater overall impact than all of the combat actions combined, because we're in this for the rest of their lives.

I scoffed (remember, this was January 2005; FbL hadn't even been "born," yet). I thought he was kind but utterly absurd, especially for having based his comments on nothing more than my two emails. And yes, I told him he was. I didn't even know any soldiers outside the Internet and the letters I sent to units in Afghanistan and Iraq! How could an ignorant civilian like me with no direct connection to veterans possibly be part of a warfighter's emotional and physical recovery? As if a combat vet would even care to talk to me... Silly man.

Actually... Silly me.

[pic found here]