BAGHDAD – Editor's note: U.S. Army Capt. Dan Sukman is serving a one-year deployment to Iraq. For previous entries and his bio, see the Soldier's Diary archives.
Since the earliest days of combat, one of the greatest morale boosters for a soldier is when the mail comes in. With access to the Internet, written mail has taken a back seat, but it's not so much the letter that is important, it's the communication with the family. The military family is what I want to talk about in this entry.
I have two inspirations for writing this. The first is having seen my roommate wear Superman pajama pants to bed. I made fun of him until he explained how they were a gift sent over from his son. I still make fun of him for it, but it shows how his family at home can keep his morale high while deployed in Iraq.
The second reason has to do with the Stryker Brigade I mentioned in my last entry. They have joined us here for their four-month extension. I have talked to a couple of soldiers, my impression is that after the initial shock they have come to accept their extended tour, and now are able to joke about it, a tool soldiers often use to deal with unexpected situations.
I have not seen any writings in the port-a-johns yet, but I suspect I will. You can always make a judgment on morale by what is being written on the walls of a toilet stall; although to this day I do not know if people just happen to have a marker on them when they go in, or if they plan on taking the marker in ahead of time.
Where I think soldiers are affected the most by unexpected extensions is with the family at home. When we sign up for this job, we know and understand the hardships that come with it. Frequent combat tours are a possibility, spending time overseas is expected -- it's what we volunteered for. Family members don't volunteer, they don't sign a contract, but their sacrifice is just as great.
As a soldier, we understand the intricacies of what is going on over here; our families when watching the news, be it FOX News or CNN, only get vague generalities of the situation. A nightly news report on a helicopter going down in Iraq can cause undue stress on thousands of families, all of whom may wonder if that is their loved one's area. (This is not a criticism of the press, rather a comment on what our families can go through).
Over here we know what is happening to us, and to our comrades. Family members can go weeks on end without hearing from a loved one. They live with the potential of a soldier walking up to their door in Class A uniform with the worst possible news.
Most military communities are packed with a soldier's immediate family: wife, husband and kids. You can find them outside of our military bases in towns like Clarksville, Fayetteville and Killeen to name a few. Families of our brethren in the National Guard and Reserves are in nearly every community in America.
Family members are a little more difficult to recognize. They don't wear a uniform, no high and tights on the tops of their heads, but you can find them in almost any community. They attend and teach in our schools and coach and participate in local athletic teams. Often they do so without one of their parents attending a game, or meeting their teacher at the local school.
If you know a military spouse, parent, sibling, or even a second cousin third-removed brother's former roommate (my "Spaceballs" reference of the week) of a deployed serviceman, take a moment and recognize the sacrifices they make.