Military spouses and the girlfriends and boyfriends of our sailors, Marines, soldiers, and Airmen may not go to war. They may not walk out the front gate at a forward operating base in a dusty assemblage of sand filled barriers and commodes where other men and women burn their own feces. They may not have walked past the last line of defenses into a jungle in Vietnam or into the foothills of the Hindu Kush.
Parents may not go to war with their sons and daughters. They may not see their children's best friend gasp for breath as their son or daughter piles the loops of intestine back onto the top of a shredded uniform. They may not board a plane in transit home through Kuwait and Shannon, Ireland, with fewer men and women that made that same flight in reverse 12 months earlier.
They may not go to war, but they are at war just as much as their sons, daughters, wives, husbands, girlfriends, and boyfriends are at war. They carry the burden, though they may not carry the ammunition. You think it is hard to pick out a veteran in a room? Good luck picking out the spouse, the caregiver, the mother or father of a veteran. You may see them in a VA waiting room or at the trailhead for a wounded warrior hike, but how will you recognize them? And have you been to the waiting room at a VA lately? For every warrior, there is likely a mother and a father, a brother, a sister, a significant other, all attached.
Don't wait for the memorial service to get to know the spouse, the caregiver, the mother or father of your service members. Don't let this week at the Huffington Post be the last week you remember the military family for the year. Do not forget them as they pass anonymously by in the vegetable aisle at the grocery store looking for lettuce or with a passel of kids at the movie theater.
It is not, however, enough just to remember them, just as it is not enough to put a yellow ribbon on the back of your car and think you are supporting the troops. It is not enough to ask, "How are you doing?" on Sunday morning if you do not intend to follow up during the week. But that isn't just military, is it? That's for everyone.
Be prepared for action if you really care. Be prepared for an honest answer that may unsettle you and at the very least be informed. Know what OIF was, who the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is. Give an hour where you can to meet your neighbors, the veterans or the Marines, the Navy, the Air Force, the Coast Guard, the Reserves, and the Air and Army National Guard who live among you. Learn the difference between a sergeant and a lieutenant. Here's a hint: one will get you lost, one will get you found.
And don't get upset; I was an LT once.
The author would like to thank his parents and hundreds, if not thousands of people all around the world, from old rugby buddies, class mates, battle buddies, commanders, soldiers, nurses, doctors, my Mom and Dad, my brother, my girlfriend, my exes, my employers, my colleagues and even that guy that gave me a high five in the D.C. Metro for no apparent reason, for being my military family and making sure I get home from war all right every night. Your support means the world to me.
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