Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What the War Has Cost Me

My husband has been an active-duty Marine for the past twenty years. Last year, a week before Christmas, he was deployed. I was lucky: my husband’s field is finance, and he ended up in a support billet in the Gulf instead of on a patrol in Baghdad or Al Anbar Province. Although his job has taken him to the Green Zone twice so far, I don’t have the daily fear of his being shot by a sniper or riddled with fragments from an IED, or of his vehicle or helicopter spiraling through the air trailing smoke. I can’t complain. I don’t. Military wives (and husbands) live in an atmosphere of unrelenting stoicism. But I’m not writing about my fears or my rage or my politics. I’m taking stock of what this war has cost my family.

This war has cost my children the joy of sharing Christmas and each of their birthdays with their Papi. My son turned 9, and my daughters 6 and 3, while their father was away. This war has cost me the help of another parent when all three children had the flu at the same time, and the level head of my husband when the little one was vomiting so severely I took her to the emergency room. This war has cost my children 200 days of playing Ride the Horse and Gotcha and What’s That on Your Shirt? and The Ceiling Fan Is a Tornado with their Papi. We will have missed 200 dinners together by the time he comes home, and all of the pancake breakfasts he would have made. I will have missed all of those nights of hearing my husband breathing next to me, those mornings watching him brush his teeth, those evenings laughing over a bad movie or planning our future after he retires. And all of the times I’ve been tired, or sad, or lonely, the war has cost me the comfort of my partner, and the advice of my dearest friend. It has cost my husband his son’s school awards ceremony, the chance to watch his daughter wiggle her first loose tooth, the elusive moment when his toddler stopped being a baby and became a kid. As great as the effort he puts into staying in touch by phone and web cam, he will still have missed 200 days of coming home after work to the excited yells of “Papi!” and the sound of running feet.

Worst of all is the price that we will continue to pay after my husband returns. Even if, through great good fortune, he comes home never having been shot at and never having had to try to kill another person, my husband will still not come home the same person who left. War changes those who experience it, from whatever perspective. How could it not? The question is only in what ways, to what extent. The Marine who comes back won’t be exactly the same friend, the same husband, the same Papi who left. Our efforts to find ways to make ourselves into a family again are the last, unknown costs of this war for us. Others have paid prices even higher, and I grieve for them.

I suspect that people reading this may be saying to themselves, “That’s too bad, but this is what she signed up for when she married someone in the military.” And of course that’s true although, from the time we were married until now, my husband has never served at a duty station from which he could be deployed, so we never prepared ourselves for it. We simply never imagined a conflict lasting this long, one that would dig so deeply into the heart of the Corps. At the end of January, the Commandant of the Marine Corps issued a message, ALMAR 002/07, saying that the Corps intended “to allow every Marine [the] opportunity” to deploy and “to identify Marines who have not yet deployed…and facilitate their reassignment to rotational units.” Marines with various non-combat specialties --- food service, finance, logistics --- are finding themselves deployed as frontline troops. After all, “Every Marine a Rifleman.” But even families who have known from the beginning that their Marine would deploy are not less affected by it. In ALMAR 008/07, the Commandant wrote, “The current operational tempo of the long war has resulted in strain on our Marines and on the Corps as an institution…. I am…concerned with the stress of multiple deployments on our Marines and their families.”

So far, the war in Iraq has cost the United States around $700 billion in direct spending, meaning not counting things like the lost productivity of deployed reservists, or how much that money would have improved the U.S. economy had we spent it at home, or the war-related increase in the price of oil. Divided by the current U.S. population, I get $2,320 per person. Of course, my pocket calculator’s screen can’t show 700 billion (a 7 and 11 zeros), so I rounded. Even if you never know someone who fought in Iraq, this was has cost all of us. I believe that General Conway already knows what the war has cost my family. I bet Mrs. Conway knows even better.