Putting your heart where your crow used to be

Anybody who wears their feelings on their sleeve and has a harder, crusty shell – like I do – is definitely protecting an inner sensitivity.

Fred Durst, rapper, actor, musician (Limp Bizkit)

It has been more than twenty years since I was a crewman aboard a Navy ship putting to sea. With nearly eight and half years of sea time, all but several months of which was continually away from homeport, I relished having that connection to loved ones that the mail might bring. Where an actual package might take a month to be delivered, letters normally took half that time. And when email became possible, it seemed like those were almost instantaneous messages and response. Even during a busy OPTEMPO, Sailors need that connection to be reminded that what they are doing is important and that people back home have them in mind. We used to call articles shipped from home CARE packages. Moms or wives, or girlfriends (and now husbands, boyfriends and family) sent letters, cookies, magazines, and other mementos to their loved one afloat halfway around the world.

As former shipmates know, deployments and remote duty assignments can negatively influence marriages, relationships and personal conduct. Home life as a single parent is difficult without preplanning and a support network; many young marriages are tested by months of separation, and relocation every few years to different states or even countries. Sometimes poor decisions at home, or while on deployment causes emotional and financial distress. Away from one’s family or church, personal accountability is challenged. Working and living 24 hours a day among those who may believe playing “hard” is as important as working “hard”, personal accountability is tested (“poured into” one’s rack after drinking all day with your Liberty buddies, is overlooked once or twice by your leadership, but can be career-limiting as well as unhealthy). It is for that reason that connection with one of those families or young servicemembers, having walked myself in those boondockers, is so important to me.

The idea to continuing to serve our active duty men and women while they are away from home is not new. Legion and VFW halls, and USOs have done that for a century. But what eats at me is what am I doing to help encourage others? It is fairly easy to be someone who says they support such n such. And if someone says they are a supporter, do they provide some form of material support? A donor to a cause is needed, but asks little of that person. Putting additional “skin in the game”, is the one who participates in some activity, whether writing a letter, making a phone call, or taking a CARE package to the post office and mailing it. And then there is the one who is spurred to coordinate these efforts, obtaining the names of those service members your group or organization wants to help. Like the Chief, a job needs doing, and it is the Chief who sees it through. Sometimes your sweat, tears, and time makes it seem little is being accomplished. And yet there are those who will remember how there were people who helped make the separation – deployment – bearable. Being a Chief looking after the well-being of ‘your’ people never changes whether on Active Duty or retired for more than a decade. For the last couple decades, it is the members of my church family, neighbors, friends and former co-workers I have kept in my heart. Wearing my heart on my sleeve, though I no longer have khakis or dress uniform is still to help those serving today.

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