By Taylor Jaseph, Dec. 6, 2022
There’s a joke in my household that my dad is never home for any natural disaster — be it an earthquake, wildfire or that one hurricane, Hurricane Floyd, we went through.
This is because my dad, Guy, served 21 years in the United States Air Force. For the first nine years of my life, my dad was an inconsistent variable in my life. Most times he was working in an office for eight hours. Other times he was deployed anywhere from weeks to months to who knows where.
My dad’s sacrifice also made him miss birthdays, holidays, graduations, first days of school and many more milestones in my family’s lives.
My mom tells a story that when my older brother was young, my dad was deployed for a few months. When he returned my brother asked who the man in our house was. My brother could not remember our dad.
This story isn’t what most people think of when they imagine the military, but that story is the reality of those who serve.
Instead, when the military is brought up, people think of the extremes.
One side of the coin is the acts of heroism by the people in uniforms. The cliché Hallmark love story. The military is romanticized to be this ideal of, let’s face it, men protecting our country selflessly while we cheer from our homes. We wave American flags and say, “Thank you for your service.”
Or it’s the other side, with the service members being corrupt and ruthless. Faceless members march uniformly, carrying guns and ready to destroy lives.
The truth is somewhere in between these two extremes.
I asked my dad if he thought people romanticized the military, and he said they did. But the military is romanticized just like every other occupation, such as doctors or lawyers.
My dad did feel the impact personally during the first Gulf War. My dad just started his service and was based at the Los Angeles Air Force base. He was walking around in his pilot uniform and people went out of their way to thank him for his service. After the war ended in 1991, my dad said people were still appreciative, but wouldn’t go out of their way.
There was a rise in support for the military after 9/11. I remember asking my dad what he was doing when it happened, and my dad said he was flying. He was deployed,flying over Africa, when the first plane hit the towers. He was forced to emergency land in Spain and was grounded for a few days, struggling to get in contact with my mom.
But, people don’t really know how hard it is for the service member and their family realistically. We’ve all seen the service members going into the classroom to surprise their kids or siblings after being deployed. We all go “aww,” like the video, and then keep scrolling. But that kid was waiting months to hug their parents, and not all are able to.
We don’t try to understand what our military members had to do on foreign soil, and we don’t want to. We want to keep wearing our rose-colored glasses, glorifying them and praising their sacrifice with no genuine support.
But here are some hard truths that don’t fit into the romanticized notion. According to MilitaryTimes, veterans make up 6% of the United States population, but 8% of the homeless population. California alone holds one-third of the homeless veterans at over 11,000.
Veterans are more likely to become homeless because of lingering effects of PTSD and lack of support. It is also difficult for them to find jobs as the skills they learned in the military are not always transferrable to civilian occupations.
From the National Criminal Justice Association, there are over 180,000 veterans who have been, or are, in prison. This is because many active duty service members and veterans suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, because they are unable to return to civilian life by finding a suitable job or from the lack of needed support. It is twice as likely for male veterans to be serving time for sexual assault than it is for male non-veterans.
Since service members have been getting deployed to Afghanistan, 14% to 16% suffer from PTSD or depression. This increases the rates of suicide, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse and interpersonal violence in the veteran community, which then adds to the statistics of homeless or incarcerated veterans.
To my knowledge, my dad has never suffered from PTSD or depression. He has been in active warzones, and he has mentioned his plane had been fired at before, but he was able to return to civilian life smoothly.
But many people tend to forget that it’s not just the active military member who is affected. I know my mom struggled when my dad was deployed for months, dealing with three young kids. I was diagnosed with minor anxiety with the trigger being that I’d work myself into a panic that my dad might not come home.
There is no cute rom-com scene showing a military member’s daughter suffering a panic attack the first day of fifth grade because her dad wasn’t there to walk her to class. Nor is there one of the daughter walking in on her mom crying because her husband hadn’t been home in weeks.
This was mine and my family’s reality with my dad’s service.
My dad served during the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which was instituted in 1993 during the Clinton administration. This policy made it to where commanding officers weren’t allowed to ask anyone their sexual orientation, while the LGBTQ service members had to keep their orientation secret. This was the “better” option than LGBTQ members getting immediately “other than honorably” discharged. But after 15 years of the policy, over 12,000 officers had been discharged because of their sexual orientation.
My dad is still a pilot currently flying cargo for UPS, and in the military he also flew cargo as well as train new pilots. My dad told me he became friends with one of his trainees who told my dad he was gay. My dad’s first thought was questioning why he was being told this, because the trainee could get discharged from the military and my dad could get in trouble for knowing.
This circumstance is disgusting because my dad naturally would have been supportive but it was overshadowed by the fear of his friend being discharged and him being punished. My dad’s friend was disappointed at his reaction, not understanding why he had acted that way upon hearing. Thankfully, this policy ended in 2011.
My dad never regrets joining the military, nor does my family know any other way. He may have been gone from us a lot, missing events he wanted to be present for, but because of the military, my family has been able to travel the world and even live in England for a few years. I’m able to go to college without worry of student loans because of the benefits I’m receiving from my dad’s service.
The military isn’t this perfect Hallmark story, it’s a reality my family has lived through. And, for better or worse, it helped shape who I am today.
Feature image by Lauren Wong
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