Behind the Grassroots Effort to Make Military Families TIME's 2011 Person of the Year
You've probably seen it on Facebook, at the Daily Kos, on Wordpress, or in a newspaper: LIFT, or "'Like it for TIME," the grassroots effort to get TIME magazine to consider the military family as its 2011 Person of the Year. The campaign began on Facebook; hence, the request to "like" it. And you might have thought, "What's so special about military families?"
There is the story of the soldier, the story you know because you've seen it in at least 10 movies and may have even read about it. And then there's the other war story, the one you know significantly less about.
Ian, my love, love of my life,
I turned on the news, only to find out the 101st has suffered a grenade attack, and ten of you are injured, a couple, seriously. I'm still shaking. Please be okay. You simply have to be okay. You just have to. I love you so much, Ian. So much I can't imagine a day without you in the world. Not an hour, not a second. Just be okay. That's all I can think, all I can say, the only thing in my head. Just be okay. I'm trying not to freak out before I know more, but I can't help it...
The above is excerpted from a letter I wrote on March 22, 2003, the day Asan Akbar, a soldier in the 101st Airborne Division, attacked his own unit with grenades. It was early in the Iraq conflict, and because the division was scattered among several camps, there was no way of knowing right away who was killed or injured.
My experience was nothing compared to that of other military families, who are the motivation for this effort. It's for people like Keri Smith, who says, "I have had several phone calls with my husband interrupted by explosions and a dead line."
The less exciting days of waiting are typically filled with incessantly rolling anxiety located somewhere in the solar plexus, the throb of "something could happen" as persistent and nagging as blood collecting and bruising under the skin of a thumb that's been slammed in a car door. Dawn VanGorkum, still trying to get to know her husband of 10 years because they've spent so much time apart due to multiple deployments, says of her anxiety, "I feared he'd get hurt, he'd be a POW, he'd be tortured or killed ... And those fears are just sub-fears of the greatest fear of all: never seeing my husband again."
I've been lucky. I've only had to experience one deployment, so far, and my husband -- also lucky -- came home unscathed, both mentally and physically. Others haven't been so lucky. Cheryl Gansner, whose husband was just six weeks shy of leaving Iraq when his convoy rolled over a pressure-switch IED, became a full-time caregiver for her husband in the months following the explosion. "The smell of his healing/infected wounds is ingrained in my brain and nose," she says. "It was the hardest time of my life, and I was very angry and exhausted. After his physical wounds healed, we dealt with the PTSD and depression." Gansner, whose blog Wife of a Wounded Soldier chronicles her experience and the progress she and her husband have seen, is now a program coordinator for Operation Homefront's Wounded Warrior Wives.
Dawn, Keri, and Cheryl help make up the 1 percent of the population shouldering this decade of war -- and what's known about that 1 percent is largely delivered by a weekly soap opera or in the rare, brief news story highlighting only the most sensational tragedies. I created "Like it for TIME" so you would have the opportunity to become more intimately acquainted with real military family experiences, like that of children E. (11), J. (8), and H. (4).
Rudy Giuliani was chosen as Person of the Year following the Sept. 11 attacks because he "embodied what was really most important, what we learned about ourselves, which was that we could recover," explained a TIME editor.
The military family embodies what is most important after a decade of war: a resilient and unifying force even as the families grow weary of being separated -- sometimes permanently -- year after year, those years apart filled with uncertainty about the future of their families. That resiliency speaks volumes about the country.
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Kristen J. Tsetsi is a former reporter, the author of Carol's Aquarium and the forthcoming wartime novel Pretty Much True..., and the founder of "Like It for TIME." Her husband deployed to Iraq in 2003 and will deploy again far too soon. Read her blog on Red Room.more...