I have three friends right now undergoing medical release from the armed service of their nations. One American soldier, a Canadian soldier, and a Canadian Sailor. These men have made of their bodies and their lives an offering, have given to the service of the state what cannot be asked of any free man or women, what cannot be compelled, what can only be given freely as an offering.
Before the families they left behind again and again, before the lovers whose beds they left cold and empty again and again, before the dreams of riches they set aside to give their prime earning years to the service of states who used them, as they were offered, swords in the service of the state.
Shields were riven, the swords were ever first to the fray, ever willing to ring again on steel or flesh in endless and brutal training, or in battle on sea or land. Unwaivering, and unflinching they gave their bodies to the fray, to the task of saving lives, protecting lives, or taking lives, in the service of the land of their birth, for pay they could have bettered in any of the professions that serve them with the supply of their arms or supporting technologies. To those from whom much is asked, little is given. This is the economics of need, for the soldier, sailor and airman may make of his life an offering, a corporation will make of its arms a profit. I get this, I now serve a corporation making these arms so I truly do understand.
We speak of the armed services of our nations as being the Sword of the State, for that is their function. That is not, however, their composition. A pattern welded sword is forged of different grades of soft flexible iron, spring steel, and razor edged diamond hard steel. From these dissimilar forms of iron, the sword draws the combines strength, flexibility, and hardness to be well adapted to all the many tasks we ask of it. So too are our forces made of a combination of warriors, technicians, engineers, logistics experts, mechanics; each masters of the trades required to keep the most sophisticated equipment known to man operating at peak efficiencies in conditions ranging from difficult to hostile. The sword analogy only carries us so far, for unlike uncaring iron, or cold painless steel, the sword of the state is forged of men and women who bruise, bleed, and break.
My wife refused to do more than simply sleep with me while I served, for she knew as long as I served she would be the second woman in my life, that the Queen was ever first. She was not wrong, when Queen and country called, I set aside my job, my education, my personal and family obligations and marched away. I did so without a second thought, eager to make a difference, to face the test, accept the challenge, or hell, just because it needed to be done. During the last Liberal gutting of the CF, I mustered out and devoted myself to building a life, a family, and a fortune.
My friends did not. They did put Queen (or Constitution) before their own family, before their own fortune, and certainly before their own health. Their peak earning years are past them, and frankly what they have to show for it from a monetary standpoint is underwhelming compared to the amazing level of ability and commitment their skill, training, and accomplishment represents. They learned to push through the limitations of their flesh, they learned to adapt and overcome conditions that would be illegal to risk civilian workers in, through hours that make overtime maximums seem like training norms and light days of deployments. Like professional atheletes they drove their body past the limits of mere humanity again and again to achieve what their mission demanded, whatever that mission was.
Trained and experienced at achieving their goals at all costs, they knew the glories of a level of performance that belongs only to the top percentage of humanity in most fields of endeavor. They also carried a rising cost, year upon year, of pushing beyond the limits our biology had written into our body and blood because they are past only for a price and in direst need. Trained to push past the limits as a matter of course these men and women, the sword of the state forged in flesh, wore in ways cold iron can not, and even the iron of the best forged blade is worn away through use.
Now the end of their careers, no longer able to serve as their bodies accumulated cost have left them with the bodies of men twice their calendar age, with injuries and sickness that comes from system pushed past their breaking point until they could no longer return to health once more. They return to families who too have paid the price for this service.
I can tell you comforting lies of noble wives and proud children, but who would I be lying to serve precisely? A marriage is a partnership, parenting is not only a partnership but a burden that sometimes requires two sets of shoulders simply to bear, and yet service spouses frequently face the direst of challenges alone, or with a spouse who returns with little understanding of what is asked of them. There are wives, and indeed husbands, who take up the sacrifice of their beloved’s service and accept a double burden, privation and fear, loneliness in absence and awkward adjustment at return, and strive to complete that challenge together. There are many, many, relationships where the burdens of service leave deep wounds in the families that are ever second in importance to their service spouse, where children and loved ones become angry strangers to the one who marched or sailed away in service.
Now we have our broken swords, released from service, free to return to the hearth and home they have so often marched or sailed away from, free at last to put their loved ones first.
Odin is whispering in my dreams, and has been since first I swore my oath to Crown and Queen, the ravens have flown over my whole life since that point, and I have never had the ability to turn my eyes from the price paid, the scars and wounds shine in my sight even as the causes and victories are naught but smoke and mist.
There are challenges that lie before my friends now, and they are not challenges that they have been prepared for, or rather that their preparations have made worse. Those who have served long and fiercely enough to have been broken in service are not those who shy from the struggle, but they are equipped to reach for tools that are ill equipped for the challenges ahead.
There are habits to break, and I haven’t succeeded in breaking all of my own, so I cannot tell them how to succeed with any credibility.
There is no employer worth the sacrifices you are hardwired to give, no pay cheque that is worth the 100% you will feel compelled to give. When your civilians speak of commitment, they have compartmentalized lives and they speak of the “work box”, reserving for themselves much of their lives for their own purposes with as little thought as you have learned to give your whole life to service when called upon to do so. No one is calling for that now, nor should you give it. It is time to start building those boxes, the family box, the work box, the you personal box. You need to learn to balance the work box with the family box, and remember the self box is required if you want to remain anything like a functional human being not snarling automaton.
Don’t stop. Seriously. You can’t. Those who stop die, and usually quickly. While it is time to adjust to a new pace, we really don’t hang quietly over the mantle piece like the metaphorical swords between wars. We really need a purpose, and to be striving towards it. We don’t need a grand purpose, but really a dozen little purposes that we putter at will keep us alive and engaged, without kicking in the almost reflexive all or nothing commitment that has quietly become the norm of a life of service.
There are problems and situations. Figure out which you are being given. You have learned to be a trouble shooter, and quick decision making and ruthless application of the decision reached has become your strongest asset for problems. Situations are different.
When your spouse describes a situation, it is a briefing of local conditions, not a request for orders. It is not being presented for action, but for information. When you turn your eyes to the domestic front, the clear cut decision making tools you are good with actually suck pretty badly for almost all home uses. The tools we use amongst ourselves are a very specific set based on the shared purpose we accept as being sovereign over our own needs. That was then, this is now, the “real” world is pretty much a cluster-frag, and that is pretty much the consensus of how they want it. Fixing it is not actually welcomed, nor possible, as without shared strategic objectives the current jug-frak represents the best expression of that freedom we were busy defending, not practicing.
Really, it won’t help, and will generally make things worse. People really are happier when you give them some trite sound byte about your service. If you try to explain, they will not understand, or will try to tell you how what you did was not required, which will only piss you off, about the way a fish explaining you have no understanding of how to ride a bicycle would. You know what was required, and why, they don’t have to. Your service was an offering made to the state which understands the requirement, for the benefit of the people who don’t. The state doesn’t actually feel gratitude, but you can’t possibly have served long and not figured that out, but that in no way makes your shared understanding with the state of the necessity of the sacrifice any less true. It makes it a sucky deal, but hey if you can’t take a joke, you wouldn’t have joined up.
Its all screwed up and nothing seems to be fixing it!
Bingo, there you have it, that is the resting state of humanity. Honestly. I know it will take a bit to accept, but this is the truth. The world muddles along. It is a semi functional goat rope with delusions of efficiency. I know you cherish the same myth that I did, that the institutional stupidity of the army was unique to the big green machine and that the “real world” functioned in a business like manner run by professionals.
They peddled it, and they seem to believe it. They really do. I guess they have no idea the “real world” is as screwed up as it is, and the business model is not less dysfunctional than the military, it is a whole lot more sanctimonious while being just as screwed up and less than half as productive.
It pays great. Honestly, the breaks are good, benefits are nice, and the pay is great. Give them a few vets to keep the trains running on time and the place from burning down and the civilian world will keep muddling along in the collective delusion that they are well organized and functional. They don’t have a clue how silly it looks from our point of view, and it would only make them sad to explain. Just smile and nod.
You are going to be frustrated and want to fix things; you can’t. You can go crazy trying. Remember those boxes I talked about? Keep family at home, don’t bring it to work. Leave work when you clock out. Keep some time for yourself, be selfish in that time as self care keeps you sane and reasonably personable when you are in your other boxes. Relax. You can do this. You may no longer be front line swords anymore, nicked and battered as you are, but in a world where the butter knife is considered to be standard, and the paring knife an overachiever, your biggest problem is going to be dialing it down enough for the application, not getting the job done.
We didn’t face the fires alone, we faced them together. Now that we are all back in what we are told is civilization, we are still there for each other. Reach out, together we can figure this out; for a given civilian cluster-frag value of figured out.