We see pictures of US soldiers all the time. Garbed up and weighted down with weapons and vests and helmets and tactical gear. Saluting, assisting, training, fighting, shooting, flying, parachuting, sailing, saving, directing, protecting, doing. On the news, on social media, in movies, in tv shows.
And amid that sort of exposure, I often worry a soldier’s humanity gets lost. I worry we see them as robotic or unfazed or immune. Like we just expect them to do their job in the way we do ours.
Let us not forget: soldiers are human beings. Compassionate, affected, dedicated, emotional human beings. So are their families. Have you seen the pictures and videos circulating the news and internet?
I write military romance to pay homage to the selfless service and sacrifices of men and women just like you and me. Americans who weren’t born with any extra “courage cells” or “bravery blood.” Humans who CHOOSE to go behind enemy lines, into the most chaotic environments, in order to guarantee their loved ones and people they’ll never meet a place of freedom and safety and hope and opportunity.
I know nothing about how it feels to be a soldier; especially one deployed to a war zone. But I know how I imagine I’d feel whenever I see one serving this country. I imagine the parts of me that feel homesick, or exhausted, or terrified, or anxious, or jumpy, or hungry for comfort, or in need of a hug, or uncertain, or overwrought, or weak, or sad, or unmotivated, or disappointed wouldn’t simply go away. I imagine they’d be heightened AND I’d need to work around them in order to keep myself and my teammates alive and alert. I imagine I’d live on adrenaline. I imagine my nervous system would be in constant overdrive. I imagine my sleep would be restless with one eye open. I imagine I’d feel energized and supported by the bonds forged with my fellow comrades. I imagine those bonds would keep me going and bring real enjoyment to my days. I imagine I’d head into every workday with a pit in my stomach (one I maybe wouldn’t even notice after a while), wondering if today will be the day shit hits the fan. Heck, maybe I’d head into each day knowing shit will hit the fan because they call it “war” for a reason. I imagine I’d live every second painfully aware of my brothers’ and sisters’ mortality, but I’d force myself not to dwell on it. I imagine my family would live with a similar pit of worry, and I’d live with my heavy cognizance of that.
All these daily realities that live in the depths of a soldier’s subconscious but must be regularly suppressed in order to perform the job they were trained—the job they DESIRE—to do. The weight, I imagine, is immense. It’s also a burden they freely, voluntarily bear. (Which I emphasize out of gratitude; not with a mindset of “well, since they don’t have to be there, why don’t they just get out? Why did they sign up?” I’ll tell you why…or at least, why I think they don’t and did: because they know someone has to do it and they find deep personal purpose in all the lives they’re saving and protecting…all the beauty they’re assuring for their fellow Americans as well as other freedom-seeking people.)
And then they come home, and their nervous systems get permission to shift into drive or neutral or park, except it’s not even close to that simple. Because our nervous systems don’t operate with a gear shift. All the senses they coded as ‘dangerous’ or ‘safe’ or ‘act now’ or ‘pursue’ or ‘take cover’ while deployed don’t instantly get REcoded when they return. And soldiers, no matter how well-trained, are, again, human beings. But they’re human beings with a reputation of being solid and steady and poised, and so I can only imagine the pressure they must feel to uphold that persona while also allowing themselves to decompress WHILE ALSO knowing they may deploy again.
I don’t want anyone, myself included, to forget the existence, the reality of a soldier’s heart and spirit as we stand in awe of his/her ability to balance those two parts of themselves with an adeptly trained mind and body. I want to humanize the uniform, so when we see photos of the men and women who rush in when most of us want to run away, we see them as ordinary humans who choose a life of uncertainty (and often chaos) so that you and I have the opportunity to choose whatever sort of life we desire. I want us to see soldiers as people who ignore and override when necessary, but breakdown and cry when it’s safe. People who never get used to leaving their family. People who are deeply affected by their losses and their time on duty. People who feel the same emotions you and I feel, but who have trained themselves to hold those emotions in tandem with a level of bravery I struggle to fathom. Families who sacrifice comfort and stability. Families who live on edge when the life of a spouse, child, parent, or sibling hangs in the balance. Families who are shattered by brutal losses their imagination will always (gruesomely) attempt to reconcile.
I could write a hundred books and only scratch the surface of the true depth of character I want to expose as a military romance author. The dynamic nature of a soldier’s (and his/her family’s) personality absolutely captivates me, and I desire to expose it in a way that both informs and inspires.
Novels are fictional. They’re also highly expansive and captivating. If you’ve ever read an evocative story, you know how intensely the characters begin to feel like family. I write military romance because I want the Holbrook Family to FEEL like your family. The empathetic possibilities packed within the pages of a novel are magical, in my opinion. I’m grateful for the ways my compassion and understanding have been expanded as a result of many stories—characters who will forever reside in my heart and impact my actions and thoughts. I hope my stories and characters can create a similar experience for you. Not because I think every American should feel as moved by the plight of our soldiers as I do (I actually don’t think our feelings are anything to be measured), but because I believe events hit home when they ‘hit home.’ Books increase the population of our ‘home,’ and allow us a greater capacity to hold space for situations we may not understand first hand. And what a powerful way to honor our shared humanity…to honor the lives willingly sacrificed in the name of freedom: by growing the extent to which we can relate to others.
The events of the past week are tragic. Not more or less tragic than any other human pain. Simply tragic in their own right (even if they feel extra heavy to me). I can’t look away. I want the news on all the time. I’m gripped and torn up about what’s happening in Afghanistan and so, so moved by and for all the men and women who have served or are serving right now. By and for their loved ones. I cannot fathom the feelings of fear and anger and abandonment and anxiety they must be facing. NOT ONE SECOND of their (your, if you’re reading this as a veteran or military family member) time was in vain. I believe humans were created for freedom, and the extent to which every single US soldier has fought to ensure that freedom is massive. So massive that we, as Americans, can easily lose sight of it because we never really feel the bind. We don’t have to feel it, because our service men and women have shouldered it for us. That legacy will live on. If we want to honor our veterans, we’ll make sure of it. When I think of our troops, words like boldness, empathy, compassion, courage, strength, love, humane, willing, and dynamic immediately come to mind. They’ve chosen to display those character elements through their military service. We can choose to honor their sacrifice by seeking to live out those traits as we freely cultivate our own passions and relationships; by refusing to get wrapped up in divisive rhetoric and continually pursuing beauty, connection, understanding, and expansion.
*As a caveat, I would add: I recognize this last part sounds a little utopian and disconnected from the finger-pointing we see on the news. Let me be clear, I have plenty of angsty feelings about everything that has transpired in the Middle East over the last twenty years and especially the past week. I’m thankful for the analysts and reporters and lawmakers who are willing to spend their time pursuing answers and demanding responsibility. I’m not one of those people, but will be curiously tuning in to all of the aftermath. My focus, my concern, is with those on the ground overseas and their families here at home. Right now, I’m not interested in who is responsible or who messed up or who should have known better. Someday, I will be. All I want today is for every single soldier and all those they are protecting to be safely evacuated from an increasingly dire situation AND for every friend and family of the fallen to know and believe their sacrifices were not for nothing. Americans do not leave others behind…especially not when ‘others’ are the Americans who have made a career out of not leaving others behind. Period.