This story has been updated.
Another small piece of my heart broke this week as I watched the news out of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
As a military spouse, I wept, and still weep, for the families of the four U.S. Marines and one Navy sailor who were killed in the attacks. I mourned as I thought about the new reality they have to face without their loved ones. And I wept as I imagined myself in their shoes.
When you marry into the military or support a family member when he or she decides to serve their country, part of you knows what you are signing up for. You know there will be long separations and stressful moves across the country. You know that you will come second to their service and that you will have to share them with your country.
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You constantly prepare yourself for all the "what ifs" and have multiple plans to accommodate anything that might happen.
What none of us are prepared for, though, is the shock and panic when we see something like what happened in Tennessee unfold here at home. Even if you've lived through 40 deployments, during which you sent your loved one into the fires of hell on the other side of the world, you convince yourself that once they are home, they are safe.
You allow that ball of angst and stress that has built up in your stomach to dissolve. You allow yourself to turn on the television and watch the news, without fear or worry that you might see a segment about the war. You allow yourself to believe that if they can survive Afghanistan and Iraq that they can survive going to a nine-to-five job on U.S. soil.
When we send them overseas, we accept all the “what ifs.” We accept that they are wearing a target painted in camouflage. We prepare ourselves for that moment when we might get a knock on the door from a military chaplain and someone in dress uniform.
But I cannot accept that I have to live with this fear when they are home. I cannot accept that I have to worry about my husband and my friends when they go to work every day. I cannot accept that I have to mentally prepare myself for these dangers when I go to a military base for an appointment.
In February 2012, I deployed as a civilian public affairs officer to Bagram, Afghanistan; I was there until May 2013. My job was to monitor local, regional and national news. I read about every bombing and attack that occurred while I was there.
In those 16 months, 308 U.S. service members died in Afghanistan. Many of those were in green-on-blue attacks - when an Afghan military member or police officer turned their weapon on the U.S. trainers and advisors.
I remember walking alone from my office to my B-Hut one evening. I remember a group of Afghan nationals walking towards me. I remember the panic; the pit of fear growing in my stomach; the sweat collecting on the back of my neck; my heart racing.
I also remember only having a knife to defend myself.
You see, as a civilian that deployed through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, I wasn't authorized a firearm.
I realize that every Afghan national that was on Bagram Airbase had been searched before they were allowed to step behind the fences. I know the likelihood of ever coming under attack inside the base was very low.
But that didn't stop the panic. That didn't stop the fear. And that didn't change the fact that I couldn't have protected myself if I truly needed to.
I'm sure that's how the four U.S. Marines felt in Chattanooga this week. I'm sure it was how the 43 people that were killed or wounded on Fort Hood in November 2009 felt. I'm sure it was how the 12 people killed at the Washington Navy Yard in September 2013 felt. I'm sure it was how the 19 dead or wounded at a second shooting on Fort Hood in April 2014 felt.
We have to live in constant worry and fear that our husbands, wives, brothers, sisters and friends are next. All because they wear a target painted in camouflage.
I don't care that the gunman was Muslim and that he allegedly committed these crimes in the name of Allah.
I care that I will never be able to let go of the fear that one day my husband or my friends will be targeted. I care that this kind of violence is happening in our backyards. I care that nothing is being done to allow our men and women in uniform to protect themselves while in that uniform.
I know they signed up to go into harm's way for their families and their country. I know they volunteered to be sent to far-off places and defend us from the evils that hide in the darkest corners of this world. I just never expected that corner to be in Chattanooga. Or Fort Hood. Or a Navy yard in Washington, D.C.
They raise their right hand and swear to protect this country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. What good is that promise if they can’t even protect themselves?
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