07 January 2010

Hero Fantasies v. Fuzzy Gray Realities

Recently discharged citizen-soldier, OIF veteran, and mother Catherine Ross offers this perspective on maintaining one's post-deployment perspective in a "Home Fires" Op-Ed piece in today's New York Times on-line. It's worthy to quote at length:
I remember getting angry after a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a school that we had rebuilt. The rebuilding had gone well. It was now a much improved structure that would serve the students well, but despite all that, the faculty and staff had complaints and demands for more. I saw their response as ingratitude and was angered by it. It was definitely one of those days that prompted a hero fantasy in my mind, with a happily-ever-after ending.

Looking back now, I realize it’s not fair at all to expect gratitude from someone who didn’t even ask for your presence in their country in the first place. But I also realize that my hero fantasies weren’t really about ego. They were just more clear-cut versions of actual events. In the fantasy, you know exactly what you’ve done, what impact it’s had, and you’ve put smiles on peoples’ faces. But in reality, you don’t necessarily ever get to find out the true impact of your actions. You’re left with questions instead. Did rebuilding all those schools over there have any kind of lasting impact? Did the Iraqis we tried to assist believe that we were sincere in our efforts?

In my hero fantasies, there are no such loose ends or doubts.

[...] I satisfy myself with the knowledge that I did my best over there, just like every other soldier, despite the unknowns I might be left with. The Army always says to leave a place better than you found it. I know that my team was replaced by a team that was sent in to build on what we had done, and that they were replaced by yet another team. Having been part of something that’s bigger than little old me, I continue to put my faith in the Army to get the job done, even if I’m not personally part of it any more.
Every soldier probably wonders what it was all about, after the mission, after the deployment, and after well-meaning friends and family ask for their soldiers' opinions about What We're Doing Over There. Ross offers a plain-spoken, nuanced, and generally positive way to answer some of those questions.
Ross recently left the Army Reserves to focus on being a parent to her 3-year-old daughter. Given the opportunity, I'd thank her both for her service and for her words. 'Nuff said.

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