Best Defense

Thinking back to our post-9/11 pizza

As a combat-zone veteran wife and mother of a teenage son I think about national security from my own home base.

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By Katherine Voyles
Best Defense guest columnist

As a combat-zone veteran wife and mother of a teenage son I think about national security from my own home base. From that perch I worry about a lot, but a special concern is whether young men and women of my son’s age can and should volunteer for military service. This issue has many dimensions, but here’s a single one: Having experienced the benefits and drawbacks of being married to someone in the military before 9/11 and after 9/11, I know how service forges confidence and clarity of thought in its members even under the most trying circumstances, and I worry that our kids may not experience these gifts.

Moving is central to military life. From a walkable, lovable, Federal-era town in Virginia, to the drivable, lovable sprawl of Southern California, with stops along the way that included the greens and blues of the coastal Carolinas, we embraced living in different areas of our country. Being a runner, my nervousness about leaving familiarity centered on finding a new running route in a new place. I always did. Through running, we experienced the distinctive geography and weather of our new homes. Our runs became the first and most immediate way of settling in. After that was falling in love with the foods, architecture, and cultures of our adopted homes. Moving from the gracious columns of our place of worship in Virginia to the salsa bar of our local taco shop in California expanded our hearts and minds. That stretching made us stronger, and we’d need to draw on that strength.

As the summer of 2001 wound down, we had our first routine deployment under our belts, and I had just completed an M.A. and would use the fall to teach while applying to Ph.D. programs. A little more than a year was left on my husband’s military tour, and we were planning for parenthood. Then came a series of reorientations and shifts in priorities as we, as a family and a nation, adjusted to life post-9/11. We certainly needed and developed skills that we hadn’t had pre-9/11, but we also drew on the patience, flexibility, and capacity for intensity that we learned through the routines and pageantry of life in the Marine Corps. In light of new domestic and international realities, we made with clarity and confidence over pizza by the beach and with our baby on our laps decisions to postpone my education and to extend his service.

A great gift of service is that it allows you to carry it with you into civilian life. That pizza dinner is our touchstone, the place we return to again and again when decisions trivial and momentous need to be made. We returned to it when he came home from Iraq and it was time to remake our lives by taking up daily life together, re-entering social and community life, and creating new phases of our professional lives.

Anne Lamott in her beloved book, Bird by Bird, says that writing is a gift one gives others. I wish I could bestow more on my high school freshman and others his age than words. I wish I could give them the surety that they, too, should realize and experience all the complexities of service. But I don’t have that power. So in telling this story I throw in my lot with Lamott by trusting in the power of words. 

Katherine Voyles holds a Ph.D. in English from UC Irvine, but she now lives in Seattle where she continues to teach, research and write. David, her veteran husband, is an attorney specializing in aviation transactions.

Photo credit: Flickr

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. @tomricks1

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