If you ever loved a Soldier (or Marine, Seaman, or Airman) or have a relationship with one; you will know that is one of the most difficult relationships you ever had. Forget the countless deployments, worrying, and simply missing him or her while they are off fighting for our country. The hardest part of loving a soldier is to truly understand them - but the fundamental problem is most soldiers do not share their feelings. We were trained to repressed the emotion of love and put them aside. During deployments, a soldier who is busy thinking about their significant other or family poses a threat to the unit; as their minds are not focused on the combat tasks at hand. Even during Basic Training (or any training), soldiers are taught to feel aggression in lieu of empathy. It is this aggression that drive a soldier to victory. To openly discuss your emotions and feelings is viewed as a sign of weakness and is deemed as a feminine attribute. And because we do not talk about our feelings, we are near impossible to truly understand. As soldiers, we are not perfect - in fact we probably will make more mistakes in our relationships than anyone else.
We Show and Not Say. We do not share our feelings and is often for us to even speak about them in a very open manner. However, this does not mean we do not have them. In fact, we rather show our love for you through our actions. When the rest of the world is saying, "I love you", we simply hold your hand without a word. We show our love through the smallest of deeds, whether it is an early morning kiss before we leave for physical training (PT), or how we simply just stare at you. Sometimes we do silly things like wash the dishes, clean the floor, or take out the trash - you must remember that in the military cleanliness is a symbol of discipline and unity. So even by cleaning, we are showing you how important you are. While deployed, many soldiers, carry a picture of their loved ones in their Kevlar helmet, a final death letter, or even just a small token reminding us of you. When we return from deployments, the field, or just been gone for a long time, the first thought when we step off that plane is 'where is she/he.' You have to know that as a soldier, we are ready to lay our lives down for you. So next time, you think your soldier is not saying that they love you, pay attention - odds are they are already saying in deeds and not words.
We Withhold or Explode. Having an argument with a soldier which you have a relationship with goes two ways. One, he/she shuts down and doesn't say a thing; or two, he/she will explode into anger. When a soldier shuts down and doesn't say anything - it simply means that we do not want to fight. We rather just let it go and distance ourselves from the fight. Soldiers are a proud breed and even though we made the mistake, we have a difficult time acknowledging it openly. Internally, we are thinking a million thoughts on how to say 'I am sorry.' At the same time we are feeling ashamed and remorseful. The worst thing you can do is to keep pushing us to say something. In our own time, we will apologize - just be patient. In the latter scenario, we explode into anger. Again, this is because we were taught to replace empathy with anger in times of conflict. Explosive anger is triggered in a few ways. The most common is due to PTSD. At this point, we no longer have the ability to think rationally and we regress to primal anger. Our anger is also triggered, when we are pushed to the limit of our own patience. In either case, being explosive is very detrimental to the relationship. While explosive anger is a quick crash and burn to the relationship, withholding feelings is a slow descent - both with the same negative to the relationship. Give us some time, and eventually we will make amends; again often in our own ways.
We Just Love Differently. Each soldier will show their affection a little differently from the next, but as a general rule, we just love differently from the rest of society. According to a recent study less than 0.5% of the United States Population today is serving in the Armed Forces, and only 15% of the US population living today is a Veteran. Of course we will be the exception on the definition of love. Any soldier will tell you that we simply show our affection in different ways. We may not shower you with the romanticism that you read in books or poems, but nonetheless we put our very lives on the line for you. Everyday, we wake up and put that uniform up, we show our love for you. Everyday, we think of you while we are away. If you can see how we love, then you will never be alone.
Lastly, we know that you love us as well. Just being there for us and trying to understand what goes through our minds and hearts as a soldier is your ultimate sign of love. We are not perfect and nor will we ever be. We may not say it or show it every time, but know that the mere fact we are with you is all we have. I am not saying, that how we love is the right way - in fact, it may be the absolute wrong way. However, this is what it means to be a soldier and what it means to love one. In the very end, the last thought on the battlefield, if we shall ever lay our life down, will be of one thing - you!
See you on the high ground!