For many people, the “War on Terror” is some abstract concept – or if it is more, the war is just something happening “over there” in the Middle East. It’s all too easy to forget that someone’s son, daughter, brother, sister, or friend is putting their life at risk every day “over there.”Many Lawrentians, however, cannot afford that luxury. Lawrentians such as Chelsea Bridges, Danielle Knight and Elizabeth Bullock are constantly aware of what it means to be in the military in today’s volatile world.
Though these three students are all connected to the armed forces, they differ in their perspectives on the military and the war. As Chelsea’s husband Ryan prepares with the 101st Airborne in Kentucky to join the ranks of those serving in Iraq, she is attempting to cope with the idea that a loved one will be in harm’s way.
Meanwhile, Danielle Knight is struggling to deal with the fact that her best friend is already fighting in Iraq. And Liz Bullock, Danielle’s sorority sister, is gearing up to join the 101st Airborne and is excited to serve for her country.
These women had differing stances not only on the military, but also on the war in general. This contradicts the notion that support or opposition of the war is as clear a divide as the apparently stark political divisions of the country would suggest.
For Liz, who would have been a junior this year, the chance to be a part of the military conjures up a sense of pride; she feels that the “war is necessary” and “supports all the efforts overseas made by the president.” Though she admits to joining the army for financial and educational reasons, she believes in the war and is proud to have the chance to serve. She hopes to return to Lawrence in the fall of ’08 after her tour of duty is up, but as she puts it: “It all depends on how much I love what I’m doing once I get to the Airborne.”
As the friend of someone serving in Iraq, Danielle is in turmoil over the hardships her friend, Derreck, faces everyday. When Liz goes off to Iraq in March, Danielle – along with her sorority sisters – will have more feelings to grapple with. Danielle admits that, “it’s hard when your friend actually wants to be there because you don’t want anything to happen to them … it’s hard too when they don’t want to be there, because they’re always afraid that they won’t make it out alive.”
Derreck, already in Iraq, does not want to be there. According to Liz, he is afraid that he won’t see his son again and believes that all the horrible things that he has witnessed in Iraq could stay with him for the rest of his life. Danielle recalls her friend telling her of a child with a bomb, a child he’d had to shoot. She knows that the image of that little boy will haunt Derreck forever.
Chelsea, who has been married to Ryan for a year and a half, cries a lot when she thinks of her husband going to Iraq. Her husband believes it is his duty, but Chelsea is really scared. “I watch CNN as soldiers are killed by bombs,” she says, “I see it and think that could be Ryan.” She dreads the difficulties they will face as a couple: “It takes a lot of work being with someone in the military. Though he knows that I don’t like him being in the military, I try to keep that away from him because I don’t want him to think that I am not supportive. When they are away, it is difficult for them and you really don’t want them to be worrying about you. It is just hard balancing between those.”
Chelsea and her husband have decided that after his tour of duty is complete, Ryan will leave the military. “It’s really difficult being in a military family,” she says, “especially because the military is treated so badly. I see people using food stamps in the commissary and that’s ridiculous. Ryan and I scrape by every month. Our military should be treated as heroes regardless of where they are stationed.”
These three women view the war from radically different perspectives. But they all seem to know that, regardless of your political affiliations, the troops are fighting a war in reality and not merely in theory. They put their lives at risk every day, and the least we could do is remember that they are “over there.