From our new guest author – Lela – who is a former Air Force Officer, married to a retired Air Force officer, and parent of serving AirForce daughter and a Marine son.
Did you ever go to one of those group courses where they made you do an exercise where you had to fall backward and trust people in your group to catch you? I did, and I really had to work at it before I could let go and allow my friends to catch me as I fell. Trust isn’t something that comes easily to me. I have to work at it. Maybe it’s my profession; I am an attorney after all. (Just think of the liability!) Maybe it’s a generational-gender-thing; women of my age (growing up in the pre-Title IX era) didn’t get to play a lot of sports where you learn how to work as a team and “play in your lane.” Maybe it’s just me. Whatever it is, I have had to learn how to trust.
So why is trust something that I know that I wish all parents of service members knew? Because my military career helped me to understand the nature of trust, at least the type of trust that is necessary for an effective military. When our children join the military they learn, among other things, to trust their equipment, their leaders, and their comrades. At basic training, for example, Marines are subjected to tear gas, not to be cruel or to sensitize them to the effects of tear gas, but to teach them the proper use of a gas mask and to show them that the mask can be trusted to protect them from the effects of the gas. The Marines learn to trust through training. The same thing happens during an Air Force pilot’s training. A pilot repeatedly trains on emergency procedures so that when (or if) the “unthinkable” happens, the pilot can respond quickly and effectively, just like they’ve trained, over and over. A pilot learns to trust through training. When units or aircrew train together, they learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They learn to trust that their leaders understand the mission and that they will do their best to bring them home safely. They learn how each person in the unit will execute that mission. It’s all about learning trust through training.
As a parent, understanding just how hard the armed forces train and how that training builds military effectiveness, has helped me when my children were asked to do (or signed up to do) something dangerous. I knew that the Air Force would give my daughter the best flying training she could get before they would let her fly a jet or a helicopter. I knew they would continue to hone her skills until she was the best pilot she could be; and if that wasn’t up to extremely high standards, the Air Force wouldn’t let her fly. So, while she chose a “dangerous” career and one that does claim lives, I trust her training, just as she does. It’s a comfort. The same trust helped me through my Marine son’s recent deployment to Iraq. His training, as a combat infantryman gave him and his buddies the tools needed to survive the deployment. He trusted his buddies and his leaders. He trusted his training. So did I, because I know that if the armed forces aren’t fighting, they’re training.
Most of all, as parents, we need to learn how to trust our children and their decisions. They chose to serve, for whatever reason. This one was hard for me. I still have the knee-jerk, maternal reaction to do everything in my power to protect my children. But we can’t. We need to trust in their decision to serve. All we can do is fall backwards into the arms of friends and family ready to support us as we support our children. After all, we, too, can learn to trust . . . it’s all in the training.