As one soldier leaves, another returns. But what do they leave behind?
The U.S. military sets out to recruit more than 150,000 new soldiers to meet their standard “end strength” goal every year. Although this number doesn’t even remotely compare to the entirety of the population in America, it remains relatively large and continues to grow each year.
Yet, we at home still take our lives for granted as we relish in our freedom and opportunity. What about those who sacrifice a life of comfort for a life of risk and unwavering courage? What about those who wish their loved ones well as they prepare to go months without speaking to each other?
Seeing a family member serve in the military can be challenging. In 2015, my brother Kyle Smith, at the age of 26, left home to serve in the U.S. Army. He attended boot camp in Oklahoma for six weeks and then moved to Missouri for six months. After graduating from boot camp, he was stationed at Fort Drum in New York, where he lived for four years, specializing in biomechanical engineering.
It was difficult to know that I wouldn’t see him often, but I soon learned that he was working toward a goal that only God encouraged him to pursue. He felt called to be a part of something bigger than remaining in the small hometown he grew up in. I was comforted by the fact that the U.S. wasn’t involved in any major wars at the time, and there was only a slight chance that he would be deployed to another country.
My mother, Lori Smith, experienced the most unease. She found herself missing him often and struggled with the idea that there was always a chance he might be called for deployment.
“It’s difficult to send your son or daughter off for college. But sending them off to the military is even harder. Will they be safe? Will they be happy? When will I see them next? These were questions that always came to mind,” said Lori Smith.
Many ask what it takes to serve in the military. According to Military.com, some of the special skills needed to serve in the military include honor, courage, commitment, leadership and the mindset never to give up. While it’s easy to say one holds these characteristics, it’s not always easy to prove.
After a tragic eight years of constant deliberation and catastrophic buildup, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin finally announced war against Ukraine on Feb. 24. President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, called any willing Ukrainians forward to be prepared to fight and defend their country.
While talk of the war quickly spread through social media, the U.S. military began communicating with allies about future problematic issues and what those could mean for citizens. Live from the White House on Feb. 15, President Joe Biden warned Americans to be prepared.
According to The Guardian, Biden said he was not going to, “‘pretend this will be painless’ and that they [Americans] would feel it at the petrol pump, also promising that his administration would do what it could to alleviate that.”
In January, Biden considered sending American troops and warships to the Baltics and Eastern Europe, only a month before Russia would invade Ukraine. Today, some 12,000 soldiers are on high alert to deploy to Europe.
One such soldier is 18-year-old Nathan Salgado, a private first class soldier who graduated from boot camp in Georgia last year and has been in the U.S. military for only eight months. He is now stationed in the Mojave Desert.
Salgado’s sister, Madison Salgado, said she fears for her brother’s position amidst the outbreak of war in Ukraine. Unlike many soldiers who deploy after a year of advanced training, her brother will leave before his one-year mark.
“There’s always a constant fear, and even though this is what my brother wants to do, it’s uneasy because of everything going on in the world,” said Madison Salgado. “Even though he won’t necessarily have to go to Ukraine, he is being deployed to Europe in the coming months, which is quite nerve-racking.”
There is a lot of uncertainty right now, and soldiers are having to quickly learn to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances. Madison Salgado further added that there are no specific details or “set plans” as to when deployment could take place for her brother. The unknown adds more stress and uneasiness moving forward.
Just as watching a family member serve can be difficult, watching a friend serve can be just as hard.
Danielle Burghardt, 21, says she fears for her friend Nick Worden, 21. Worden works in infantry and is currently stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
“I have known Nick since high school, and we still talk to this day,” says Burghardt. “It’s crazy because he has been deployed to Syria before, and knowing there is a chance that he may have to go to Ukraine is scary. He told me he is a lot more nervous now than ever before.”
Jon Oncena, 21, also grapples with watching his friend, Cpl. Horace Zong, 22, serve in the military. Zong enlisted in 2017 and is currently stationed in Seal Beach in naval weapons.
“I’m definitely scared if he gets deployed,” says Oncena. “He is my best friend, and it’s hard not knowing what to do when he is out training or preparing for deployment because we are so used to seeing each other every day.”
While it is challenging to watch someone you know leave home during a time when loved ones are needed the most, “it’s not a goodbye, but a see you later,” says Lori Smith.
She emphasizes that there is always hope, and God has a purpose and plan for everybody. Serving in the military may not be the way for you, but it is for somebody else.
According to the British morning paper, i, today in Ukraine more than 400 civilians have been confirmed dead. United Help Ukraine, a charitable nonprofit organization, is calling for help. Focus areas include medical supplies, equipment, humanitarian aid, fundraisers and raising awareness.
To learn more about how you can provide help during this time, visit United Help Ukraine’s focus page, where you can discover specific projects and missions tailored to help Ukrainians.