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Veterans Reactions to Recent Iraq Turmoil

June 26, 2014

With the recent conflict in Iraq quickly escalating, many have strong opinions on how the government should proceed in helping this struggling country.  Billions of dollars have been spent since 2001 and millions of individuals and families have been profoundly impacted by this war. For this reason many felt a sense of relief, safety, and security when learning of a planned withdrawal of combat troops in 2011.

Now, with the increase of violence and militant activity in Iraq, numerous veterans and their families have strong negative reactions to the plans to assist the country. One Air Force spouse said: “The US spent so much time, money and effort on Iraq and nothing has changed. It makes me really mad that my husband had to risk his life for two years down there and now everything could possibly go back”. This is a common theme among spouses that were asked about this topic.

Another spouse stated: “I understand going to Iraq to pull the rest of our people out (diplomats and other Americans) but I am against putting troops on the ground to try and restore order. The way I see it, if we put troops on the ground, we’ll eventually have to leave again and I fully believe it would only be a matter of time before Iraq was yet again in the exact state it’s in now.”  Many are not only angry, but frightened to consider their partner leaving for their second, third, fourth, or even fifth tour to Iraq if the current crisis does not quickly deescalate. As many of us know, the likelihood of developing PTSD, substance abuse, and family issues increases with the number of deployments; which is a terrifying realization in itself. Not only are spouses fearful of having more boots on the ground, but active duty military obviously have strong opinions of staying out of Iraq as well. One member of the Air Force asked “Why risk more lives when the first time didn’t make a difference at all…” Many of the veterans who had commented on this topic had reported similar feelings. Some speculate this is a sign of going back to square one; others are wondering of the impact of the past efforts when leaving their loved ones for months, or their sacrifices are truly being honored and remembered.

Despite these questions, disagreements, and frustrations, veterans and their families continue to remain resilient and dedicated to their job and country. As a military spouse, I can empathize with all of these concerns. It can be anxiety provoking knowing your spouse may leave for anywhere from 4 to 18 months with little to no information on the nature of their job while overseas. But as a marriage and family therapist, I continue to be amazed by the impeccable amount of strength and courage that service members and their families hold. Their belief in honor, duty, and respect towards their country perpetuates them to engage in missions that they may not fully understand or completely support. Going forward, I hope that whether you agree or disagree in the decision to send troops back into Iraq, understand that these conflicting feelings (such as loyalty and disagreement, pride and frustration) that many of these services members and their families feel are natural and common. As providers, friends, family, neighbors, supporters, and citizens, it is our duty to be empathic towards the veterans and their willingness to put their lives at risk; and be ready (without judgment) to listen with open minds and open hearts.