This is an opinion piece that does not necessarily reflect the views of MilSpouseFest.
I was a sixth grader when Colombine happened. I was a college student, watching TV in the cafeteria, when Virginia Tech happened. I was a teacher in Baltimore, sitting in my own classroom, when Sandy Hook happened. And when Parkland happened, I was working on an article for MSF.
Think about the body count in just those four sentences: 88 students and teachers dead. 55 wounded.
That’s just four school shootings. That’s not the hundreds of other public and mass shootings that have happened over the last two decades alone. That doesn’t include the school shootings that have happened in 2018. That doesn’t include the thousands of traumatized people who escaped physically unharmed, the families touched by the violence, the first responders and medical teams dispatched who dealt with the carnage first-hand. It doesn’t take into account the communities scarred by violence that will never be the same again.
The military community–writ large–often bemoans the military-civilian divide. We say that others don’t understand the sacrifices of military families.
But there is one group of people who might understand more than we think they do: The survivors of gun violence.
The deaths at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School in Parkland, FL last week are higher than the casualties of US service members in Afghanistan last year. 17 people were murdered in Parkland in a matter of minutes. 15 service members were killed in Afghanistan’s war zone in 2017.
Often, in our society, the lives of veterans and service members are revered just a little more than an average joe. People prioritize veteran homelessness over other kinds of homelessness. They suggest that we take care of all hurting veterans before we worry about refugees, immigrants, or other minority populations. Military families’ stories are often used when it comes to various political and social issues. Many times those stories become the trump card, the thing against which opponents cannot argue without having their patriotism impugned.
What if we used that political and emotional capital to protect the kids of Parkland and future school shooting victims?
What other group of people is more attuned to the devestation that weapons of war bring? We understand the pain and trauma of violence. We understand the ripple effects it has into families. We understand how PTSD changes everything for a family, and the struggle it is to reclaim a new normal. We have witnessed the physical injuries wrought by gun violence. We know what a bullet can do to flesh and organs and bone. We know the deadly reality of weapons of war. We know what the anniversaries of fallen friends feels like. We understand that when a person sees the bloody, shrieking horrors of violent death, when they witness their friends’ bodies draining of life, something is lost in them that can never be recovered. We also know what sensible and safe gun use looks like because it’s literally what our spouses do as a requirement of their jobs.
What would happen if those who have experienced the worst of war would stand next to the students of Parkland?
If Gold Star families consoled those parents who lost their children unexpectedly and horrifically because they too understand the heartbreaking, sudden loss of a loved one?
If we read the stories of all of the victims and not just those who were military-connected?
If those who experience PTSD from war could offer their insights and help to young adults who now can’t stand to be in public places?
If military-connected families closed ranks around the kids from Parkland. If we didn’t share the ridiculous conspiracy theories and memes smearing teenagers and challenged those who do?
What if we were honest about being stationed OCONUS? That many of us feel so safe in another country that we worry about coming back to the US?
What if we were just as vocal about gun violence as we are about military spouse employment or TRICARE changes? What if we used those organizing skills to make our communities safer from the weaponry we fear when our husbands and wives go to war?
By J.G. Noll