Elections distressing to military families

Posted Nov. 09, 2008, at 9:50 p.m.

I cannot speak for all military families any more than one person can speak for an entire race, but inasmuch as I have been in a military family for all but six weeks of my life, most of my friends are part of military families, and I regularly hear from military families through this column, I’d like to try to explain why some of us feel, well, a bit hung over after last week’s presidential election.

Consider for a moment what President-elect Barack Obama’s achievement means to an entire generation of people who identify with him and vice versa. I understand, of course, that the celebration regarding Obama’s election is about far more than race, but to a certain extent, much of the excitement does have a direct correlation to who he is as a person and what he represents. So politics aside, consider how military families were equally and emotionally attached to Sen. John McCain, someone who understands our lifestyle and is “one of us.”

Consider also that the American president is commander in chief of the military and immediately, if not profoundly, affects the men and women in the armed services directly. He or she is their new commander and has the power to send them into harm’s way. This is why there was so much controversy over whether or not President Clinton dodged the draft. This is why John Kerry’s military service was hotly debated and ultimately consumed his run for president.

When it’s all said and done, however, the military respects the new chain of command, even when time and time again polls have shown that they want a president who understands their lifestyle. They want someone who knows their concerns. Even better, they want someone who has lived the military life.

I can only imagine this is the same way many minorities have felt throughout the history of our country. They have wanted a leader who represents them. They have wanted a leader who knows their struggles, their history and their hopes. They want to be able to watch the president on television and say, “Yes, he is one of us.”

For military families, Sen. John McCain is legendary. He is in many ways the epitome of service. He is a veteran. He has endured the same things all of us have in regard to this military lifestyle, and then he has even encountered and survived far more. He could never be accused of sending troops to do something that he himself never would.

While Obama’s campaign pledged to fully support military families with more services even while the Democrats continue to threaten cutting the Department of Defense budget by 25 percent, creative math that doesn’t add up on paper, Sen. McCain instinctively knows the military’s needs.

He knows that “I will bring the troops home” means little to us as they will just deploy again (it’s part of the job), but that “I will bring them home in honor and victory” means everything.

In short, John McCain is “one of us” because he was born and raised in our system. His defeat the week before America celebrates Veterans Day on Tuesday was especially crushing for those who connected emotionally with his love for and dedication to the U.S. military.

But then, yesterday I saw a young African-American boy walking to school. He had a noticeable pep in his step. He was beaming. I knew his whole world had changed now that he can look at the White House and see “himself.” I understand that. I do. And while there have been many faces of the military in the presidency, this is the first time African-Americans have seen theirs. It is time. It is historic. And I rejoice with the country in celebration of this feat.

What I hope Obama supporters can understand, however, is that John McCain was that representative face for us. He is the ultimate “face” of the military. And we need time to grieve his defeat.

I will always believe that our country and our military would have one of its finest leaders in John McCain, but I am trying to put that — as well as politics — aside for now to savor the momentous occasion that is Barack Obama’s election.

Give us time to mourn the loss of our candidate’s chances, and I assure you that we will meet you there in the place of hope and celebration.

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. Sarah Smiley’s new book “I’m Just Saying … “ is available wherever books are sold. You can contact Sarah at sarah@sarahsmiley.com.

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