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Now My Military Has a Face…by motivational speaker Kelly Swanson

21 Jul Posted by in Ordinary Heroes, Real Life | Comments

Reflections on my trip to speak to the Louisiana National Guard Family Services State Workshop

I always considered myself patriotic – I tear up at the national anthem – I see a soldier in uniform and pause to say a prayer – I am proud of my country and the tenets upon which it is based. And I am proud of the men and women who serve our country with such great honor and sacrifice. And I always thought that was good enough – until this past weekend when my work brought me in front of the Louisiana State National Guard. I was excited for many reasons – my first trip to Louisiana – a chance to show my appreciation to military families – and the launch of my very first one-woman show “When Fairy Tale Meets Reality” delivered in four acts, woven throughout the conference. And I’m happy to report that I loved Louisiana – I’m not sure you can find a nicer group of people – I loved spending the weekend with my audience (something I don’t often get a chance to do) – and my show was very well received. There was much laughter, much healing, and much discussion over how to deal with stress and change. And, as often happens in my line of work, the audience once again gave me so much more than I gave them. And once again I saw things happen that were much bigger than myself.

Just like it’s one thing to profess you believe in God, and another thing to actually live like you do, I have found that it’s one thing to say you appreciate the military, and another thing to actually live like you do. You see, before this trip, the military didn’t really have a face to me. They were this distant group of people far away, fighting for me. They were my friend’s brother, my uncle’s neighbor, the lady down the street’s son. While I know many who have family members who serve – it had never really hit me close to home. So, while extremely important on my list of people I am indebted to, I viewed the military, not as individuals, but rather as a group of people that I owed my freedom. Until this past weekend when I met their families.

And I hugged their children. And I sat with the wives of soldiers who are deployed for the second and third time. I saw the worry on their faces and I watched them hang onto each other for hope and support. I met a woman who had not laughed since her son left. (Happy to say I helped her in that area.) I met mothers who prayed every day that their children would come home alive. I met wives who are counting the days until their man comes home. I met people whose entire families are serving. I shook the hands of soldiers that are here today, but might not be here tomorrow. I talked to kids who hear bedtime stories by telephone. And children who’s daddy has come back but he’s not the same. I heard the stories and shared the tears, listened to their challenges, laughed with them, cried with them, looked at their pictures, and made promises to keep in touch and promises to pray for them.

While I left on the high of a job well done, I also left with a heavy heart. Because now my military has a face, and they have names, and I have hugged their children and sat with their families. Because now there’s a soldier out there fighting for me, and I have met his mother. I saw his child laugh while he missed it. I felt the love that he had left back at home. While I was once able to put the military in a box on the shelf of things I honor and respect – the box is open and the faces follow me. And I don’t want to put them back in the box to take out on a rainy day. I want to know when they make it home and when they don’t. I want to encourage their mothers and love on their children. I want to bring a laugh when I can, and a shoulder to cry on.

Now I want to do more than just say I appreciate the military. I want to appreciate my military. And where does it start? I guess with the families they leave behind – the families who live right in my neighborhood. The mothers who are trying to keep their families running, without enough encouragement and support – who might need something as simple as a chance to go to the grocery store without the kids. I can do more than pause when a soldier passes or tear up at the national anthem. I can reach out. I can give back. I can tell their stories. I can teach my child about the honor in serving his country. I can find ways to help – right where am I, in whatever way I am able. And I can pray. So in front of my God and in front of you, I’m stepping up. I’m not sure what that will look like. I’ll pray for the doors to be opened, and for the courage to go through them.

Now my military has a face. They always did. I guess I just never looked.

Thank you to all the many people out there who serve our country, whether you’re deployed or guarding the home front – whether you serve today or served twenty years ago. May we never take you for granted.

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