Here’s why this milspouse says she’s listening to the national anthem protesters


This is an opinion piece that does not necessarily reflect the views of MilitaryOneClick.

(Photo: Pixabay)

We were in marriage counseling, a regular session we attended every week for years, two people who love each other ferociously, trying to piece back together a relationship left charred and scarred by endless deployments.

He erupted in frustration, “I work in an environment where people’s legs get blown off! I’ve got real problems!”

He was right. Those are real problems.

I hung my head. How stupid was I to trouble him with my touchy-feely concerns? My needs problems. There were bigger things, more important things than me. Besides, that’s what I signed up for, wasn’t it? To put my needs behind the bigger needs?

I pushed my back into the corner of the couch and kept my mouth shut.

The therapist took a deep breath before speaking, turning her head to him.

“What will you do when your daughter is crying because another girl is mean to her at school? Or when your son’s first girlfriend dumps him? Or one of them is stressed over a big test? Or misses the shot that costs the team the game? If someone has to lose a leg for you to take their problems seriously, you aren’t going to be very much of a father.”

He was stunned.

“You’re right,” he finally said, exhaling. The muscles in his neck relaxed, and the rest of the session was one of our most productive. That was six years ago and we’re still married–and still in love. He obviously took the message to heart.

I’ve written thousands of words about the civil-military divide. I’ve lambasted my fellow Americans for not doing enough to understand the lives of military families; for leaving soldiers at war for the better part of two decades and giving only weak-voiced thank-you-for-your-services in return. As if the latter even begins to compensate for the former. I’ve spoken on these issues to politicians and thought leaders and worked with non-profits to build bridges between communities. I’ve directed thousands of hours and hundreds of pages to the idea that civilians aren’t putting forth enough effort to understand the warrior class, and I’ve meant every word.

But the knife cuts both ways.

If the only sacrifice we, as a military community, acknowledge is military sacrifice–if we compare every civilian complaint to getting legs blown off and friends killed overseas–we’re not going to be very good participants in this democracy.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week as I’ve followed online discussions about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. One veteran published this commentary, saying, “Taking a knee during the Anthem is your definition of a risk? My idea of risk is taking effective fire, kicking in doors, running towards gunfire, driving down IED infested roadways, danger-close call for fire, and the list goes on. The biggest things these players risk is a grass stain on their costume. (Real athletes wear uniforms.)”

With statements like that, we’re telling the civilian community that their risks don’t count. That there is no risk outside of war. We’ve loaded the dice, we’ve stacked the deck.

And we wonder why there’s a civil-military divide.

Look, I don’t like seeing people kneel during the “Star-Spangled Banner”. I’d smack my kids quick and hard for doing that and shoot them the mommy-death-look until they were on their feet with their hands over their hearts. Those words, “the rockets red glare — the bombs bursting in air”, those words are very real to my family.

But for a while now some of our fellow Americans have been telling us that there’s a problem. They’ve been telling us–all of us–that they need our help. We didn’t listen and so they looked for new ways to get our attention. That’s why those athletes are kneeling now.

If we don’t like seeing it, we need to fix the problem so they can stand with us. Because if we keep telling our fellow Americans that their problems don’t count because war is worse, it should not surprise us that they turn away.

By Rebekah Sanderlin

16 Comments

  1. Ms. Sanderlin,
    God bless you for sharing your heart with ALL of us. While I applaud your efforts, and support your right to share what you believe; as a veteran, I have that very same right. You are correct that there is a military-civilian divide; and rightfully so. Veteran’s who have served this great nation earned the right to hold themselves in higher regard than some pampered, spoiled professional athlete who has sacrificed very little in comparison to what our beloved veteran’s have given. I agree with you that there is a problem in America, especially one with American minorities in this nation, but it is not a problem caused by our nation’s history. It is also not a problem that impacts, or is only felt by poor black children in poor neighborhoods, who I often relate to those who are unable to get out of their own situation because few ever gave them a reason to want better. Root cause analysis has shown time and time again that the majority of gang members, criminal miscreants, and “problem-children” aren’t the result of poverty (I grew up very poor), the real problem is the lack or morality, kindness, values, respect, and genuine love (the kind you find in true Christians) that is found in very few of today’s “modern” families. It’s out there still, but it seems with each passing news cycle, it becomes more and more buried under sensationalism.

    These professional athletes, thought leaders, and other true Americans have every right to protest. Yet protest, in the manner it was intended in our Constitution, was not meant to infringe on the rights of others. While they have the right to protest, every American has the right to turn away in disgust when they see what our great and Godly nation is becoming. Just some thoughts from an old vet that very few will ever care about; much like your husband I’m afraid. Thank you though for caring enough to fight for your marriage and your family. You sacrificed too ma’am.

    1. Thank you for your kind and thoughtful reply. We don’t all have to agree — we just have to listen to each other. Thank you for the sacrifices you made for the country we all share. I don’t know you, but I do care about you. I hope you’ll encounter at least one person today who will show you that care in person and, if not, I hope that you’ll read my comment here and feel that care through my words.

      1. Same thoughts to you ma’am. We don’t always agree on everything here in America, but that is what makes our America worth the sacrifice. Just wanted to point out that like you and your husband, we vets have perhaps more “skin in the game” as the military and the families that support those deployed sacrifice much more than many others who fuss about out country but do little to make it better except talking. God bless!

  2. Rebekah, I’m just a spouse, too, and I’m also a veteran. I got out after never deploying, but being injured in a chemical accident while others risked their lives in Afghanistan. I used to be ashamed of calling myself a disabled veteran, but that is a different story for a different time. I grew up in a community in Minnesota that was integrated in the 1970s and 1980s. It was called Brooklyn Park. When I said I was from that area one time, a person in Minot, ND corrected me, and said Brooklyn Dark. African American, Somali, and Asian families moved their families to Brooklyn Park to get out of the gang riddled neighborhoods in North Minneapolis. It became a hotbed for gang violence, drugs, rapes, and murders. My mom and dad finally left years after my brother and I grew up. My experiences growing up in that environment– I was sexually assaulted on a bus, I was threatened because I turned in a drug dealer to the resource officer, and I was slapped and accused of racism (the first two things were done by white people). But I also saw white privilege firsthand, and realized as a junior in high school what my black friends were complaining about long before names like Philandro Castille made national headlines. A friend of mine, was thrown down while walking home from school, he was cuffed, and taken into the police station. His crime, he was cutting through a parking lot, and someone called the police on him, because he was walking suspiciously. All he was doing was walking home from school, taking a short cut through a parking lot, if he were a white kid no one would have thought anything about it. Finally, as a junior, I was on the cross country team, I was running with a good friend of mine (her son is now a nationally ranked gymnast with the Olympics in his future). We were on the sidewalk. A police officer bypassed the entire team, and stopped us. They yelled at us to stop running, and told us that they were going to cite us for blocking traffic. There was a moving truck across from us, we were on the sidewalk, they didn’t stop the entire girls’ team that was ahead of us. Just me and this girl. I talked back at the police officer, he put his hand on his gun, my friend looked at me. I finally, said, “my dad knows the mayor, I want your badge number, and I will be talking to him.” He got back into his car, realizing that I was going to go directly to his boss and complain. He thought he could boss two innocent girls around because he was a police officer. Since these two incidents, every police shooting that happens, I look at them with a healthy dose of suspicion and I do not believe the police officers. Not saying that police officers are bad, but there are bad apples out there, just as there are bad apples amongst every population. As I grew up, I noticed as an adult that my black friends are targeted– from being followed through a store when I was a lieutenant shopping with my friend, Donna (another lieutenant in the Air Force) to carpooling with a spouse who drove 5 mph below the speed limit, because her husband (a lieutenant colonel) was pulled over five times going the speed limit to having my son’s favorite teacher murdered and the police not calling the death foul play even though he was beaten so badly that they couldn’t determine if he was shot or stabbed. Racism exists, white privilege exists, and I support the NFL players protesting. It seems to me time after time when someone in a position to point out the obvious to me, they are shut down and not listened to. When the President calls Neo-Nazis “some fine people,” yet Americans pointing out systemic racism are called “S.O.Bs.” It’s time to shut up and listen. NFL players are not clowns, who are put on this Earth for our entertainment. I know Rebekah is girding her loins for people to tell her to shut up, to tell her that her opinion doesn’t count because she is a spouse, and probably there will be a few dependa insults thrown around. But read what she wrote, and remember that just because she is just a spouse, doesn’t mean that her opinion is null and void, and some just spouses have had valid experiences and valid sacrifices. Every American by virtue of their birth has certain rights– NFL players, actors, and singers included.

    1. Jodi, I love love your comment because for those of us who have genuinely never witnessed it, it’s so helpful to hear a firsthand account.
      First I want to say that I have openly, publicly supported the protest. I think we were given an opportunity to listen, but we chose to make it all about ourselves and “how offended we are”, instead of HEARING what it was about.

      The only reason I comment at all is to say- the president didn’t say that Neo-nazis are fine people. Not even close. He said their were fine people present in Charlottesville that day (which is true). He condemned the neo nazis.
      As you already understand- it’s important to listen.

  3. Thank you very much for this piece. You’ve made a great point, that it’s unfair to set the bar for valid suffering at war. I saw another article explaining the viewpoint of one kneeling NFL player and I think it’s also relevant – that many many civilians have also fought, bled and died in the pursuit of equality. This player pointed out that he wouldn’t have had the right to even practice in the same facilities as white athletes if not for some of those civilians, and that it is them he remembers when he kneels.

    I recognize the enormous sacrifice our military members and families make for our country. It’s a sacrifice I myself am not equipped to make, and I’m forever grateful for all those who make it in my place. You fight for the ideals of our democracy, and to protect democracy abroad, and there are not many more noble pursuits.

    By the same token, I recognize the enormous sacrifice of civil rights fighters, LGBTQIA rights fighters, women’s rights fighters, and all of the OTHER citizens of this great land who put themselves in harm’s way in the fight for equal treatment across these arbitrary differences. The danger you face personally and professionally is a risk I have not been able to overcome my anxiety enough to face – thank you for continuously pushing those in power to live up to the ideal of ALL men being equal.

    I wish that those in the military world who are offended could see that theirs is not the only suffering that deserves our attention and respect.

    1. This is a wonderful point, Judi. In fact, without the efforts of those civil rights, women’s rights and LGBTQ rights warriors, many of our military VETERANS wouldn’t have been able to serve.

  4. Great article. It’s very possible that African American’s in this country may have a different experience – not a always a good experience – than their caucasian counterparts. I agree that they have been trying to tell us some thing is wrong for some time. It’s ok to listen before judging. Empathy never hurts. I would never kneel for the flag or anthem because it means something different to me as spouse to an active duty service member. It’s an individual protest and doesn’t have much to do with the military. We are all Americans and the flag means something to everyone in our country. You don’t have to serve to be patriotic or seen as a real American. People serve every day in their own way – teachers, police, fireman, public servants, volunteers, charity workers. The military doesn’t have exclusivity on being American. However, I’d say they they are at the top of the list though. These peaceful protests aren’t hurting anyone or our military. It’s their protest, because they feel something not right, unequal or forgotten. I’m still struggling on why we are judging these protestors them so harshly. Or why the President decided through gasoline on the fire. So divisive. Sounds like snowflakes come in all shapes, sizes and sport fans.

    If the demographic could be flipped or changed, seen through someone else eyes, well – that’s empathy. If women made up the a disportionate number of amount people killed by police, or disportioncate number in incarcerated, disproportionate number living under the poverty line or if misogyny was the common rhetoric coming from our elected leaders – and there was no change insight….well, I might just kneel, too.

  5. There is no such thing as “Just a Spouse”. Retired Navy Chief here and I unequivocally agree with the views of this article. If we can’t support peaceful protest then what the heck are we fighting for?

  6. To say they have sacrificed very little shows the very divide this article speaks of. These guys wouldn’t even be here if our Christian nation hadn’t brought them here to be slaves.
    History is our legacy. Each one of us is a product of the generations before us. We carry the DNA as well as the struggles, beliefs and benefits of those in our family. So do all men. We also carry the DNA of our country and the choices made by those in leadership. We all benefit or don’t from where we fit in the system. If you are born rich life is very different than if you are born poor or even middle class. While the spirit of every human is valuable and equally worthwhile the opportunities are not. Especially for those of color. They just start out way behind. The perceptions of equality are against them from the get go.
    If history has no role in this then it’s just people choosing to be angry and in gangs because they want to. Once again every human is incredible valuable but the opportunities are not the same. Would that make you angry?
    When a nation is called Godly it’s a high honor. America did some very ungodly things to become a nation and we are still trying to cover it up. It’s not godly to enslave others or steal and kill others to build our churches and towns on. That will not go away. Ever. It’s what we did.
    Our forefathers came here to establish a Christian nation. I’m thinking that slavery by Christians wasn’t moral, in integrity, respectful, loving or very kind. Maybe that’s why we are where we are today.
    How would you advise them to protest so people will acknowledge the injustice that still follows them and treat them differently? So far none of the ways they try or places they choose to protest is “right”.

  7. Thank you for this article. I am not a mother, or a spouse, but I am a veteran. I don’t be easily agree with the act of kneeling during the anthem, but I support the players right to do so. Over the past couple weeks, I call to mi d the oath of enlistment, “I Denise Thomason, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”
    Being in the military is not about going to war. Its about protecting our country, and the ideas that it was built on…including freedom of speech, and peaceful protests.

  8. Very well said! This says it much better than my fumble for words as I tried to disagree with my military husband. I just couldn’t put into words my feelings about it, in a way that made sense. I truly believe my heart and soul bleeds red white and blue. When our national anthem is well sung, and sometimes even when it’s not, I still feel it to my core. I’ve cried when it’s played, I’ve felt immense pride in children as they freeze and search for the flag when they hear the national anthem playing in a Stadium, a Field, or at home on tv. But I, like you, feel that we should listen. For the reasons you’ve said and the reasons some of the protesters have said. If we are going to stand behind the idea that all lives matter, that all people matter, then we really have to mean it. We have to listen to one another. We have to fight for one another. We have to support one another. And when we see someone being mistreated or cast aside, we should help them up and stand and fight beside them. Just as our military has done all around the world. Just as many Americans do each and every day on our own soil. Just as we ask our children to do when they see a classmate being mistreated.

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