Draw Near to God

Iraqi Freedom Soldiers join the military for a plethora of reasons and originate from just as many unique family situations. It has taken me decades to reconcile with God and family members over the challenges mine presented as I integrated into the military. In fact, I have written an early memoir capturing my journey. It is available on Amazon.com and is entitled: From Hide and Seek to Marco Polo: My Brother’s Shoes. I highly recommend that you too try to write down your story. It may or may not ever be published. It may just serve as a family resource or a therapeutic exercise of processing the things you have experienced. Either way, it is a good venture.

When a soldier joins the military, he or she is joining a mission focused organization that has been fighting the nation’s wars since 1636 when our militias started what we know if today as the National Guard. Along the way our military machine has established everything needed to efficiently send our troops into battle and bring them back again. In fact, many American citizens can trace their heritage back to America’s earliest wars. Observing these facts should be enough to humble us when we raise our right hand and swear to defend this country. However, we come into the military with some interesting expectations and quickly learn that unless our expectations meet that of the military, we can quickly become disillusioned.

You see, a few hundred years ago, those building our military structure realized that if you pay a person a small wage, feed them, clothe them, give them a mission and give them basic weapons for protection, those people will fight to the death for their country. It is a most ingenious support system and has not changed from the beginning. These accommodations are the primal reasoning behind a soldier saying things like, “I would rather be deployed than be here” or “I can survive on my own with very little” and more. What these accommodations afford is a person’s basic needs.

size0 Prior to joining the military, these basic needs were provided by the person’s family, society or those who cared for the person. Unfortunately, soldiers begin to believe that the military can take better care of their basic needs than their own family. In some cases it does and that is a failure of the family. Mission success only serves to solidify his or her thoughts and next thing you know the soldier is “married to the military”. The more times a soldier successfully trains, deploys, completes missions, and builds mission related bonds the greater their belief in the military family grows. Again and unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and at some point in the life or career of the soldier they will leave the military. The reasons why they do does not matter but what does matter is their attempt to be a part of larger society. With the suicide rates among veterans (22 per day), homeless rates (24-26% nationally), and homicide rates (higher in military cities) on a steady incline, it is no wonder why re-integrating into a society that does not directly and intentionally provide such security is something beyond difficult for veterans.

Soldiers are great at breaking things and the military structure with its security makes it easy for soldiers to break those things that are closest to them and most important to them. Most soldiers do not realize it at the time but these are stress reactions related to the military structure. It is easier for the soldier to push away immediate family and meaningful relationships because he or she has the immediate structure they need. The stress is created for a number of reasons.

  1. Although immediate family and the military chain of command speak the same familial language they are and should be mutually exclusive. In other words, if at any time the soldier does something to cause the military chain of command to be directly involved in family business something has gone terribly wrong. Chains of command are trained for missions not family issues. Family issues only serve to distract commanders from their real work. This fact causes undue stress on the soldier and he or she quickly realizes they cannot compete with the demands of the family and the demands of the military. So they willingly sacrifice one for the other.
  2. Military mission and personal goals appear to be similar but become victim to the same reasoning and stressors as family vs. military chain of command. We find solace in making mission related goals our priority and personal goals go away.
  3. Military equipment replaces our assets and eventually we try to make our assets look like our military equipment. This only serves to drive those we care about further away and somehow we resolve within ourselves that we are okay with that. We become attached to our equipment psychologically. In a way we should since it saves lives and protects and helps us complete our mission. The more we use these items and successfully complete our mission, the more we cannot separate ourselves from them. Eventually, these things are taken from us and then what? We have no family, no mission and no assets.
  4. Our friends or social support becomes our military relationships. Again they look similar to friends we had in high school and even the guys on the block. The only difference being, now I have trained with these military people, now I have deployed with these military people, now I have bled with these military people and I am forever bonded to these military people. So much so in fact, that if anyone tries to say anything or come between you and your battle buddies they become the odd man out to include family members like wives and children. Herein we find the answer to why soldiers have such a high divorce rate and blended family situations where their kids are with the ex-wife and the kids you are raising are someone else’s. All the while you have been married, divorced and remarried how many times.

All of these things are very difficult to balance and create a level of stress our soldiers and leaders have never been trained to cope with.

soldier-praying-e1333865018265 For many of you reading this, you may wonder “how do we reconcile these things and still maintain sanity?” The answer is to draw closer meaningful relationships instead of pushing them away. It is the stress talking that says “this is too much for you, push them away”. Another option is to abandon all relationships and expectations when you join the military and do not place yourself in situations to be hurt relationally. However, this is contradictory to society and our biology. Whether introvert or extrovert, we are relational people! Being married now going on 17 years with four daughters, having deployed 4 times and hitting my 26 year mark this year, I have found the first option to work best. The reason is, we are relational beings and stress is not meant to be “handled” individually, but is meant to be shared to lessen the impact. Draw your spouse closer don’t push him or her away, draw your children closer and maximize the short moments you do have, build lasting relationships with people not connected to the military, broaden your horizon so that others can help you deal with the real mission called life. There is a difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships and as you broaden, you will discover that the best answer is healthy relationships. I would encourage you to look to resources that are greater than your own knowledge to test these relationships. Make quick work of those who represent unhealthy morals, values and ethics. Your life mission is too great to be tripped up by them. Draw close to those who have your best interests in mind and see you as more than the mission ready, mission equipped number you are. Your life mission is what God has called you to do and be and it does include the military but is not limited to the military. Although you may not be able to see what that is right now. If you continue to surround yourself with meaningful healthy relationships, you will.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. – James 4:8a

Mijikai Mason
Disclaimer: The thoughts and views published on the Veterans to Christ blog are those of Mijikai Mason and in no way are meant to represent the United States Army or the Armed Forces.

Bio: Mijikai Mason is an Ordained Southern Baptist minister and Chaplain in the United States Army. He has been in the Army for 26 years both as an enlisted Soldier and now as an Officer. He has been stationed at various bases in the United States and in United States Army Garrison Schweinfurt, Germany. He holds an undergraduate degree in Religion from the University of Mobile, a Master of Divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in Theology and Evangelism and a Master of Arts degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Webster University. Chaplain (MAJ) Mijikai Mason was selected by the Army in 2013, to become a Family Life Chaplain and began his service in this field starting 15 May 2015. He is the Deputy ESC Chaplain and Family Life Chaplain for the 593 Expeditionary Support Command at Joint Base Lewis McCord. He has deployed four times: Desert Storm (1991), Iraq twice (2005-2006; 2007-2008), and Afghanistan (2012-2013). He has a total of 42 months deployed in combat and logistics operations. Mijikai and his wife, Ashley, have been married for 17 years this May and live near Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington with their four daughters.