This is an excellent article on what it means to be a military family and the mindset of many in the military and their families.
Mine is a military family through and through. May father served in the Navy, as did I. His father and uncles served in the military during World War II. My brother (the rebel in the family) currently serves in the Army in Iraq. My sister is married to a Marine Corps Aviator. In short service is our family tradition, one I hope my children will perform one day. But when it comes to talking to people who did not grow up with the service tradition, it is very difficult to explain what one must do in such a family.
For roughly 35% of my childhood, my father was on deployment somewhere. My brother is on his second tour in Iraq with about six months to go there, meaning he is away from his family. Having been single while in the Navy, I did not subject a wife to my absences. But since my wife did not come from such a background (despite her grandfather's service in the Army Air Corps in World War II), I have long had a difficult time expressing to her what it means to be in the service.
For those who stay in and for those families who have a long tradition of service, here is how I explain their sacrifice. These people and families have put something ahead of their personal wants or desires. Whether they serve one enlistment or make it a career, members of the military have placed the needs of their country before their own selfish desires. I am not denouncing those who chose not to serve for being selfish, but it takes a special kind of person to be able to say, "I will relinquish much of my freedom and perhaps even life and limb, to ensure the safety of my loved ones." That is what service means, that you will place your country and community ahead of your own needs.
If one views loyalty in terms of a heirarhcy, with loyalty to self and family at the bottom. The highest level of loyalty and duty is to those who you do not know, will not know and cannot know as anything as other than an abstraction, i.e. my countrymen. It is easy to be loyal to spouse, parents, siblings and children. It is marginally more difficult to be loyal to friends. Loyalty and the desire to protect your community is a big step on the pyramid, but may be somewhat understandable since you see those people everyday and they are often like you. But loyalty to and a desire to protect those whom you do not know, your country is extremely difficult. Often this protection extends to people whose words and ideas make your blood boil with anger. But a realization that they too are deserving of protection takes an understanding and love of country deeper than many Americans are capable of entertaining.
If this diatribe conveys the thought that I believe military families are in some respect morally superior to others, then you may be right. I do believe that military families make sacrifices in the name of country that most people cannot fathom. So the next time you feel inclined to question what loyalty and service means, think about the military family because they do all they do without the promise of something better, with no tangible benefit and the risk of the deepest sacrifice possible--to die in the service of one's country.
The Perspective of a Miliary Family