When asked by a BBC reporter if we are ready to go “like that” in case of chemical warfare in Syria, Secretary of Defense Hagel confirmed, “We are ready to go, like that.”
“The options are there, the United States Department of Defense is ready to carry out those options,” said Hagel.
As a member of a military family, I am all too aware of what it takes to be ready to go “like that.” It isn’t the snap of the fingers the BBC reporter implied.
Being ready to go “like that” means that we have been ready to go every day since 9/11. It means that trouble in the world brings a certain amount of despair. This again? It means you wonder if anyone does anything in that section of the world that would ever bring peace — but being ready to do it if that is all there is to do.
Being ready to go “like that” for a military family means that the news that the Russians are sending warships to the area makes you suddenly, fully and completely aware (again) of what your servicemember does all day.
It means your heart swells with pride at the same moment your gut shrinks a little with … what? Fear? Worry? Or just memories?
Being ready to go “like that” means that the little map of ships converging around Syria are not plastic pieces in a Battleship game. Those ships are full of thousands of our husbands, our wives, our parents, our children who have been gone for months already. It means knowing that they want to do — they are perhaps eager to do — what they have been trained to do.
Being ready to go “like that” means that when we see pictures of children in body bags lined up on a curb with their faces exposed so that they might be identified, we notice the child so small that his legs wouldn’t hang over the edge of a carseat. It means when it comes to world peace we families have more than pity, we have skin in the game, dammit.
Being ready to go “like that” for a dozen years makes you aware of how politicians and activists and rebels use those pictures to manipulate our feelings. And still not being quite able to put those pictures out of a suburb in Damascus out of our minds.
Being ready to go “like that” for so long means that you know that deployments can be lengthened, R&Rs cancelled, transfers put off. It means that your family is tethered with a two-hour recall and all that entails. It means you feel angry and selfish and frightened at the same time.
Most of all being ready to go “like that” means that you are aware in a new way of how much money it costs to be this ready. It makes you think of sequestration in a whole new way. It makes you wonder where the money went exactly.
Is everyone as ready to go as they were this time last year? Are the edges of this force now frayed? It makes you wonder what the role of the United States in the world is supposed to be.
And can we always afford to be ready “like that?”