When we speak of the men and women who’ve sacrificed for this nation, our first thoughts often concern those killed or wounded in war.
But the story of Heather and Dustin Baker forces us to reconsider our assumptions about sacrifice. The Janesville couple have been married for five years but together at home for only 11½ months. For most of their marriage, Dustin has been deployed in either Iraq or Afghanistan. The couple sacrifice every day for this nation, trying to make a family work while serving in a war.
Until Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans understood war to have a definitive start and end. The Vietnam War dragged on for years like current conflicts, but it also involved a military draft. Whether a young man went to Vietnam, he was never completely removed from the war or its consequences.
In this new era of perpetual war, there’s little to remind us that we’re still fighting in foreign nations. Both troop commitments and casualties have been too low to trigger a draft (4,424 U.S. troops in killed in Iraq and 2,350 in Afghanistan as of Jan. 16, according to the Department of Defense). There’s neither public outcry nor celebration, except the occasional Veteran’s Day program. The two wars have become political background music, and we go about our days—sending kids to school, scraping ice from our windshields, eating dinner with loved ones—without a thought of those risking their lives on foreign soil.
To fuel these wars, some troops are deployed multiple times, though Dustin Baker’s 10 deployments are unusual. A disproportionate share of the nation’s war-time burden falls onto people such as Dustin. He doesn’t complain, but his arrangement comes with hardship. In a Sunday story, Gazette reporter Jonah Beleckis wrote how Dustin and Heather have persevered through rocky times (What couple wouldn’t be tested?) and have found a way to make their marriage work, despite Heather taking on the bulk of child-rearing and home-related duties stateside.
Technological advancements make easier connecting with family, but FaceTime is no substitute for real time. Anyone who’s been apart knows a goodnight kiss via the internet is better than nothing, but it does not remove the pain of distance between you and your loved ones.
War has changed and so, too, must our understanding of sacrifice. Heather is part of Dustin’s story and this conversation about sacrifice because our troops abroad need support. As we learn more about the psychological toll deployments can take, loved ones help keep the nation’s troops healthy. Heather’s not a service member, but she plays a crucial role in Dustin’s deployments.
If you’re a parent with children either at draft age or near it, thank the Bakers and thousands of volunteers like Dustin for keeping your son (and maybe someday daughters) out of harm’s way. These endless wars are easy to forget in large part because an all-volunteer military has taken the place of a draft, which has become a distant memory.
But failing to recognize these veterans’ sacrifices would be a shame. You don’t need to die or get wounded to sacrifice for this nation. Putting a marriage on the line is sacrifice enough.