Dr Bev Smallwood

Articles Library: Conflict

Family Relationships Under Fire: Lessons From the Front Line

I sat glued to the news conference as three wounded soldiers – Marine Lance Corporal Joshua Menard, Army Staff Sergeant James Villafane, and Army Sergeant Charles Horgan - recounted their experiences of coming under fire from Iraqi troops in civilian dress at the city of Nassiriya. Villafane and Horgan told about being struck by an incoming missile.

As I watched, I, too, was struck…by the similarities between their experiences on the battlefield and those of stressed-out families, “under fire.” Listen and learn from their experiences.

Lesson 1: Don't be caught off-guard; prepare

Menard said, “We were very surprised. We were told that when we were going through Nassiriya that we would see little to no resistance. They weren’t rolling over like we thought they would.”

Realistically anticipate and prepare for the inevitable challenges your family will face. “Prepare for the worst,” while guarding the positive attitudes that “create the best.”

Lesson 2: Your good intentions can be misunderstood

Villafane commented, “The amount of resistance, some of it I don’t understand. I mean, we’re there to help them to get them out of the regime. It was a shock that they would actually do that, given the treatment we try to give them. We try to treat them fairly.”

Know this! You can be misunderstood by family members, even when you have the best of intentions and are trying your best. Parents, it takes courage to make wise, yet unpopular decisions.

On the other hand, “meaning well” can’t substitute for “doing well.” Check your actions, being willing to openly consider what it’s like to be on the other side of you.

Lesson 3: Don't make mistakes about who your enemy is

A group of Iraqi soldiers dressed in the civilian robes of nomad Bedoins opened fire on Menard as he and six other Marines approached them on a bridge in Nassiriya. Military enemies, pretending to be harmless.

Even more appalling was the account of the American soldier who allegedly threw the grenade that killed and injured people in his own troop. Yet, we’ve lost our sensitivity to the shock of similar assaults in our own families…daily “grenades” of hurtful words and destructive actions.

“Out there”, there are so many enemies to the wellbeing of family members. How can we hope to combat those if we spend our time fighting within our own ranks? What can you do today to mend family rifts?

Lesson 4: Don't panic when troubles come

Sergeant Horgan told about how he worked to stay calm, though he had just been wounded by the enemy missile. He said that he was grateful that “training kicks in” and that he was able not to panic. “My foot may be gone, but I gotta move.”

When you are faced with an unexpected and distressing challenge in your family, don’t panic, reacting impulsively. Seek help if necessary. Don’t say or do things that make the situation worse in the long run.

Stop…think…plan…then act.

Lesson 5: Protect your family members; not just yourself

The way these well-trained, courageous soldiers behaved under fire is, to me, the greatest of our lessons in family teamwork. Listen in, and examine your own habits and actions.

Horgan, whose right leg and foot were ripped open when he was blown from his gunning position, described his thoughts when he saw the incoming missile: “Oh, my God, I’m gonna die. I gotta warn my buddies.”

Villafane quipped, “It’s not being shot at that so bad. It’s being shot that really sucks!” (Can you relate to that?)

Despite the horror of what they had experienced, the three wounded men all said they felt a sense of guilt about leaving friends behind in Iraq. Horgan told reporters, “I’m relieved that I’m out… Nobody can be shot and say, ‘Wow, I really want to go back out there. That was great.’ But I’m kind of sad that I’m not with the guys who protected me. My friends protected me when I needed them. I joined to serve my country. But when I was there, I was fighting to protect my friends.

Dr. Bev Smallwood is a psychologist and professional speaker who is the author of “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me.” Visit her website, www.DrBevSmallwood.com; or contact Bev at 601.264.0890 or by email, Bev@DrBevSmallwood.com. Also connect with Bev on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and her blogs, Shrink Rap and New Morning Devotionals.

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