The meaning of sacrifice: US military and Ukraine

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Photo taken of northern lights on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson

Have you ever had to mute yourself during an online class because machine gun fire is rattling the pictures hanging on your walls?

I have, almost every day actually.

No, I don’t live in a war zone. It’s more like a preparatory war zone. Welcome to life on a U.S. military installation.

According to Military One Source, there are approximately 1.6 million people serving in the United States military with an additional 605,000 spouses and 981,000 children of active-duty service members. My husband and I, who currently serves as a paratrooper in the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment of the United States Army, are two of those people.

For the past two years, we have lived on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, a military base that houses a combination of over 30,000 active-duty Air Force and Army personnel and their families. Located just outside of Anchorage, Alaska, we are the closest U.S. military base to Russia.

While infantry units based in the southern United States endure intense humidity and heat in preparation for potential military operations in Africa and the Middle East, JBER hosts our military’s primary “Arctic” units.

One can only imagine what this means for Alaska-based soldier’s training regiments.

Weeks at a time exposed to humid sub-zero temperatures while sleeping in tents, learning how to effectively operate firearms with frozen fingers stuffed into bulky gloves, even jumping out of C-17 aircraft with zero-visibility into Alaskan blizzards. All of this in preparation for potential military operations during brutal winters in the world’s most remote tundras. Russia for example.

Upon learning all of this information, it is not a stretch to wonder whether units like my husband’s will be called upon very soon as tensions rise between the U.S. and Russia. I promise that thousands of military wives have beat you to asking the same question.

As a typical American citizen with no father, brother, sister or spouse serving in the military, it is difficult to imagine the feelings that creep in at the mention of “WWIII.” I know, because the real impact of potential war once felt far-removed from my life as well.

The countless ‘humorous’ videos I have seen on social media in recent weeks depicting jokes about avoiding a U.S. draft and fighting Russians are truly embarrassing. I get that humor makes an effective coping mechanism for many, but it all seems so ill-timed as people are dying for their country in Ukraine.

I was inspired by and even brought to tears during a recent panel held by BYU-Idaho that featured students and Rexburg residents who are from Ukraine. One student, Masha Parkhomenko, has been keeping constant tabs on her family who are all still living in Ukraine.

“Sitting here in America I feel like I need to go back to fight for my country. My life is not mine if my country is not free.” said Masha.

As someone who has been living in constant fear of war, Masha’s comments ignited something else inside me. I felt a strong desire to take action, to think of more than just myself and my family and instead consider the “worth of souls” across the world.

The people in Ukraine matter. So do the people in Russia.

Selfishly, my biggest concern throughout this crisis has been the possibility of giving birth to our first child, who is due in three months, by myself if my husband is deployed.

Masha and the rest of the speakers on the panel helped me to see how small a sacrifice that would be in comparison to the people in Ukraine who are being forced to birth children in cold subway tunnels as their city is attacked with missiles.

I don’t mean to say that my situation wouldn’t still be hard — all of our trials are legitimate — and I believe God recognizes and cares about them all. But, I also think that humility and the ability to look outside of ourselves are essential aspects of charity.

“People keep saying they will pray. Well … You know what? We pray too. We are God’s hands on the Earth. We need to do things here,” said Masha at the conclusion of the recent panel.

While the United States is not currently at war, I would urge you to consider what sacrifices you can make to support our brothers and sisters in Ukraine.

The link to donate to and learn more about the crisis in Ukraine can be found here.