How Big is Your Family?

By: Peter Sessum

I have siblings I am stuck with, but this is the brother I chose.

Your siblings are the family you are born with, your platoon mates are the family you are issued, but your brothers are the family you choose. Those in the military will agree, you are closer to the people you shed blood with than the people you share blood with.

Siblings, you are stuck with. If you are lucky, you get along with them. If not, what choice do you have? Your issued family is only temporary. They are out of your life as soon as one of you leaves. But your true brothers, they are always with you.

Birth family

The family you are born into is one that, like it or not, you have a tie to for life. This means that there are a lot of obligation interactions. Each year, you have to buy presents and get together for the expressed purpose of exchanging said presents. They are the people you have to invite to your wedding and they show up to help you move. You have to listen to them complain about how they helped you move or bring up old stories to new friends of stupid stuff you did as a kid.

The family you are born into has the most power to hurt you, and often do. They might help you out of a jam, but you will never hear the end of it. You are fortunate indeed if the people you consider closest to you are also the people you are closest related to.

The issued family

The issued family is part of the military family you are assigned to. It is a weird dynamic that many civilians can’t wrap their head around. It is the same dynamic as firefighters and police. There are people you work with, that you do not interact with for one reason or another. After work, the married soldiers go home to their families. They don’t hang out with the single guys. Some of them you might not like or get along with. But when you need them, there have your back.

I did not like Smitty. I thought he was kind of a douche. But when he was talking about his relationship with his wife, we all gave honest advice. Personal feelings were put aside because a guy in the platoon was hurting. That conversation is off limits to mockery. A soldier in the platoon can have a vulnerable moment and then move past. We wouldn’t bring it up again, unless he wanted to talk about it. You let him save face.

Later, there was an incident when Smitty moved back into the barracks. His wife wanted to hurt him more and the MPs were called. She was screaming that I would lie to protect him because we were in the same platoon. I told the MPs, “I don’t like this guy, if I could screw with him, I would.” They smiled and took my statement.

Because I didn’t like him there was no way I was going to lie to protect him. However, since we were in the same platoon, I wouldn’t hurt him either. If he was in the wrong, I would have declined to give a statement. The reason I stepped out into the hall is because she was being psycho and I knew he would need a witness. Even though I didn’t like the guy, I have his back as a platoon member.

That is what is great about the military family. You will risk you life, even for the guy you hate. A soldier will run out, under fire to drag an injured comrade to safety. He might even be pissed at the guy for getting injured so that he would have to be saved. But you still do it. Platoon mates aren’t there for gift giving or the little stuff, only the things that matter.

The family you choose

If you were ever in trouble, who would you call? Now think, if you were ever really in trouble, how many people of those people would already be there next to you? It is ince to get a comment on a Facebook status, but true friends will knock on your door and say, “I heard about (insert tragedy here) and thought you might need more beer.

Siblings and friends will ask you what is wrong and want you to spill your guts. Your true brothers will sit there and quietly drink with you. If you want to talk, they are there, if not, they are there. If you don’t have someone you can totally break down in front of then you don’t have a true friend.

My brothers might be half a world away, but they are still my brothers. We won’t see each other for years, but it is like we just hung out last week. I know I can call on them and they would be there for me. And those fuckers damn well better know the same about me.

Agree to disagree really means, “You are wrong and are too stupid to understand my points and see I am right.” You do not need to agree to disagree with those you choose to be family. I have had discussions where I let them know that they are stupid to hold a certain belief and then we move on with our day. You don’t have time to squabble about the little things with your brothers.

This is why they are the best of all family to have. It is the best part of family with none of the drama. When I need to move I call a guy to bring “our” truck. Because it isn’t your truck, to your close friends it is our truck. You can count on them for the big stuff too. Maybe not to bail you out of jail since they will be there with you. But if they did, they wouldn’t hold it over you for the rest of their lives. Your chosen family doesn’t tell embarrassing stories about you, they tell other people stories that make you look good.

Why this matters
Military people already know all this so why bring it up? This is so that civilians know how to be friends with veterans. Here are some tips:

#1 Don’t judge based on the superficial. If you actually shape your opinion of someone based on the music they listen to, you are most likely 13 or not worth knowing. All that matters is do you do your best and can I count on you when the chips are down.

#2 Trust and respect are earned, not given. Of course you think you are a great person, but I don’t know that. Be yourself, if you are the kind of person I can trust with my life, I will know soon enough.

#3 There is responsibility, not obligation with family. You never violate a trust and you take care of your own. This doesn’t mean you protect them no matter what. It does mean you will know when they have to be stopped. It feels good to know that if I ever go crazy in an dangerous/violent way that it will be one of my brothers who will take me down. Better to be ended by a friend than a stranger.

This is the kind of people you want to be friends with. The kind that will accept you for who you are, the kind that will not judge you and the kind that will always have your back. You can get in a fight and still be friends the next day.

I have not talked to my siblings in a long time. But I am not missing out on anything. I have plenty of family. It is nice to spend time with people you share blood with, but they will never be as close as people you shed blood, sweat and tears with.

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