Deployment also cured me of a lingering cable-TV habit. Whatever patience I once had for the chattering class—make that the braying class—disappeared. I don’t know what is worse: raving about how our soldiers are “mercenaries” or hearing a parlor patriot (go get ’em, boys!) suggest that because recent conflicts are “low-casualty” (compared with Vietnam, Korea and the world wars), they are nothing to get worked up about. As my friend Sheldon pointed out, it does seem that the people with the biggest heart for war never seem to have any blood on the line.

It is undoubtedly true that war is good not only for munitions makers but also for what a friend calls the “prayer life.” In the run-up to Sarge’s 2007 deployment, a celestial petition entered my mind so effortlessly and naturally that I assumed the same has been true for soldiers’ parents through the ages: If a life must be taken, take mine and spare his.

Deployment can also be a positive experience for soldiers. After returning home, our son said that “when I’m out in the desert, I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.” Sometimes you have to travel 7,000 miles to find a sense of purpose, and many men, I suspect, may come to wish they had made a similar journey.

It’s my impression that men like me, who never served, often feel that we’ve missed out on an important part of life. We don’t know what it’s like to be young and far away from home, vulnerable to instant personal extinction but also part of the comradeship that such danger creates. In this sense my son’s service is a far greater thing than I have ever done.