How the Khans Started a National Conversation on Military Families

A former infantryman from Texas talks about his parents’ experience while he served in Iraq.

By Michael Marks & Alain StephensAugust 3, 2016 11:12 am|

The parents of Army Captain Humayun Khan have spent the last few days in the national spotlight, clashing with Donald Trump. The Khans are just one couple among the millions of parents whose children have gone to war. But the spotlight has illuminated the agonies and anxiety that military parents struggle with but seldom talk about openly.

Alex Horton, a Texan who served 15 months in Iraq as an army infantryman, is now a national reporter for Stars and Stripes. He recently wrote about his parents’ experience while he was gone.

“We’ve been inundated with war stories as a culture for thousands of years – but it’s the families and their struggles that’s the battle and the hardship that’s behind the curtain and on the fringes so it’s not something that’s really talked about,” Horton says. “And when Gold Star families became a flashpoint of discussion this week, I felt that was something that needed to be highlighted.”

Horton says that while he was in Iraq, his parents were very careful to not express their own troubles at home to him in their emails and messages. When he spoke to them about this story, he found out something he never knew about his mother.

“I hadn’t realized until this week that she had been fired for a job for coming to see me before I left for Iraq because she’d only been there a short time and she didn’t have any vacation days,” he says. “When she flew to Seattle to see me off, her supervisor didn’t like that and she was later fired. So I had no idea that even happened until almost a decade later because she wanted to keep that from me.”

While the subject of what it means to be a Blue or Gold Star family is now a major political talking point, Horton says it’s unfortunate that it’s been brought to the national stage because of the Khan family’s experience at the DNC and their subsequent attacks from Trump – but that there’s some good things to focus on.

“I think the good that’s coming out of this is, there’s finally acknowledgement that yes, people serve in the military and they go through hardships but their families do too,” he says.

Horton says we need to make sure that the conversation doesn’t end soon.

“My hope and concern is that this discussion keeps going and we get something out of it and finally understand that… when someone goes off to war and comes home, you know, it’s not just the end of that,” he says. “It’s something that stays with people for the rest of their lives. And if this episode with the Khans makes people realize that, I think on the whole it’s going to be a good thing.”

Post by Allyson Michele.