Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Combat Stress and Coming Home

Coming home from war is a longer journey than any plane flight home.
--Senator Bob Dole, WWII veteran

Soon after being mobilized with the U.S. Army Reserves to come here to Iraq, handfuls of soldiers from the unit I'm currently in began to panic. Some feigned illness and others concocted stories in order to stay some. A few soldiers went AWOL. Still, others attempted suicide and wound up in the hospital.

We had a long and arduous train-up in the states. It was ten times worse than boot camp. We lived in a crowded living space in tents for literally months. Because of poor leadership, before even getting to the war zone, the morale of the troops was destroyed, unfortunately. It hasn't gotten any easier on the troops over the past year. I know because I've asked and they've told me. Unfortunately, I have not be able to help them other than listen to their concerns, and that's been terribly difficult for me personally.

Yesterday I attended a re-deployment briefing given by a medic and the Chaplain. There are physical, mental and emotional health concerns that need to be addressed prior to going home. I believe that 1 in 4 troops suffer from anxiety, depression and other forms of change after prolonged time in a combat zone. This so-called Combat Stress doesn't necessarily occur with seeing or experiencing death or war fighting alone, but can occur from long term...well, stress. It's hard to explain the pressures to anyone who hasn't experienced it themselves, and of course, everyone has different experiences based on their leadership, the mission, personal events, etc.

Families and friends simply won't understand what soldiers have been through. It just cannot be articulated, only experienced.

But I learned many years ago as a police officer that my wife's challenges from having frustrations with the washing machine breaking or the kids disobeying and so forth could feel to her like an enormous problem. My cop buddies would say in surprise that something so seemingly trivial meant nothing by comparison. On one hand a bad day at work for a cop meant almost getting stabbed or shot by a prostitute on crack who likely had Hepatitis C or HIV, while on the other hand not having the TV work seemed quite trivial. I have learned that is just not the case. Each of us has problems and suffer in our own ways, so having an 'I've had it worse than you have' conversation wouldn't be wise. Besides, my wife HAS had it rough. She's as lonely and frustrated as I have been. She's had to suffer through this war with me. She's the real hero in my eyes, not me.

In the Chaplain's brief he explained that reunion can be different or difficult. It was when I came back from working overseas before. She's used to making all of the decisions and I want to come back and try to change things or get involved. My wife has spent more time with her girlfriends. There may be jealousy of time, as in I would want the attention and think that she should not spend time talking with her friends as much as she has been.

There are financial differences, among them being all of my self-employment plans were devastated with this unsuspected and involuntary call to war. Our entire future has changed. I am ready for some semblance of regularity I can trust. I am ready for stability. Personally, I am ready to get out of the Reserves. I do not ever want to experience this again in my life, and I would hope my sons do not have to either.

Our home has changed. Things look different. Our kids have grown. Our baby girl doesn't even know me. There's a period of re-learning. Both of us will need greater patience. Fortunately, I have never been one to say mean things or be outwardly angry. I never would hurt others or myself. Unfortunately, others would.

Some resort to drinking heavily too. Fortunately, we do not.

There may be friends who would like to see me. I've been surrounded by people, so if anything I need a break. I might have to tell people that I need some time alone or just with my family.

Before leaving one of my good friends who had come back from being here told me that going to Iraq is like putting your life on hold for a year. Everything back home goes on, but your life stands still. It's a year out of your life that you simply cannot make up.

No comments: