For Staff Sgt. Duane Leventry, the culture shock hit him full force in an Anchorage, Alaska, supermarket.
Shortly after returning home from 16 months in Iraq, he found himself staring at an aisle full of steak sauce and marinade, paralyzed by the sheer volume of choices. “I must have stood there for 10 minutes trying to figure out what to get,” says Leventry, who arrived home in Anchorage last Saturday, Nov. 25, to his wife Kelly and 3-year-old daughter Alexia. “Do I want this? Do I want that? It took us about two hours to get out of the store.”
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For Spc. Shawn Mott, it happened on his first night home at a restaurant in Fairbanks, where the 172nd Stryker Brigade’s home base of Fort Wainwright is located. “The waitress walked up to me and I didn’t know what to do. I sat there for like 15 minutes going ‘What do I want?’” says Mott. “Having choices is overwhelming to me. All I ate in Iraq was chicken tenders and fries.”
After nearly a year and a half of combat duty, the returned soldiers of the 172nd are trying to adjust to life at home in Alaska. The Army has prepared the soldiers for the big things—how to watch for symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, how to reintegrate themselves into family life after what has been for some an unbearably long absence. But for the soldiers of the 172nd, who started arriving home last weekend, it’s the little things that have caught them by surprise.
This, by the way, is the same Stryker Brigade force that went through July's helter-skelter deployment extensions.
From the Stryker Brigade News:
First Arctic Wolves Return to Alaska After 16 Months in Iraq
By Brian Lepley and Spc. L.B. Edgar, AFPS
FORT RICHARDSON, Alaska, Nov. 27, 2006 – Two days after Thanksgiving, the families of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team had a lot to be thankful for as three planeloads of the “Arctic Wolves” returned from a 16-month deployment to Iraq.
Fort Wainwright welcomed more than 620 soldiers and Fort Richardson welcomed another 215 troops Nov. 25. More flights through this week and next were expected to get more than 3,720 Stryker soldiers back home by Dec. 5. For many of the returning soldiers, the homecoming was a bit of a déjà vu. Some 380 of the 172nd soldiers came home to Fort Wainwright in July before their unit’s deployment was extended four additional months.
More than 300 of the soldiers rejoined their units in Iraq, this time to conduct combat operations in Baghdad. They had previously been operating in the northern provinces of Iraq, mainly in Anbar, Rawaha and Mosul.
Back to Newsweek:
Next month, Leventry, 27, will leave the Army and intends to apply for the Anchorage police force. He never planned on a military career, but says the long, stressful deployments “definitely contributed” to his decision to leave the service. He was supposed to have gotten out in October but couldn’t because of the extension.
Shawn Mott, 26, still hasn’t decided whether to re-enlist. He is drained by his 16-month tour and says some of the worst stress of his time in Iraq came after the 172nd was suddenly transferred to Baghdad and had to deal with the resentment of other Army units already in the capital. Rivalries quickly developed between the members of the elite 172nd and the Fourth Infantry Division and the 101st Airborne. The Stryker soldiers were furious at their last-minute extension and felt they’d been diverted to Baghdad because the other units hadn’t done their jobs. The other units seemed to resent the swaggering, informal style of the Stryker soldiers. “It was a real culture clash,” Mott says. “Me and the Army don’t get along too well right now.”
For now, Mott is both reveling in his reunion with his fiancée, Nina Herrera, as well as dealing with feelings of “weirdness” at being out of Iraq. When Mott arrived in Fairbanks on Saturday after a 13-hour flight from Kuwait, there was no one to greet him: “There was no one to hug,” says Mott. “It was lonely.” More>>
Welcome Home, 172nd. To a happy and successful transition back into civilian life, surrounded by your loved ones.