Today's Omaha World-Herald delivers a rich piece of journalism, recounting the adjustments that local troops have had to make after returning home from Iraq one year ago.
Numbering 63 when they left and 63 when they returned, they racked up more than 1,600 combat missions — more than four a day — and saw more action than any Nebraska Army National Guard unit since World War II.
They were part of a 4,000-soldier brigade sent to the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi in western Iraq. Eighty-one of the brigade's soldiers were killed in action — the most of any National Guard brigade that has served in Iraq.
First Lt. Matt Misfeldt of Omaha, who commanded the 16 soldiers of Troop A's 1st Platoon, tracked how many times insurgents shot at him. The final tally: 92.
In their primary mission protecting Marine bomb-disposal teams, Misfeldt's platoon encountered roadside bombs — exploded and unexploded — 295 times.
Homecoming on June 22, 2006, was euphoric. For most of Troop A, the celebration lasted for months.
While most have been succeeding at adjusting to civilian life again and living with families vs. battle buddies, others have had a harder time of it. Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...
But as that joyful return to Lincoln faded into memory, nearly every soldier also realized he'd been changed by Iraq. Many have encountered some problems readjusting to civilian life. They acknowledged those problems to one another last winter during a weekend drill that turned into something of a group counseling session. About half described serious problems in their lives.
At least six have been formally diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder; many others say they have experienced some PTSD symptoms. Seven have been arrested for driving under the influence. Another spent a month in alcohol rehab. At least two marriages fell apart.
One soldier spent nearly three months at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington with PTSD and a traumatic brain injury inflicted by repeated roadside bombings. Another young soldier nearly died in a motorcycle accident.
But in interviews, soldier after soldier also voiced a kinship with his comrades and said he came back from Iraq with new leadership and coping abilities. "For the most part, the guys are doing all right. We all have been doing our best to stay in close contact and take care of our own," said Staff Sgt. Chad Rowe.
The unit's experiences illustrate the challenges faced by thousands of men and women returning from Iraq — challenges that often are more intense for National Guard citizen-soldiers, who jump from civilian lives almost directly into combat, then return home just as suddenly. "While they were there, they have to kill, they have to be in danger," said Dr. S. Pirzada Sattar, the Omaha VA Medical Center's top expert on alcohol and drug abuse. "The expectation is they will come back and be normal. They can't be normal. They have changed."
The remainder of the piece gives a brief but thorough explanation of the following challenges returning troops face:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Struggling to readjust
- Alcohol abuse
- Looking for excitement