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Friday, October 05, 2007

A Look at the Unease of Transitioning to Homefront Living Following Combat

Last week, the New York Times examined concerns some of the 3,300 soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division’s Second Brigade have after winding up their 15-month combat tour. It's a good window into the anxious feelings many troops have at homecoming.

On bases big and small south of Baghdad, the scrambled reality of war has become routine: an unending loop of anxious driving in armored Humvees, gallons of Gatorade, laughter at the absurd and 4 a.m. raids into intimate Iraqi bedrooms.

This is Iraq for the 3,300 soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division’s Second Brigade, and many have come to the unfortunate realization that it now feels more like home than home.

No brigade in the Army has spent more days deployed since Sept. 11, 2001, and with only a few weeks to go before ending their 15-month tour, the soldiers here are eager to go. But they are also nervous about what their minds will carry back, given the psychic toll of war day after day and the prospect of additional tours.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.


[G]oing home often creates another cycle of grief, said Lt. Col. Reagon P. Carr, the behavioral health officer for the Second Brigade. Many soldiers return feeling not just down but also guilty for having survived, Colonel Carr said.

The Army screens returning soldiers for post-traumatic stress disorder and other signs of trouble, but for many, the struggle has already begun. During one recent week, Colonel Carr said, he met with 3 soldiers contemplating suicide, 12 who could not sleep, 5 who feared returning to a dysfunctional marriage and 16 who said they were disgruntled about their leadership.

A lot of soldiers here, from what they’ve seen or witnessed, will go back very on edge,” he said. “It is a cumulative effect, especially when you have a short time between deployments.”

The challenge for most consists of figuring out “how to keep Iraq in Iraq and how to keep home at home,” said Capt. Rich West, the chaplain in Mahmudiya.

Several soldiers said they feared free time at home and the thoughts that might arise. Few have told their families the details of what they have seen, or how accustomed they have become to a surreal routine with no 9 to 5, no errands, no bills, no diapers — just a series of moments that snap from frightening to odd, and then back again.

On one recent patrol near Abu Ghraib, for instance, a group of Second Brigade soldiers received wet kisses from a barefoot old woman with tattoos as they searched her backyard for nitric acid that could be used in explosives. ...

[T]he war here, as it continues on and on, can be banal, a groove well worn by a shared sense of humor and knowing glances that say “only in Iraq, only in Iraq.”

Detachment comes and goes. As Colonel Carr said, his treatment in the field must be limited; soldiers are taught to cope so they can go out and do their jobs.

Many bring that need to detach home with them.

With their tolerance for war increased, many soldiers say they feel stronger, having faced a test and passed. Their families may ultimately be the ones left out, as they try to connect with loved ones forever changed.

This is exactly what many soldiers fear. For Sergeant Ray, who has spent a total of about 30 months in Iraq with the Second Brigade and other units, this deployment has been particularly tough. He and his wife have been deployed since last summer; he patrols south of Baghdad, she works in Mosul, in the north. As a result, his 7-year-old stepson and 2-year-old daughter now live with their grandparents in New Jersey.

He still loves the Army, valuing the work, the brotherhood of his platoon and the military’s promise of financial stability, he said. His wife will get out soon, however, and he cannot help wondering about the war’s effect on his daughter.

“I think she’s just confused,” he said, as the sun set on the date palms south of Baghdad. “She’s right at that age. She turned 2 in August, so she’s just starting to talk and realize what’s going on. And neither one of us is there.”

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