Our coverage today is driven by veterans.
Here’s sample of stories veterans told us about their transition after coming home.
Ben Hartford of New Hampshire talks about the mask he wears in public to hide the pain he still feels.
“It took a 225 lb fighting machine breaking down, crying in the shower, alone, for me to realize something was wrong” he says.
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Marco Werman: Our program today is entirely devoted to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’ve asked them and their families to share their homecoming experiences with us. Hundreds of responses have poured in and those stories are driving our coverage this hour. We’re going to hear three stories now about how hard it’s been for many vets to re-adjust to civilian life.
Ben Hartford: My name is Ben Hartford from Hillsborough, New Hampshire. I served two tours in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. My homecoming was surreal. Sometimes I wonder if everyone around is walking with a mask on, or if I am the one with the mask on. I left my wife and infant daughter and came back to my wife, toddler daughter and infant son, and then there was everything in between. Nobody said what I was feeling was okay. Nobody even mentioned anything at all like I was feeling. My wife didn’t know what I was feeling till much later. I did my job in Afghanistan. I am proud to have done my job. When I came home, I had soldiers to train and I’m proud to have trained those soldiers. Every morning was get up, go run, fight, push-ups, climb a rope, always fighting something. It took a 225 pound fighting machine breaking down, crying in the shower, alone, for me to realize that something was wrong. I still avoid the news. The soldier in Kandahar Province…terrible. Eventually, I spent a week at the V.A. Hospital in White River Junction, Vermont. They changed my meds. They’ve since changed my meds again. Given all that, but for missing my children and my wife, I would go back. So, I guess I’m angry and happy and numb, very numb; that’s my mask then, isn’t it? I guess that’s my 90 seconds.
Matthew Holzmann: I’m Matt Holzmann from Orlando, Florida. I served one tour in Afghanistan with the United States Marine Corp. When you’re in country, you wake up with an unparalleled sense of purpose that disappears the day you get home. Suddenly, you come home to all the news that nobody wanted to bother you with while you were deployed – the friends past that died; the divorces that happened; the friends that were laid off. You come home to endless, unthinkable choices like 30 types of cereal – truly overwhelming choice. So, what’s it like coming home? It was frustrating because your sense of purpose is gone. It was maddening to hear the petty problems that upset civilians going about their everyday lives two weeks after one of your brothers was blown up. I was in line for groceries one day and some woman was yelling at the checkout counter about an expired coupon. I wanted so badly to slap her and tell her about Lance Corporal Swanson that just gave his life for her security. Instead, I walked away. I struggled for months with similar experiences.
Carrie Donoho: I am Carrie Donoho from Los Angeles, California. I served one tour in Kuwait and Iraq with the U.S. Army. I had very mixed feelings about coming home because, for me, coming home was coming home to Germany, my permanent duty station. I was deployed at the very beginning of the war when there were no toilets, no showers, we couldn’t call home very frequently and when we did it was usually in a public setting where everyone else was waiting to call home. After being gone for so long, the anticipation of returning was really very strange. My battalion had become my family and my husband had really become a stranger. When I returned, it was awkward for both of us. I felt like there was an entire part of my life that he had missed and he felt like there was an entire part of his life that I had missed. It was really stressful and hard on both of us. I went to Portugal to just think about things for a little while and the day after I got there my husband called and said, “I’m at the airport and I’m coming to your hotel.” When I knew he was coming, I had butterflies in my stomach and at that point I knew everything was going to be fine. So, to my surprise, the most amazing part of coming back was having the chance of falling in love with the same great person all over again.
Werman: Amazing stories from vets, all of them. We have more online. See some of the veterans who shared their stories via video at theworld.org/return.
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