By Rick Montgomery ... via The Kansas City Star
At first the transition is sweet.
You’re safe at home. You’re not taking orders. Others will fight those foreign wars.
It’s too early for Amy Zieber to know. Home before Christmas after six months in Iraq, she was surprised how boredom set in after five days or so.
But life looks bright — she’s single, childless and, at only 22, has Iraqi checkpoint experience. Zieber wasted no time trading a room at her parents’ for a Kansas City apartment, and Air National Guard education benefits could mean a career as a dental hygienist.
Many other area warriors know, however, that the return to civvies can get complicated.
Chris Wilson feels after 16 months back in Oak Grove that she’s still making up for lost time with her kids.
Patrick Clark, gripped with post-traumatic stress, was fired from three jobs before getting his life and schooling in order.
And Glennwood McLaurin, who assists Fort Riley troops making the transition out, recalls his struggle to draft a resume.
“I shoot down airplanes,” was the only skill that came to mind; not in much demand in the private sector.
After her year in Iraq with the 1139th Military Police Company, her three children and their father waited at the airport.
“My youngest hadn’t yet turned 2, and I could tell she was kind of wondering who this woman was hugging and kissing her,” Wilson recalled.
Even now, when suiting up for disaster-recovery duty or weekend Guard drills, she has to assure her 6-year-old not to worry, she’ll be right back.
As for her pending divorce, “I don’t think my deployment had much to do with it. It just kind of delayed things.”
Each man or woman in uniform is different. So it goes, too, for each re-entry into a world detached from war.
A recent survey of U.S. veterans dating back to the World War II era found more than seven in 10 recalling their transition to civilian life as very or somewhat easy. Not true for the post-9/11 service member, as the Pew Research Center poll suggests a harsher homecoming: 44 percent said they’ve had a “difficult” time.
It’s not just our unwelcoming economy that last month posted a 13.1 percent jobless rate for 9/11-era veterans — more than one in five for the women.
Civilians, listen up: Experts say the challenges that can sneak up on these veterans demand a better understanding, as tens of thousands return from combat zones or shed uniforms in the coming era of a downsized Pentagon.
Married veterans report more difficulty readjusting than do single and childless veterans. Those telling Pew of serving “without a clear understanding of their duties” report more hardship at home than those who were better focused.
Severe emotional or physical trauma is a likely indicator of a bumpy civilian re-entry.
The Pew poll also found that recent vets who weekly attend religious services face a better-than-average chance — 67 percent — of an easier time. Those never attending: 43 percent.
Even if they survived the same firefight, “Sergeant Smith and Sergeant Jones may not come out of it the same way,” said David Riggs, who directs the Center for Deployment Psychology at the Uniformed Services University School of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md.
“Many are able to take in all that training and discipline and integrate themselves beautifully into civilian life. Others just can’t get their heads around what they saw,” he said, and that undercuts their reconnection with loved ones and non-military pals.
“There can be a huge sense of isolation,” said former Army Capt. Matt Gallagher, author of “Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War.” “You go from a place where service members were all around you … And, returning home, you’re generally surrounded by an entire community that wasn’t there. The home environment is completely unlike what my grandfather’s generation faced” after WWII troops flooded back by the millions.
It helps Wilson to see a single theme in her transition:
“It’s about mission. I just see the mission changing. You were protecting soldiers over there. Back here, my mission is protecting my family.”