The stress of coming home
By Maj. Lisa Davison, 14th Medical Operations Squadron
/ Published July 10, 2007
COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
I've been gone for almost six months filling an Army billet as a mental health nurse. Some of the soldiers I've been here with are also headed home. And surprisingly so, many are coming into Combat Stress Control with a lot of anxiety about going home. They spend many sleepless hours at night worrying about how their family will be when they get there. What will be different, and how have things changed, how have I changed? Understandably so, when you consider the Army is gone for anywhere from 12 months up to almost two years.
I've only been gone for six months, and I know this experience has changed me. Having been "behind the wire" most of my time here, I've only experienced a few rocket/mortar fires. Those who go "outside the wire" every day experience improvised explosive device and explosively formed projectiles hits almost every trip. Some have lost a peer, a best friend. So what is going home for them? Is it knowing that someone who sat next to you on a convoy is not going home and will never see their family and enjoy the simple pleasures of life again? Their burden of guilt is beyond any most of us will ever experience, and the sad thing is, it's a guilt they shouldn't own.
So after hearing the occasional explosion, some more distant than others, loud noises make me jump. I hate crowds of people after being crammed in with hundreds every trip to the dining facility. I don't know what it's like to drive over 20 miles per hour in a vehicle you can actually see out the window, or that has a radio. I'm used to sleeping alone, yet sharing a shower with many other females. I'm used to having a M9 strapped to my side at all times. All of this will change in a few short weeks. I know my family understands there will be a transition. Our son has deployed for the second time, and we watched him literally jump out of his skin when a truck hit a pot hole. But for some, family, friends and co-workers won't have this understanding, and this is a fear expressed by many soldiers here.
So if you know or see a returning service member, please remember, they have been in a war zone. This has changed them more than I ever realized until I have lived it and seen it in others. If you love a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine or Coast Guardsman, be patient with them. They'll talk to you about their experiences when they are ready. If they don't talk to you, don't take it personal, they're trying to protect you from the grief they've experienced. Realize their behaviors are driven by what it took to survive all those months here, and it may take some time to unlearn those behaviors. Guide them to seek help if they can't sleep, can't eat or put themselves in harms way. If after a few months their experiences prevent them from loving those they love, take them by the hand and tell them there is help for them, and they deserve the best! The Mental Health Office at the 14th Medical Group will be able to offer services or guide you to the best treatment facility that can meet your needs. Please call 434-2239 if assistance is needed.