Saturday, October 22, 2011


They're walking among us and most likely, you don't even recognize that fact.  Most likely because they've done a fair job of blending into our Iowa communities.  But they're there.  Some are at work......others are spending time with family.....some are at the unemployment office and some are holed up in their homes shutting out the outside world.  They are all sizes and shapes.  Some are men and some are women.  Some are white, some black, some latino and there is a a handful of other ethnic groups.  They are the returning 2,800 Iowa National Guard troops that returned from a year long deployment to Afghanistan a little over three months ago.

If you weren't close to the situation, the year was no doubt a blur.  If you had a family member or a close friend who deployed, it might have been the longest year of your life.  And toughest.  Maybe it was.  Maybe.  Or it might just be beginning....for you and me and the 2,800. 

As I mentioned in my last writing, three months is the time line typically associated with outward signs of combat stress.  Have you had a hard time connecting with a soldier you know?  Don't understand why your loved one is acting strange?   Many people face these problems every day after their loved one returns home. They don't know how to deal with the issues, and sometimes the soldier is pushed away and left feeling alone to add to the stress from combat.

Soldiers who are in combat have a battle ready mind frame, and this mind frame is what will keep them alive during their combat related deployment. They live a certain way of life for nine to twelve months, to return home and are thrown back into a civilized society.  The shock of being home and doing things that they used to do, would not seem like it would affect soldiers.  Truth is it can affect them in a big way, and the people they love.

When you are at war, there are certain aspects of who you become that keep you alive.  You must maintain and keep track of all your belongings and personal gear. A weapon will go with you where ever you go, day and night.  Noise from battle may become a regular event, and you will train your body to react to loud noise. A bond between you and the soldiers standing beside you will be created very fast, after a certain amount of time that bond may be stronger than with the one's you love back home. You will remain aware of your surroundings at all times, and be weary of anyone you see who looks suspicious. All these are things that will form who you become during combat, and may directly reflect upon your actions once returning home.

Chaplains can be a great source of help on and off the battlefield

Chaplain Gary Selof has seen every imaginable reaction and response from deployment.  "Many soldiers feel isolated when they return home.  They've come from a situation where they've had great respect and in some cases handled millions of dollars worth of equipment.  Often times when they reintegrate, they're put in situations where they're made to feel inadequate.  And that's a tough thing for them to deal with", said the Chaplain. 

One combat veteran gave me some advise which frankly hits the mark.  These words are not from a doctor or psychiatrist or other professional.  It comes from someone who has been there and knows what he and others like him need.   "I advise that if you know someone who is experiencing combat stress, that you notify their chain of command and seek counseling.  Do not ask a solider about their experience in combat, as this will only make things worse.  Instead work on building your relationship with them from the ground up, and start over.  Give them the space they need to work out their problems, do not go touching their belongings without their permission. If they want to carry a gun, explain to them that they are safe here and that it may lead to them being arrested if they carry a weapon without a permit.  If they don't have as much patience as they used to, instead of jumping on their case about it just give them some time.  When they hear a loud noise and jump for cover, don't laugh at them but simply state that they are OK.  Try not to take them to crowded places if they seem uncomfortable, ask them if they would like to leave.  If you eat in a restaurant try getting a table in the corner where they can eat with their back to a wall, and have sight of the entire dining area.  Be patient with them".

"A key is asking for help", said Chaplain Selof.  "Most of the interaction we are having right now is from concerned family members not soldiers.   Our troops are trained to be tough, so it's hard for them to seek assistance.  It's especially hard for a woman as they don't want to have themselves associated with  weakness.   Soldiers have to be the ones to stand up and raise their hands and ask for help.  It's just that simple", said Selof.     

The Soldier's Prayer offers some great direction, not only in preparing for battle....while in battle..... and also after the battle has concluded..........

Up Next....A visit with a soldier who returned from Afghanistan....his thoughts.....where he is conflicted.....and what dreams he has for the future.