Thursday, March 27, 2008


Typically when T and I talk about reentry we're referring to bringing our missions teams back home, to their "real world". When we do this, we design a debrief and when possible some kind of post trip support. Mostly, this is cultural in nature. In this post, however, I'm talking about those serving in the military and their reentry back to their lives apart from war.

When I was in grade school I had a friend who I was certain I was going to marry because 1) his father was a Baptist minister and he was the only Baptist I knew outside of those in my little Baptist church and 2) because he daily copied my spelling homework while we waited to be called as walkers to walk home halfway together. I assumed this meant that he at least like me and thought I was smart. Of course, at the naive age of 10 I knew very little about marriage, life or about war.

As we went through school together, I watched this friend develop into a gorgeous but crazy person who in high school lost all interest in anything academic and focused all of his attention on "training" himself to not feel pain. He came from a really nice family so I still to this day have no idea what led him to do that, but honestly, it was kind of painful to watch. His ultimate goal in all of this was to join the Marines, which he did right before Desert Storm.

B was smart, although he didn't think so, or if he did, he didn't want anyone else to know. While he honed his callous and hardened appearance and attitude, he was typically all smiles for me. Whenever we'd meet up at a party or at some event, he would smoke up a storm, perform crazy stunts for his friends like eating fish alive and tell funny stories. But when I'd get him alone, his heart would soften a bit and I'd hear a smidgen of his thoughts. And they scared me. Even more so, they were heartbreaking.

Stories about Boot Camp at Parris Island were crazy enough, but the tanks on the front lines in Iraq made me shudder. I'd heard plenty of news out of Iraq from my cousin, a career Army enlistee. We'd been penpals during his first round in Iraq. In college I wrote to him again and to B, but that was apparently only half of the story.

When B finally came home, I saw him for one of the last times. It was disturbing. He was 19/20 years old, was a hard core Marine and could barely hold a conversation with his friends, who each said he wasn't talking much to them. He sat in a corner, smoking, drinking and not looking entirely pleasant. I eventually made my way over to him, feeling pretty awkward and we started chatting. We moved outside and he finally just looked right at me and said, "Every night we had to clean our tanks off. I cleaned body parts.... I ran over people who I couldn't even see, they were little white blobs on my screen." In that moment, I saw for the first time since probably fourth grade, a deep sorrow in his deep blue eyes, something he'd not allowed himself to do in years - feel.

After talking with him that night, we lost touch and I really don't know where he is right now. Last I'd heard, he was off somewhere in the south, dating a nurse, got into a motorcycle accident and busted up his leg (making reenlistment no longer an option) and finishing wood floors. Never the same, always changed, forever broken.

All of these memories and more came flooding back to me last week in my Bible study group as a woman there shared her brother's experience. It was not quite the same, since her brother was someone we knew, never conditioned himself to feel nothing. He was in T's last D-team, the boys who are all getting married now, graduated from college and have "real" jobs. Her brother was sent to Afghanistan with his Army unit, fought on the front lines, experienced his best friend dying in his arms and is now home, serving the rest of his enlistment with the National Guard. His sister described to us a 22 year old who is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and getting very little support from the Army or the National Guard. They are very worried about him, and while he first had plans to join the police academy he can now only manage to wait tables at a local restaurant.

For anyone who has read my blog, you know I'm no anti-war protestor, in fact, I'm not even anti-war. I support what our troops are doing in the Middle East, but I think we owe it to each of them and their families to continue to support them in every way possible when they return. There was a hearing today in Maryland about the pathetic services these soldiers receive when they return and I'm more convinced than ever that we can do way better than this for people who choose to defend freedom around the world. This is serious, and for my two examples here, there are millions more, past and present, who deserve better than three power point presentations and volunteer counselors. That is just pitiful.

1 comment:

Kathryn said...

Unfortunately, it is not out of the ordinary for those who have served our country to then get shafted when they require medical, psychological or other assistance. I would go as far as to say it is, sadly, the norm.