National Guard soldiers get used to life back home
Laramie, WY – The Wyoming National Guard's largest deployment ever is over. The final group of soldiers landed on state soil last week. All of the more than 700 Guard members who deployed to Iraq and Kuwait survived And most never experienced combat, they escorted convoys, ran an entire base and oversaw troop movement in Kuwait. But this doesn't mean the soldiers don't face challenges as they get used to life back home. Wyoming Public Radio's Renny MacKay reports.
The trip from the desert of the Middle East back to the U-S took over 30 hours. First stop was Fort Hood, Texas. The Guardsmen and women spent several days doing paperwork and getting health checks. But even there hundreds of miles from home dozens of people from Wyoming were waiting. The Vice President of the Wyoming Veterans Commission, Lee Alley, was one of them.
"We're making sure we meet every vet personally welcome them home, how proud we are of them, give them a phone card, give them a hug and say welcome home."
Alley served in Viet Nam. He says there was not a lot of support when he came back from war. He wants these soldiers to know that people are standing by, ready to help.
"I don't care what anybody says if you've been deployed for a year there are stressers that you go thru. When you go back into civilian life that transition is not easy."
The welcome committee in Texas was part of the Yellow Ribbon program. Captain Jeremy Sparks says the program is about reintegrating soldiers back into the civilian world and it came about because the National Guard saw serious needs.
"With deployments you have a large number of divorce cases that come through based on the stress factors that go along with a yearlong deployment and suicide rates that are sometimes increased by deployments."
Sparks says the goal is to have zero suicides and fewer divorces for those who have just returned. Starting in June he will travel the state meeting with guard members and telling them about all of the resources available.
Those include health care and counseling through the Veterans Administration. The V-A has two hospitals in Wyoming. One in Sheridan (nat up) the other here in Cheyenne. Where there is a specific program for those who served in the war on terror, headed by Marti Salas. She went to Fort Hood to meet the returning soldiers and she says some are already calling.
"I just talked to a guy today, he was one of our Ft Hood folks, and he was talking about having problems, went to church, the dollar store and had trouble with the crowds."
Salas says she did her best to reassure him, and help him calm down. She says the calls she gets these days are mostly urgent.
But, there are people who have less obvious needs too.
Captain Scott Morry says he wasn't in combat while he was deployed and he's happy to back with his wife and three kids. But still there are adjustments.
"I definitely feel like an outsider in my house that's for sure.
Morry says the changes at home are subtle. He says he's trying to figure out what his role is.
Trying to figure what's where and what do I need to do, and what do I do with the kids. Not awful, but at same time you're not sure of yourself."
Morry says he and his wife are focused on staying patient. That's exactly what Major Leon Chamberlain says the returning soldiers need to do. Chamberlain deployed too, to provide counseling for the brigade. He says right now, when service members have just come back, is a time when tempers can flare and relationships are stressed. Chamberlain says it's hard to manage - even for him.
"Our families have learned to function alone and without us. I got home and my wife and son had built a fence around the house and made other changes. I come home and things that had been real normal they aren't normal now. It's good normal, but it's not my normal."
Chamberlain says he's trying to get himself used to old routines, like feeding the cows.
"Pull my boots on, not my combat boots, but my cowboy boots, my Wranglers and just being out where it is quiet."
Chamberlain is the only behavioral health officer in the Wyoming National Guard. And he's not sure he'll be kept on in that capacity. This worries him. He says soldiers need to be able to talk to someone else in uniform. He hears in his conversations with some service members that they are reluctant to confide in people who have not been where they've been.
"But to have individuals that have experience working with military related topics, it's been my experience from talking to soldiers that when they go in and talk to individuals that don't have military experience that they're very reluctant to build that relationship and in some cases when they've tried to build the relationships they say they don't understand we speak a different language."
Chamberlain is adamant that he is not criticizing existing services. He says there are lots of good and dedicated therapists available, but he wants service members to have the best support possible especially right now when times are tense.
For Wyoming Public Radio I'm Renny MacKay.