Monday, May 23, 2011


I have been told by others who have deployed to the wars that it takes a year to readjust to life at home.  Here are some of my experiences with that transition and the emotions of reintegration.

Recently I was driving alone when I heard the story of Clay Hunt on NPR. He was a marine who was discharged and returned home after three tours in the wars. He had witnessed the death of  friends and fellow marine in IED attacks and been wounded himself by sniper fire. The collective toll left Clay with PTSD that ultimately contributed to his suicide. While listening to Clay's story I was overcome with unexpected sadness that left me weeping. The news of his death triggered a return to the suicidal death of an army major who we treated at FOB Lagman. He had shot himself in the head and arrived at the end of a long day. Suddenly, I was standing at the head of his litter staring at his wounds and then witnessing his ramp ceremony as his body was taken away. I hadn't thought of it many months.

Then, a few weeks ago, on a visit home, my wife was jogging around my parent's neighborhood deep in suburban Midwest where I grew up. She passed a conservative Muslim man and woman, dressed accordingly, out in their driveways. It was a sight that I never remembered seeing while growing up there in the 70's and 80's. Anyhow, rather than the typical friendly wave one usually gets in the neighborhood, she got an intense glare from the man. She felt like her appearance in jogging shorts was deeply offensive to him. Perhaps it was misperceived but the suggestion it infuriated me. Having devoted months to treating what was mostly Afghani-on-Afghani violence and further bending over backwards to accommodate cultural differences, the idea of conservative Islam encroaching on my childhood home was profoundly unsettling to me. I was willing to serve them but I don't want to be them. I am left to wonder if I was being irrational or hypersensitive but there was no denying the feeling.

Finally, my reaction to the news of Bin Laden's death was subdued. I frankly find it hard to rejoice in anyone's death, even an unrepentant mass murderer. Although I witnessed first hand the prolonged destructive conflict that he helped orchestrate and lay blame on his ideology and "inspiration" for so much of the suffering of the people that my team treated, I could not celebrate. While I am hesitant to fault those who did, I still feel that it is all a grand tragedy not a cause for rejoicing. I remember how repulsed I was at the scenes of Muslims celebrating the attacks on 9/11. It brought to my mind a quote from Golda Meir, the former Israeli prime minister, "Peace will come when they love their children more than they hate us." We seem so far from that state of being.