War impacts veterans returning home year later


War impacts veterans returning home year later

Home from War series

For the next year, The Dayton Daily News will follow the lives of a number soldiers from the Springfield, Dayton, Middletown and Hamilton areas who served in the Ohio Army National Guard’s Columbus-based Task Force 1-134 Field Artillery Regimen. We will share their daily struggles and triumphs as they readjust to life back home. We’ll follow them as they are reunited with their families, but also as they cope with employment issues, and the challenges of obtaining benefits. Our hope is to create a three-dimensional portrait of local soldiers and the sacrifices they make, not only when they are deployed oversees but also when they return home.

Facts about Task Force 1-134 Field Artillery Regiment

  • Ohio Army National Guard’s Columbus-based Task Force 1-134 Field Artillery Regiment was the first National Guard unit in the decade-old war to be tasked with protecting civilian and military dignitaries in Afghanistan. Active duty units usually are in charge of security duties, according to the Ohio National Guard.
  • The regiment mobilized to Camp Shelby on Sept. 11 and trained for nearly two months before deploying to Afghanistan in early November.
  • The nearly 600 soldiers that make up the task force come from Ohio including many from Dayton, Springfield, Middletown and Hamilton areas. Some come from other states.
  • Thr group did not sustain any injuries or deaths in Afghanistan, but they are among six battalions comprising the 3,600-member 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team that lost three soldiers to a suicide attack on April 4.
  • The battalion completed more than 5,300 missions while transporting nearly 23,000 passengers and driving about 140,000 miles.

Pat Wright can’t wait to hear the cries of his newborn son in the morning rather than the gunfire from Taliban soldiers.

Kristen Brown would kill for a donut.

Seth Parker just wants to sleep in his own bed. “It’s the simple things,” he said.

But for these local soldiers serving in Afghanistan, coming home from war is anything but simple.

It means leaving a high-adrenaline, dangerous environment and returning to a familiar world that suddenly may not seem so familiar. When the first glow of homecoming subsides, extended absences and multiple deployments can take their toll on marriages, family relationships, finances and employment prospects. Some may face unseen but intractable enemies — post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, substance abuse, depression.

For the next year, The Dayton Daily News will follow the lives of a number of local soldiers from the Ohio Army National Guard’s Columbus-based Task Force 1-134 Field Artillery Regiment, sharing their daily struggles and triumphs as they readjust to life back home.

“I’m a little worried about readjusting when I get home,” confessed Brown, 23, of Middletown. “So many things have changed in the lives of the people I’m close to, while it feels like my life has been on pause for the last 12 months. I’m sure that I have changed as well, but I won’t notice those changes until I get home.”

Maiking the transition

Wright, a combat medic, said he does not know anyone from the 600-member battalion suffering from PTSD. He cautioned, however, that the condition is not limited to those who suffer battlefield trauma: “Separation from family and the worries that weigh on one’s conscience can be unbearable for some. Being continuously alert and apprehensive for one’s survival also can have negative effects.”

Combat deployment changes everyone in some way, according to Bill Wall, program manager of The Freedom Center at the Dayton VA Medical Center,which serves as a post-deployment clinic for veterans. “Everything is affected — your family, your occupational roles, even fundamental things about who you are and what you do.”

The war dead in Afghanistan recently surpassed the grim landmark of 2,000, including 75 from Ohio, and one soldier has been dying every day, on average since the U.S. military’s presence since Oct. 7, 2001. Yet the war seems to have slipped out of the national consciousness and the presidential campaign. After the close camaraderie of the military, Wall said, “they may come home and feel forgotten.”

When he is counseling returning soldiers, Wall advises them to be realistic. “There’s a gap between what you expect and what is actually going to happen,” he said.

Despite their romantic visions during their separation, Wall said, couples may be too tired or preoccupied for sex. A recent Army study revealed that 60 percent of soldiers experienced problems with their spouse or partner. “The more deployments, the more the disruptions in your relationships,” he said. “When we ask soldiers questions about what they value the most, they invariably say it’s their family. You work so hard to get home, and when you do get home, there may be problems.”

Returning soldiers are facing a 15.2 percent unemployment rate compared to the overall U.S. rate at 8.2 percent, according to a recent study by the Iraq/Afghanistan Veterans Group. None of the soldiers interviewed for this series have a job lined up, a source of anxiety for some but not for others.

“I am a land surveyor by trade, but not by college degree,” said Wright, a Dayton father of two young sons. “Unfortunately, I wish I could say I have a surveying position to return to. Regardless I’m looking forward to being home. I’m looking forward to sit for supper with my sons and my wife, whom I have missed inexpressibly.”

Parker, 22, hopes to attend college to study psychology and to pursue a career as an officer in the military. He does not anticipate any problems landing a part-time job, he said, because “I have a good network of friends.”

‘I missed him a lot’

Parker, a Trotwood resident often faced danger when traveling “outside the wire” — the slang term for leaving his base in Afghanistan. “You’re open to all kinds of attacks — roadside bombs or being ambushed by the Taliban.”

Task Force 1-134 Field Artillery Regiment did not sustain any injuries or deaths in Afghanistan, but they are among six battalions comprising the 3,600-member 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team that lost three soldiers to a suicide attack on April 4 — Capt. Nicholas Rozanski, 36, of Dublin, Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Hannon, 44, of Grove City, and Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Rieck, 45, of Columbus, a Sidney native and 1994 graduate of Sinclair Community College.

Parker instant-messaged his mother that he was safe.”We instant-message all the time, and that’s a great comfort to this mother’s heart,” Pamela Brown Parker said.

But his concerns about safety will not end when he leaves Afghanistan. “Dayton is my first home, and I love it, but the thing I’m worried about most is violence in the city,” Parker said. “You’re always hearing about people being shot in clubs. You could be out having dinner, and be stuck up and shot.”

His mother has been refurnishing and redecorating her apartment in anticipation of her son’s return. She bought a new mattress and box springs as a surprise and painted the spare bedroom a deep, masculine blue. She raised her son as a single mother and, she said, “I’ve enjoyed every minute of that kid. I’ve missed him a lot.”

She has witnessed a personal growth in her son that makes his sacrifices, and his family’s, more than worth it: “He has done a lot of introspection. I am very proud of the young man he has become. He has done a lot of work on himself and he knows where he’s going.”

During childhood, Parker excelled in soccer and the martial arts, but he struggled during his teens, dropping out of high school but eventually earning his GED. He joined the National Guard in the hopes of paying for his college education. “I had no idea what I was getting into,” he said. “But it’s an experience I would not have denied himself. Before I deployed I had never been in a combat zone, and I was not a globally-aware person. Now I’ve learned to pay attention to what’s going on outside of my own backyard.”

His mother said she would not trade the hard times, “because of the character that Seth has now. Seth is a warrior, but he has a compassionate heart. He’s an independent thinker who marches to the beat of a different drum.”

Parker said he does not worry whether the American people are paying attention to the war. “I certainly don’t feel forgotten, with the amount of money our government has spent training us,” he said. “I feel love and support from my family and my church, and even from people I don’t know when we get packages from schools.”

Veterans need time, help

Wall said he tells the families of Freedom Center patients to be vigilant for signs of distress and to open up about their feelings.

Kristen Brown’s mother, Tammy, said, “That’s my daughter, my baby girl, and I worry a lot about the emotional baggage she might be carrying.”

Brown said she knows that Kristen has protected her from some of the harsh realities of her life in Afghanistan. “She assured me that she was at an air base in the middle of nowhere, and that it’s all safe,” she said. “Then she recently mentioned getting into an air raid shelter, so it’s not quite all safe. I can’t wait to put my arms around her and know that she’s safe.”

After watching a WHIO-TV special in May about PTSD, Brown Parker said, “It crossed my mind that Seth could have difficulties with adjustment. I hope to connect him with resources if he needs them. He may need an avenue to think things out and to talk about what he’s gone through. A lot of civilians have no clue what military people go through.”

Parker would encourage other young people to join the Army because “it’s an honorable thing to do.”

He said he is excited about coming home, but the prospect of readjusting, he admits, has weighed heavily on his mind.

“I don’t think Dayton has changed so much,” he said, “but I have changed.”

Contact this reporter at 937-225-2209 or mmccarty@coxohio.com.

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