Wednesday, October 17, 2018

I was still a teenager the first time I came home from Iraq.

March 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Bras & Boots, Most Recent Posts

I was still a teenager the first time I came home from Iraq. And it didn’t start right away . . . no, for the first couple weeks I was home I was just happy. I couldn’t stop smiling. My sister and I were attached at the hip, everywhere we went, we went together and all I could think about was how amazing it was to be home. Finally home. It was, after all, the first time I’d been able to relax in over two years, so why shouldn’t I be happy?

I enlisted in the Army National Guard in July of ’03, on my 17th birthday, so excited and so proud to be serving my country and doing great things to help the American people. I went to Basic Training a year later, and soon as I stepped off the plane and into the hot, humid air of South Carolina I feared I’d made the biggest mistake of my life . . . but I figured that was how everyone felt their first day of BCT. That’s what I’d been told anyway. That’s what everyone else seemed to think. So I tried to brush it off, tried to focus on my training instead of the giant hole the was in my chest from missing my family so much.

It didn’t get easier after graduation, because then I went to AIT in Maryland, and the rumors started. My unit was getting deployed, or they weren’t . . . Iraq, Afghanistan . . . staying home. Nobody really knew the answer until finally I called my NCO, two weeks before my graduation and asked him. “Yes, they’re going,” he told me, “and they’re leaving in January.”

I graduated December 15th.

On March 2nd, 2005, I left home and began my deployment. To say it was all bad would be a bold-faced lie, to even imply that I had it anywhere near as hard as some veterans would be an insult to them and the sacrifices that they made. So many times I’ve wondered how I could feel the way I did . . . what right did I have, when I came home without losing a limb, or a family member, or something so serious it was obviously life-changing.

I’d been home for two or three weeks the first time I realized I wasn’t the same. When I heard my ex-boyfriend call my mom a bitch and I turned around and punched him . . . would I do it again? Probably. But I never would have before. I was so angry, all the time, and it didn’t matter if it was a big problem, or a little one. Something as simple as going to plug in my laptop, and finding a neatly folded pile of clothes in the way . . .

What kind of person would take those clothes and hurl them across the room?

I was that kind of person. I would walk through the room and my mom, my sister, would brace themselves, waiting to see if something else would set me off. Something so tiny, they wouldn’t even realize it was there until I was yelling and storming out of the room. They didn’t know what was wrong (neither did I), so they didn’t know it wasn’t their fault.

I would cry alone at night, wanting so bad to be happy, not understand why I wasn’t. I loved my family, I loved them more than ever because I finally understood what it was like not to have them by my side, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t be normal anymore. I couldn’t drive down the street and not worry when I saw the cardboard box on the side of the road. I couldn’t watch a movie on the 4th of July and not want to curl up in a ball as fireworks went off outside. Eventually, I just wished I could go back. I would’ve given anything to be given a new set of orders, sending me back to Iraq. Life was simple there. Someone shoots at you, you shoot back. A mortar comes in, you brace yourself. You view everyone as the enemy, just in case.

I’d been home for six months when I finally came to terms with it all . . . it was right after Christmas, I don’t remember exactly what happened but I’d been upstairs with my sister and I said something awful to her. I knew she was angry and confused, but I was never very good at apologies so I just went to bed when she did. I didn’t go to sleep though. Soon I was downstairs, pacing back and forth, trying to stifle the sobs so no one would hear me. Of course my mom did.

She came down, and I fell to the floor . . . and we just sat there, I was crying so hard I couldn’t breathe and to this day I don’t know why. I don’t know why Iraq changed me so much, and I don’t know why I was so angry. That certainly isn’t the typical reaction you think of when you hear the term PTSD. You also probably don’t think of a 19-year-old girl sitting in the turret with a .50 cal in front of her . . . and then a year later crying in her mother’s arms. But that was who I was. And that was who I never wanted to be.


5 Responses to “I was still a teenager the first time I came home from Iraq.”
  1. Kim says:

    I know exactly what you are going through and what you have been through when I joined the army I had 3 small children and I did it to better their lives. I too deployed right after ait to Iraq. And just like you it has changed me into someone I don’t care to be. Hang in there I can’t say it gets better but I’m told it gets easier to deal with.

  2. nathan says:

    Thank you for your story and thank you for your service.

  3. TM3 Harris says:

    Thank You for your service, and if you ever need a Vet that understands and any help with the symptoms of the PTSD ; Look up Palo Alto POST TRAUMA program in CA, Menlo Park, CA ~ In patient for Women.
    We are not ashame to say we need the help.

  4. Vicky says:

    Your story hit very close to home for me. I was 17 when I joined (in March 2001) and I hated ever minute of basic training and AIT. I turned 19 on my first deployment and was back home before I was 20 years old. I had a easy and fairly safe deployment in 2003, compared to other I knew. However, when I came home and went to school I was never able to be the “happy go lucky” girl I was before I left. My close friends and family saw the changes before I even did. I can’t say I was angry like you… just sad and “off” a little. I just got back from Afghanistan about two months ago and I feel the same way. Everything makes me want to cry and it is hard to relate to others who are not Soldiers. I know no matter how hard I try I will not be the same person I would have been if I didn’t go to war.

  5. Sheleen Smith says:

    I just retired and find that I will never be a ‘civilian’ again. I am a retired-veteran-NCO. I see my neighbors and try to build that sense of community or speaking the same language and it just disappears. Like herding cats, it’ll never happen.
    Reintegrating is a like being in the minotaur’s maze. The civilian world doesn’t operate with the level of responsibility a servicemember has. We know that our job was critical to the safety of others, regardless of whether it was clerk, mechanic, medic, whatever.
    I went back to school and it’s wonderful because the consequences of what I say are so negligible. No one will die because of something I said that influenced the decision-making process. The stress-ridden youngsters look at me like I’m crazy-happy and maybe I am.
    I am sad sometimes because I still want those intangibles: loyalty, love, trust, friendship. I don’t know how to have those things with others.
    TV and Hollywood don’t help either because people equate veterans with the dramatic stories they see actors and directors create. Civilians would rather see the illusory person than the one standing in front of them. You can’t have real relationships with people like that.

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