Help warriors transition back into life as citizens

1/15/2008

By the Rev. John Morris
United Methodist News Service

 

Parts of the United States are about to experience an unprecedented event: the near simultaneous return of thousands of combat veterans. The proud, tired and bloodied are returning home, many after 22-month combat deployment in Iraq.

 

Their towns will, in fine fashion, hail the returning warriors with wonderful “Welcome Home” ceremonies. The veterans will cherish the sentiment, then shoulder their duffle bags and simply “go home.”

 

Unfortunately, “going home” is neither simple nor easy. Months of combat training, followed by more months of combat operations, combine to forge these men and women into warriors. Within 300 hours of their last combat mission, they are demobilized and back on the streets in the United States.

 

The homes to which they will return have changed. Families either have become “survivors” or “broken.” The majority have learned to survive without their soldier. Roles have changed, children have grown and family dynamics have altered. For a minority, marriages have ended and families have shattered beneath the stress of almost two years of separation.

 

Our proud combat veterans will face the daunting challenges of freedom. Gone is the austere, disciplined life of a forward operating base, with the focus of missions and the camaraderie of the military unit. Ahead is the complex, multi-tasking, fast-paced world of work, family, civic responsibilities and, for many, school.

 

The vast majority of combat veterans will face these challenges and handle them well. In fact, as past generations have shown, this generation of veterans will begin to emerge as leaders in every productive sector of society.

 

The combination of discipline, wisdom and the love of life appreciated by only those who have seen it threatened will vault this generation ahead of its peers. Future governors, senators, doctors, lawyers, teachers, clergy, social workers and scientists undoubtedly are returning.

 

A few, unfortunately, will stumble badly. These troubled souls will wrestle with the effects of war on themselves and their families. They will need the best this country has to offer.

 

How communities can help
The majority will need our support as well. They need employers willing to be patient as they wrestle to regain skills that have atrophied. They need educators in our colleges and technical schools willing to help them through the complexities of admission, registration and return to rigorous study. They need parent educators willing to offer classes to help them learn to parent the children they love but barely know. They need wise counselors to help them negotiate new roles in marriage and families.

 

They need savvy medical providers who understand traumatic brain injuries, Middle Eastern parasites and skin diseases. They need clergy who can listen without condemnation and help them sort out the hardness of soul that war can produce.

 

Above all, they need a community that walks with them and their families long after the yellow ribbons unravel. This community, though deeply conflicted by the U.S. war in Iraq, honors the sacrifice made by these unique citizen-soldiers. It challenges our newest, “greatest generation” to continue selfless service by inviting these combat veterans to serve in leadership capacities in business, education, government, houses of worship and nonprofit organizations.

 

They need a community dedicated to bringing these soldiers all the way home, leaving none behind, and helping each to become the productive, healthy citizen we need.

 

Morris is a United Methodist chaplain in the Minnesota National Guard.