TWO YEARS HOME |
October 12, 2009
Name: Ian Wolfe
Posting date: 10/12/09
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
Two years home and Iraq still haunts me. It’s like a stigma that I can’t shake and don’t ever want to forget. I did an interview for my college alumni magazine and the writer titled it “Near Normal.” At first I was a bit offended, but after thinking about it a while I realized it was pretty accurate.
Friends of mine have talked about situations where they just didn’t feel like they fit, or where people find out they are veterans and act kind of odd. I've had similar situations. My school only has about twelve vets and no clue, but the campus most of my friends I served with go to has a large veteran’s service center. They are very organized. They show up when anyone is assembling for something to do with the war. It’s nice because some days it seems the only people you can relate to are other veterans. .
This is odd to me because I don’t think what I or some of us went through was really all that bad. Sure we saw some things that you don’t see everyday, but there are definitely people who had a worse time then I did. I think part of this perspective comes from watching a lot of movies. It is hard to see stories about service in Vietnam and World War II and compare it to ours. They had it significantly worse. Even though I think this, and I try to shake off these feelings that seem irrational, it still is there. Something is different about us.
When people find out I am a vet and say, “Oh, I didn’t know you were in Iraq,” I have this overpowering urge to sarcastically say, "Yeah, I forgot I wasn’t wearing my gold star today.” Clearly this is extreme, and in no way do I think we compare to anything that happened to people who had to wear gold stars; it’s just odd, as if they think they should be able to tell. As if we should stand out somehow by ducking behind corners or acting “all crazy.” I often think to myself, “Am I being over-dramatic?” Well, yes, sometimes, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.
The world of veterans is swarming with PTSD and antidepressants. Should we really get labeled with a disorder for going through something completely alien to our world? Maybe we should all have some counseling. But do we really need the identifier? I guess for some it serves a beneficial purpose, but I think it hurts some.
I know some vets who will never shake the label of PTSD. And some who don’t want to. Yet they don’t want the help and because of that they won’t recover. Some were already gone before the service, but now they have a reason that hides the real problems. Thanks to Hollywood we get to be portrayed in all sorts of ways. What about the veterans who come home and their service only adds to their determination and success?
We all had emotional homecomings. One night I got hammered on Guinness and Jameson and this guy came over who was telling everyone he was in the navy and got shot in Iraq. I knew he was full of shit, but politely told him to stop talking and put his dog tags away. Of course by the time I was getting driven home all I could think about was soldiers and marines I had taken care of: calling home to tell their wives and mothers they were okay, but they had lost their feet; the ones who couldn’t talk because of the massive trauma that racked their bodies; the ones who needed towels under their stretchers because of the massive blood loss and whose cots got hosed down when they went back into the Operating Room.
I thought about all this as it flashed in front of me and I broke down. What didn’t affect me when I was there was pouring out with the drunken state and the anger about the asshole that could selfishly and easily compare himself to people who went through things unimaginable. I still rarely talk about it because of the emotions it stirs up. That was the only time I ever related in detail what I had seen to my wife. Often I think I don’t deserve to have these emotions. A few other friends I have talked to have had similar breakdowns. We come home and think that since it didn’t bother us over there, it won’t bother us here. Then we get really drunk and let our guard down.
There are lots of questions, and fortunately there is nowhere to hide in today’s world, overburdened with media. I think this is beneficial in the long run but it does have some disadvantages. It has been said many times that the military is at war, but America isn’t. While people at home were learning about Paris Hilton and others we were walking in a nonstop westward wind that was hotter than an oven on broil. We were missing birthdays and graduations, deaths and births. My unit was gone for two years, most of it in Iraq. Some days I think it wasn’t that long, others it seems like an eternity.
During your college years, two years is forever. I started in the army having just turned twenty. Now after all my service I find myself with a family, still in college, and much older than other students. I don’t regret anything, and thanks to the new GI bill most of us can now attend college, but often I wonder what it would have been like to have a normal college experience.
Most of the time I don’t mind any of this, but every once in a while my mind slips and I see flashes of images or hear sounds that take me back. Someone next to me complains because the handout the teacher gave us doesn’t follow her power point very well, and I want to hit him. And the thing about it is that I don’t want to change that feeling. I don’t have any desire to. Why should I fall back into the rest of society? Why should I want to forget the horrifying images that I think about everyday? Why shouldn’t I feel different? I am different.
That little bit of service, those two years, plus the year I was gone before those, changed me. Maybe I see the wastes of life and the complainers in society and since I am constantly trying to make up time it just irritates me that much more. Who knew that a label like being a veteran could become your defining status? There is nothing like being introduced as an Iraq vet, as if I have done nothing else in life. Of course when asked what I did I usually tell people I was part of a secret unit that drilled and shipped oil. Funny, no one seems to buy it, even the people who think the war was about oil.
We were apart of something huge, yet a lot of people don’t want to listen to us for fear of changing their opinions, or fear that they may be proven wrong. Or they are simply scared of what we might say. I have often, after some coaxing, told a few funny stories to people about the deployment. Mostly I get blank expressions or looks of horror. This always reminds me that I am in a different world, not with my fellow veterans. But that’s the moral of this essay. I am different, I am better and I am worse. We veterans shouldn’t be the same as anyone else; we are not. We are still in our own world trying to define what that is.