"He Went to War and Came Back a Changed Man"

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He Says

"I don't blame Maureen for disliking me," admitted Jack, 38, a tall, handsome man who looks very inch the high-ranking military officer he is. "I don't like the fact that I'm constantly irritable and I've taken up smoking again, or that I yell at Maureen and swear in anger. And it kills me that my sex drive seems to have disappeared.

"I'm still living in a state of heightened sensitivity -- a 'combat mode' that probably saved my life in Baghdad but doesn't work at all on the home front. The other night I saw a helicopter turn on its landing lights as I drove across a bridge and I had a flashback. Thinking I was under fire, I felt an adrenaline rush and started screaming and pounding the steering wheel. Another time I heard a garbage truck drop a trash bin as I drove off the base. It sounded like a rocket, so I panicked and almost crashed into a light post. Even the smell of burning leaves reminds me of Baghdad, where fires raged day and night. I have nightmares about being lost in a combat zone, caught in a firefight without my gear or sent back to Iraq. I'm proud of the work I did there, and I'll go back if the Army asks me to, which is highly likely. But I'd rather not."

A Changed Man

"Since my return I've become super-impatient. If I order a hamburger, I don't want to hear from the cashiers about the combination meals. 'Listen to me,' I snap when they launch into their spiel. 'I ordered a hamburger. A hamburger.' I never raise my voice, but I know my stern tone is withering. Even worse, I feel disillusioned. I'm haunted by the brutality I witnessed in Iraq, such as a revenge killing where some Iraqi soldiers gunned down a family of seven in their home because they were suspected of being loyal to Saddam Hussein's Baathist Party. I'll never understand that kind of cruelty.

"After seeing the conditions the Iraqis have had to live with -- the open sewage, the stench of rotting bodies, the oil spills, the lack of electricity -- I despise the way people back home sweat the small stuff. I'm sorry, but I just can't sympathize when Maureen mopes and whines about being unemployed and lonely. There's no financial need for her to get a job immediately, and she'll make new friends in due time. The Army counselors who met with my unit explained that our readjustment period would likely last for as long as we were deployed -- for me, 14 months. By that benchmark, I've got another nine months to go. Why won't she cut me some slack?

"I grew up in the rural South. My dad, an engineer, and my mom, a nurse, raised me to mind my manners and love my country. I'm a fifth-generation soldier -- my ancestors fought in the Civil War and the Spanish-American War -- but the first member of our family to be an officer. As a member of Junior Army ROTC in high school, I discovered that I'm a born leader and natural problem solver, two skills essential to a successful military career. Another selling point was the travel required by the Army. When my sister and I were kids, our parents took us all over, and we loved those trips."

Continued on page 4:  He Says, continued


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