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

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He Says, continued

"The night I met Maureen I couldn't take my eyes off her. She's tall and muscular, with long brown hair, brown eyes, and a sexy smile. And her sharp humor and candor distinguished her from the demure Southern belles I'd dated. We fell in love fast and four months into our relationship, I knew I wanted to marry her. She and I have fundamental personality differences: She's spontaneous, easygoing, and gregarious -- a happy person who wakes up smiling, eager to embrace the day. She depends emotionally on family and friends. I'm organized, stoic, and independent emotionally. But instead of letting those differences divide us, we've drawn strength from them throughout our marriage.

"As Maureen mentioned, our marriage did get off to a rocky start when her dad suddenly died. I didn't know how to help my wife grieve, and I failed to give her adequate emotional support, something I'll always regret. But beyond that, the biggest crisis in our marriage was when we found out we couldn't get pregnant. In time, we came to terms with that and concluded that we could be happy without children. If it weren't for the Iraq war, we'd still be getting along great.

"As soon as we knew I might be deployed, my emotions were all over the map. I was terrified I might be killed but never mentioned my fears to Maureen, because I didn't want to increase her anxiety -- or mine. I also felt frustrated by her pestering me to discuss the politics behind the war. I repeatedly explained that I had to remain neutral in order to stay focused on my job, which was preparing my soldiers for battle. Finally, we agreed to stop discussing it. That helped ease the tension somewhat."

War Trauma

"In Baghdad I was overwhelmed by the stench of fires burning and the sight of dead bodies in the streets. Our mission was to handle 'cleanup' in the aftermath of the invading forces, so 75 percent of our time was spent on duties like restoring electricity and 25 percent on fighting the bad guys. I never fired my weapon but I sent my soldiers to chase down the enemy. My closest call came when we provided security for another unit conducting a raid in a village where Baathists still operated. A man with two small children drove up in a donkey cart and kept approaching, despite my soldiers' repeated shouts of 'Stop! Stop!' in Arabic. Assuming he was dangerous, I aimed my gun and tightened my pull on the trigger. Then, in the glow of the moonlight, I saw that the man was unarmed. In another blink of an eye, I could have killed three innocent people. I'll live for the rest of my life with the image of their terrified expressions.

"Then, to add to my stress, I had a conflict with a superior, who relied on me to make the tough decisions about combat operations -- and took credit when things went right and blamed me when they didn't. He played politics behind my back, so for several months, my name was mud with some Army leaders. There was no longterm fallout, but I worried my career could be damaged.

"I missed Maureen and worried incessantly about her, but I couldn't express those feelings. In the beginning, I tried to call every week, but as Maureen said, the phone system was unreliable. After I got Internet access, we e-mailed each other. Our phone conversations were strained, in part because Maureen was mad at me for dodging her questions. I didn't like being so guarded, but I couldn't tell her about the challenges of my work, my problems with my superior, or about how I nearly killed three innocent people. I didn't want to upset her or let her know how much danger I was in.

"My two-week leave was awful. Maureen longed for romance, while I wanted only rest, and we expressed our disappointment by arguing. I was struggling with a million different emotions. I felt guilty about leaving my troops behind in Iraq, I was depressed about life in general and I was annoyed that Maureen pushed me to discuss topics I wanted to avoid, including how I felt when one of my buddies was killed. Why couldn't she give me some space?

"Maureen is the love of my life and I'm heartbroken that she might leave me. I am determined to do whatever it takes to feel normal again."

Continued on page 5:  The Counselor Says

 

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