Strangers at War
Military families have seen their weary loved ones deploy three, even four or more times to Iraq and Afghanistan. We send them emails, care packages, updates from home. We tearfully kiss them goodbye, miss them when they are gone, and often endure difficult adjustment periods when they return. We may notice changes in the person we once knew. They could seem angry, on edge, moody, or distant. We may even ask them if they need to talk about what happened during the year they were away.
Yet, there seems to be a clear division between war and family. When home, they may not want to taint the safe ground with painful wartime memories and we tend to let it go to keep the peace. The less we know the better, we think, but do we really know the impact frequent deployments have made on our service members?
Sgt. Bales, a U.S. war hero, loving father and husband, was on his fourth deployment when he snuck away from a remote base in Afghanistan and killed 17 men, women, and children. His wife of over ten years could not comprehend how her husband could have committed such a crime. She described him as a wonderful father, a "big kid himself", and refused to believe he was a killer of young children. When home, he showed no signs of PTSD or aggressive behavior. This man who allegedly murdered innocent civilians was a stranger to her.
What can military families do to help? Clearly, Mrs. Bales was not responsible for her husband's behavior. His alleged rampage was an extreme and infrequent act that now lies in the hands of the justice system. However, many families are struggling with mild changes in returning service members. If they seem aggressive, distant, or reluctant to talk about their experiences during deployment, concerned family members should not ignore the problem. Learn to identify the signs of PTSD and seek out help from the base hospital, the local VA hospital, or even a close friend whom the service member trusts. Individual and group counseling sessions, family sessions, and even medication could make a world of difference.
Let's remind our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines that they are never alone.
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