War enters a person and never leaves. It’s never over for the ones who have to see. War takes away something inside of us that we can never get back, our innocence. Some of us can cope better than others. Some of us are destroyed by it. We don’t fully comprehend what the experience has done to us. Can we truly heal? Can we replace that thing that has been taken away from us? Is it better to forget about healing and find a way to cope with our existence?

We can never get back what we have lost. We can always try to make a life by using what we’ve gained. How do we find meaning through suffering and destruction? We must live on for the ones who have gone and the ones who still remain by our side.

War is never over for those who experience the horrors of it. Welcome home parades or free dinners cannot erase the memories. Compliments cannot remedy the inner conflict we face as we arrive home to a world we don’t know anymore. Through my experiences, I realize I underestimated how quickly things change. Time continues to move with or without you. People don’t stop their lives and wait for you with bated breath.

You are fundamentally changed by war. You don’t realize how much you have grown. You have returned to a world you thought you knew. This new world doesn’t live up to the expectations you had formulated so concretely in your mind. The dreams you had of how life would be once you stepped off the airplane and touched American soil were naïve. There is a disconnect between fantasy and reality. It is a major riff that our minds find hard to reconcile. Since we can’t cope with our new reality, we find ways to avoid it.

The feeling is too painful to bear. No one teaches you how to cope with this reality. We learn to cope the best we can. Who could really blame us? We just had one of the most traumatic experiences of our lives. Now our thoughts of what life would be outside of war, the thoughts that sustained us through the war, are a lie.

There is no preparation for this harsh reality. The ones who you thought would miss you the most, don’t miss you as deeply as you thought they would. The spouse you thought would welcome you with open arms is in the arms of another. Everything pisses you off. You feel people are oblivious to their surroundings. It rubs you to the core when people complain about what you deem trivial matters.

It is as though no one understands you. How can you quantify what you have been through in war to people who are so far removed? You want people to understand, but they can’t. There is no frame of reference. All they know is what they see on cable network channels. The skewed news to draw in more eyes and more ad dollars. You feel like a stranger in a country that you offered to give your life.

You walk into restaurants and you check your exit points. You check out everyone in the place without even realizing it. You are sure to identify potential dangers and targets. You cannot relax. You’re always on edge, just waiting for action. When it comes you’ll be ready. In the back of your mind you know what you’re doing is insane, but you can’t stop it. Your family members look at you as odd. What can you do? This was my existence for a year.

No one teaches you how to turn that off the situational awareness. You have been trained to be on high alert. Danger could be anywhere. It could cost your life or your brother’s if you’re not ready. We get off the plane and now were supposed to forget war. We can’t be just civilians again. We lost that when we went to war. War removed the cloud of ignorance. It took the naïveté that permeates in the American psyche. It took the fantasy of how we saw the world. We can’t go back to being just civilians. We are forever changed by war.

The realization of this change can be damning. Since we can’t readily reconcile it, we become angry. We resist accepting it. “The man leaves the war, but the war doesn’t leave the man(find who wrote the quote).” Day in and day out we have been propelled by adrenaline. We were under extreme conditions. As we step off that plane that is gone. What is there to replace that? Where is the substitute? How are we supposed to just turn that off? How do we tell our brains that it’s okay, we are no longer in the reality of war?

We are left to our own devices. We transfer the risky behavior into our home lives. Our minds and bodies do not want to feel pain. We find things that are readily available to ease that pain and take away the feelings. Alcohol and illicit drugs are one of the most effectives ways to numb pain. In a culture that encourages the consumption of alcohol, it is easy to use it as a coping mechanism. At first we can justify it by saying, “We’re back from war. It’s time to indulge in everything we couldn’t while overseas.” We consume large amounts of alcohol as a reward. It’s our just due. No one will try to stop us because we are heroes and heroes deserve it.

What do we become when the desert becomes distant and there is no longer a need to protect and defend? How do we live in a world where war and tragedy is foreign and the need for heroics is forgotten? The possibility of death is no longer in every moment. The pulsing of adrenaline no longer goes through the soul. What becomes of the hero when there is nothing to save? Is it possible that the burden of hero is too heavy for some of us to bear?

We think we have to live up to the heroics of great people who have littered the history pages with their brave acts and selfless service to mankind. Society is quick to bestow the honor of hero, but fails to ponder the burden that places on the recipient. Expectations are high. We are heroes. We do not question why we have been sent a war. To show war as a heroic act without questioning the intention is a deception amongst a cloud of manipulation. A soldier knows nothing more than the mission. Less information equals less questions. Soldiers are not supposed to question, but spring into action amongst the shouting of commands. We are taught to believe in a system of goodwill and good intentions. Our leaders know what is best for us. This worked perfectly when information wasn’t readily available to the masses. Today information flows freely and truths can be discovered with a click of a button or tap of a finger. Leaders don’t have a monopoly on information. The discovery of truth has made many Veterans question their service. Revealing a deep rooted lie can cause unspeakable trauma.

What becomes of a hero that has been betrayed by his country? We return with sand still caked in regions we have ignored to realize our country hasn’t cared enough to prepare for our return. We departed with cloudy eyes and moral assurances. We returned with half smiles and backs turned. Words cease to assure, when actions have betrayed those same very words. We are supposed to be good heroes, ones that never hurt.

They say, “We won right? So act like winners!” Showing any effects of war, makes you less of a hero. So we hide our inner wounds, until they start spill out like an over poured cup of actions. We’re thrown to the wolves. We end up in jail, the cold streets, or the still grave. Twenty-two Veterans die from suicide daily. Instead of coming together to offer a solutions, Democrats and Republicans argue about who loves Veterans more. The actions of both have shown more contempt than love. We are used for war and soon forgotten. The last shot has been fired and we’ve declared victory. Love is shown through action, not mere words. One would think we are the enemies by the actions of our leaders.

We talk of combat PTSD which is a tragic side effect from war, but has anyone suggested that another issue plaguing the Veteran could be the realization that we sacrifice in vain. Our leadership has failed to prepare, execute, and sustain a war lasting more than 10 years. We are told that we are fighting for freedom, but freedom from what and from whom? The truth is buried beneath a pile of “You’re defending freedom!”

We are not slaves, but free men and women who made an oath to protect and defend our country. That oath was not an open slate to wage us into wars of no purpose or promise. The Veteran sacrifice has not been respected. It has been exploited. The love of country doesn’t mean we should be used as cannon fodder for our leaders. Patriotism through out history has been used as a tool of manipulation to steer a country and group into wars and conflicts that only benefits the selfishness of its leaders. America’s greatest treasure is its citizens. We should be careful not to use them as something that could be picked up from the gutter and then soon discarded.

-Rob Marshal
Twitter @robertmarsl

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