Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Soldier’s Story: Lessons of Readjustment

It might be easy to forget, with all the trappings in our daily lives, that there are service men and women who are at war for our country and fighting on behalf of the freedoms that we enjoy. In honor of these men and women we dedicate one day each year to remember and to salute our veterans who have served or are serving our country every day. Let us not forget our heroes and instead remember the sacrifices that they have made by giving them the respect that they have earned and deserve. Many of us know what it is like to come home after a long day of work, but what is it like for someone to return home after weeks, months, even years abroad, away from their friends, family, and country?

When U.S. Army staff sergeant Brian Timulty returned to his hometown of Braintree, Massachusetts after nine years of military service he was welcomed as a hero but the feeling of being home was bittersweet. A lot had changed for Brian while he was away. He was no longer that 19 year old kid who enlisted in the army to learn leadership skills and open up future employment opportunities. He was nearly ten years older, tired from years of battle, but ready to start a new phase of his life and embark on a career. His problem was that no one was hiring. Brian left the army because he said it was “a tough life” and he hoped to seek a more stable life at home. Even as a decorated war vet and recipient of the Bronze Star earned for meritorious service, he still couldn’t get an edge on the competitive workforce. Brian is modest about his accolades but said that if he had received a Purple Heart, it would have opened up more doors for him than Bronze Star.

His years of military service had taken a toll on him. He had served for 12 months in Afghanistan and was later deployed to Iraq on three separate occasions. Most of his time in the military was spent overseas. As a member of the infantry Brian was part of the first wave of troops who convoyed from Kuwait into Bagdad during “Operation Iraqi Freedom” followed by 14 months in Najaf, and Fallujah. On his other tours he provided security in Iraq for convoys, ran peace-keeping missions and patrols, and provided security at voting stations. While in combat Brian says that he was “blown up” during three different engagements and has experienced concussions and a 50% loss of hearing in both ears. He still experiences headaches, vertigo and sleepless nights due his traumatic time on the battlefield. He is often haunted in his dreams and finds himself covered in blood, reaching for his radio to call for backup but unable to speak only to awake and find himself at home.

Upon coming home, he had found that life was much more quiet and the adrenaline that had flowed through his veins for 9 years was relatively absent. Brian had difficulty in adjusting to the lapse in adrenaline, constant alertness, and battlefield trauma and said “I was a mess when I got back.” Brian felt alienated from his friends that he had left behind at home and he related what it was like to only see them three or four times over a nine year span. When he returned home he says that it was as if “I didn’t even know them.”

Brian left the army on September 5, 2009 and was the Grand Marshall of Braintree’s Independence Day parade the following year. This past September 11th he tossed the coin at Braintree High School’s football game and met the town’s mayor who invited him to lunch. He was excited about this meeting and saw it as an opportunity to open up some doors for him but the mayor never called. Brian is disappointed and sees it as an issue of trust. On the battlefield life depended on the trust of a person’s word. He said that “if someone says they are going to do something, they should.” In relation to the mayor’s empty invitation Brian said “If you can’t trust a political figure, who can you trust? Who’s to say if he offered me a job or something, he’d come through?” Brian isn’t skeptical of political leaders but he has learned that sometimes the idea of trust that he learned in the military is different from the idea of trust in the civilian world.

Brian graduated from Braintree High School in 1999 and before enlisting in 2000 he attempted a semester at college. In regard to college he says “I absolutely despised it.” Since returning home he has given college another shot and is currently working on an Associate’s Degree with a focus in Criminal Justice at Massasoit Community College. The military has taught him persistence and dedication and Brian puts a great deal of effort into his studies. He hopes to find a job in law enforcement or possibly something with the Department of Public Works.

Brian still struggles with his time in the service and experiences recurring nightmares, the feeling of alienation, finding work in a tough economy, along with a list of other troubles. Yet he does not regret all that he has sacrificed. He is proud to have served believing that “this is a great country and is absolutely worth fighting for and defending freedom.” Brian noted JFK’s famous words “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” and says that he has learned many lessons through his time in the military. What is most important is what he called "being prepared for Murphy’s Law" or “being prepared for anything that can happen” and all that might go wrong. Brian is content that he is ready to face anything and everything if need be and above all he has learned to live life to the fullest and appreciate everything that he has.

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