War has many lingering effects.
Whether vivid nightmares that replay war zone battles or an inability to drive past trash on the side of the road without looking for a bomb, time in combat changes Soldiers.
The physical and psychological ramifications of a year in a combat zone do not magically disappear once Soldiers return from deployment. Anxiety, hyperactivity, difficulty concentrating or sleeping, flashbacks, irritability and sadness may all remain as Soldiers reflect on a year of 24-hour operations, high stress levels, death and destruction.
While these reactions may be uncomfortable, they are normal reactions to abnormally stressful situations, said Col. Robert Gombeski, Fort Hood’s Post Deployment Health Reassessment coordinator. These reactions are really no cause for concern, Gombeski said, unless they persist for months or cause significant interference in a Soldier’s activities or daily living.
“When things get in the way of functioning, that is when a little more help might be needed,” he said.
Gombeski said while most Soldiers returning from combat readjust to life back at home within about eight weeks, there is a percentage that will have issues that last beyond that period.
“There is no magic number,” said Maj. Ben Phillips Darnall’s chief of Behavioral Health. “Soldiers could be totally symptom-free at the 90- to 120-day mark and develop (problems) later.”
Taking longer to readjust to life outside the combat zone is not necessarily anything to worry about as long as it is not causing problems in everyday life, Gombeski said.
“The majority of our Soldiers do very well when they come back but if it has gotten to the point where the problems are affecting everyday life, there is nothing wrong with going and getting some help,” he said.
Gombeski cited the example of a Soldier who, after being in Iraq for a year, “hit the dirt” every time he heard a car backfire. While this might be common during the Soldier’s first days home, this response should begin to fade with time.
“Ninety to 120 days after redeployment, if I am still hitting the dirt every time I hear a car backfire, I might be having some problems letting go (of the combat zone),” Gombeski said. “That Soldier who is hitting the ground every time he or she hears a loud noise is probably someone who would be a good candidate for our programs.”
Gombeski encourages Soldiers to practice good buddy care and always be on the look out for signs that their comrades may be having a more difficult time readjusting to life outside the combat zone.
“The best way to get people back to full strength is through treatment and early identification of (problems),” Phillips said.
Identifying problems early and getting help can save Soldiers and their families a lifetime of combat stress related heartache, Gombeski added.
Maj. Will Horton, a chaplain with the 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, just returned with his team from a year in Iraq. Horton said it is important for the division’s chaplains to be out among the Soldiers, connecting with them and listening to them, especially during this important readjustment period.
“We are out and among our Soldiers at (physical training) and down at the units,” he said. “We have tried to locate our chaplains in areas where Soldiers can go to them freely … and Soldiers have been using our unit ministry teams to better their marriages, their lives and their relationships.”
Fort Hood has many programs and resources available to help Soldiers “let go” of the combat zone and make their experiences memories and not current-day problems.
The Fort Hood Resilience and Restoration Center, which opened in August 2005 to cater to the needs of Fort Hood’s combat veterans, invites Soldiers to walk-in whenever they feel they may need some assistance adjusting to life at home. The clinic’s phone number is 553-2284.
Soldiers may also call the Fort Hood Deployment Stress Careline at 535-4497 or the Fort Hood Chaplains hotline at 287-CHAP.
Military One Source also offers resources to recently returned Soldiers including six free counseling visits. For more information on Military One Source, call (800) 342-9647.