For Soldiers Coming Home From War, the Hard Part Is Just Beginning


Exactly 12 years ago, I felt a tap on my shoulder. When I turned around, I saw a very shiny diamond ring. As I snatched it right of my boyfriend's hand, I vaguely heard him say something about "love" and "forever." One year and one month ago, my husband left us to began training for a deployment to Afghanistan. And this week, he will return to us.

The military takes returning home very seriously. They host Yellow Ribbon events to help family members understand what their sailor, airman, Marine, or soldier has experienced. Warriors themselves are also debriefed on how to navigate coming home. The military calls it reintegration, which is a fancy word for "It ain't over yet."

While you were away, our warriors are told, life at home has changed. They are told not to drive for a few weeks and avoid crowded places. No parties for at least a month. They are warned to watch for any signs of road rage because it is an early sign of PTSD. Due to the sensory deprivation in Afghanistan, warriors are told to go slow when it comes to color, sound, and smells.

Their family, they learn, has developed new routines and a new hierarchy. Your teenage son, for example, may now be the man of the house. Respect that. Your spouse disciplines differently than you do. Respect that. It's okay if the checkbook isn't up to date. It's okay if the house is messy and the tires are bald. Then comes the part about sex. Don't do it. Not at first. Date for a couple of weeks. Get to know each other. Fall in love again.

So now, my soldier will come home but our deployment won't be over. It won't be over until the kids can talk nonstop, at the exact same time, at the top of their lungs, and he simply tunes them out. It won't be over until we have a really good fight. It won't be over until we can hop in the car for a road trip and he drives. It won't be over until I can tell him "I'm too tired." It won't be over until it's normal and boring. And I can't wait.