Doane: Coming Home

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(HOST) Nearly 1500 Soldiers of the Vermont National Guard returned home from Afghanistan at the beginning of this year.  Commentator and military veteran Larry Doane has been thinking about his own homecoming and the questions it brings.

(DOANE) I returned home from Afghanistan recently.  And the biggest thing that’s changed in my life is that I now truly understand what it was like for my wife to be pregnant.  Don’t worry, this statement isn’t evidence of a head injury and, as far as I can tell, my mental faculties are more or less intact.  But since coming home I’ve really come to appreciate some of what she had to endure.  When she was pregnant, whenever she walked into a room the topic of conversation would immediately turn to the impending baby.  Inevitably, the same questions would be asked, from when the due date was to had we chosen a name yet.  It got to the point where we contemplated having t-shirts made up with our standard answers.  It would at least save time to just read the shirt before we started a conversation.
I’ve found the same sort of thing happens to me now that I’m home.  Within 10 seconds of meeting anyone new I’m almost always asked if I’m "happy to be home."   Given the regularity of the question, you would think there must be a lot of guys out there answering, "Well, no, not really.  Not waking up to exploding mortars and being able to eat whatever I want whenever I want is getting pretty old.  I’m thinking of heading back."  But despite my own amusement at the question, I do appreciate the effort, and I’m happy to agree that there’s no place like home.

The next question, though, is not usually as much fun.  After confirming that I am indeed happy to be back in the United States, the question "How’re you doing?" usually follows.  And, sometimes, an odd mix of concern and apprehension floats along with it.  I understand that the twin specters of PTSD and the images of war on television are everywhere.  This certainly would make anyone brace for the worst when asking a veteran, "How’re you doing?"  Sometimes I wish I had some minor injury I was recovering from, maybe a broken arm or the like.  Then I could point to my tangible, steadily improving wound and give us all something familiar to discuss.  But my tour left me uninjured, and I am thankful for it.  Still, it complicates matters now.  I’m doing "fine"; but that answer smacks of denial to the average listener.  Who could really be fine after a year in a combat zone?  Maybe they’re right.  There’s no denying I’m different now, even though this wasn’t my first deployment.  My temper’s a bit shorter these days, and my wife, God bless her, is proving to be the most patient woman on earth.  And spending a year away from home is bound to leave you a little different, combat zone or not.  Time changes everything, even the families we left behind.  Accepting all of this is my first real step towards truly coming home.  Different doesn’t necessarily mean worse; and, with a little patience, I’m sure this’ll all work out just fine.  But in the meantime, thanks for checking in on me – and,  yes, I am very happy to be home.

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