THE THIRD IN OUR SERIES FOCUSING ON ISSUES FACING LOCAL VETERANS
It’s a sure bet the men and women who served in the armed forces look forward to their homecoming day with great anticipation. However, the thrill of being home often deflates once the soldier begins struggling to adjust to an environment not ruled by military schedules and duties and the support of fellow service members.
Rates for divorce among Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans have increased by 42 percent, according to Family Life and Cru Military Ministry. An article in The Washington Post cited the longer the time the service member is away from home, the more likely divorce will occur upon their return, and combat tours raise the rate of divorce even higher.
Joshua Earhart is a part of those statistics.
Two weeks after graduating high school in 2008, he was in a van heading to Marine Corps boot camp in South Carolina. He spent two years as an Honor Guard in Washington, D.C., and married the following year. He was eventually deployed to Afghanistan. His son was born while he was overseas. After completing his tour of duty, the native Floridian returned stateside.
“While I was there, it was crazy,” Joshua says. “It was a very rough environment. It’s almost like you are a police officer. You are patrolling the area, you’re talking to the locals, trying to get information about the bad guys. The whole time you’re wondering: Is it going to happen? When is it going to happen? How’s it going to happen?”
Joshua said soldiers are in a constant state of “what if,” which makes the stress unbearable at times. Facing those daily challenges, Joshua changed. “I went from a boy to being a man in such a short period of time,” he says.
Reentering civilian life as a 22-year-old came with its own set of challenges. “It was a rough transition,” Joshua admits. “In the Corps they have classes, but they really don’t go into detail about the steps to take.”
Almost everything written for the returning service member reminds them that while coming home is a time of great happiness, it’s also a time of transition and requires patience and an concerted effort for reconnecting.
“(My wife) didn’t get any classes about how to deal with somebody coming back from a war zone. None of my family did. She didn’t know how to handle it and was being quiet and just letting it run its course. That’s when you have problems,” he says.
Freely admitting he was a loose cannon, Joshua says, “I thought there was nothing going on and everything was normal…but it wasn’t.”
The problems overshadowed his efforts to reconnect with his family, and his marriage didn’t survive.
Joshua, like many combat veterans reintegrating into civilian life, became a statistic. These veterans no longer have the combat zone support system their lives once depended on. Spouses have no idea what husbands or wives went through “over there,” or how to defuse the situation as it grows steadily worse.
Studies show loss of that support system, financial difficulties, bouts of unemployment, housing challenges, dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and reconnecting with a spouse, family, and friends often add up to a volatile situation. This pressure can lead to divorce or cause the veteran to retreat from his community and slowly sink into a solitary lifestyle.
However, Joshua was one of the lucky ones. “I finally went through…a reality check. I slowly got into a pattern of transition. I got a job at a women’s correctional facility. It was like my niche—like a para-military program,” he says.
The routine and scheduled atmosphere of the job helped Joshua establish more routine in own life, something that is highly recommended as a way to begin the transition.
Later Joshua changed jobs and began working for M&S Air Conditioning—a company he found treated him well. He also met a very special woman who proved to be key in his continued transition.
“She was always digging more out of me because I always kept things to myself,” Joshua says. “With her help, I could see the problems more clearly.”
When Joshua felt he needed more from his profession than he was getting, he talked with his employer. M&S Air Conditioning recognized Joshua as a stellar employee and decided they would help him. They contacted the nonprofit organization Combat Veterans to Careers (combatveteranstocareers.org) and explained Joshua’s desire for more in his career. The organization helped Joshua enroll in the local police academy and provided additional guidance and assistance in his transition to a new undertaking.
Getting that understanding and encouragement made Joshua want to help other vets so they know they are not alone.
“Understand there might be issues going on inside that you are not aware of. Look for people who understand what you’re going through and get help like Combat Veterans to Careers,” he says. “Your family may love you, but they don’t understand what you’ve seen, what you’ve gone through, and what you’ve done.”
Joshua also said it’s vital that recently returned veterans reach out to their military brothers and sisters. They understand what you feel and what it means to lose that daily support system.
“Just be around them and have them help guide you. Stay connected.”