Coming home on leave (16 days at home about 2 times a year) was always fantastic, it really made me appreciate the world I lived in. After shit hit the fan in 2007, on a 15 month deployment where 8 dudes from my 30 man platoon got killed, and I got out, coming home for good, it wasn’t so nice. I moved back in with my mom (I was stationed in Germany), and had no idea what to do. Like 30 grand in the bank since I couldn’t really spend money deployed for 15 months, and absolutely no direction or desire. My mom called me out on being drunk for literally the first two days I was home, I mean not sleeping at all, I just stayed up all night, smoked cigarettes, and drank beer and 40s while looking at pictures of my friends who were still in, and those who died. She heard me sobbing at like 3 in the morning and came and sat with me, but I didn’t want her to, I didn’t want any relationships with anybody. I immediately missed everyone I served with. So I started sleeping and eating, and not being drunk EVERY day, but I didn’t know what to do. 23 or 24 years old, no one was around to tell me what to do anymore, and it sucked. I was depressed all the time, I couldn’t connect with my childhood and high school friends because we were so drastically different. I spent most nights driving two cities away, about 40 minutes, and getting shit faced until last call. Not trying to pick up girls, not having fun, just sitting at a bar drinking nonstop and playing pool with myself, then I would drive back home and go to sleep. I woke up after noon almost every day. Eventually I got pinched for a “Super Extreme DUI” (an Arizona thing) which netted me 45 days in jail and a total cost of about 9,000 dollars. I don’t remember if I was suicidal, but I had absolutely no emotion for anything going on in the world around me. I took drives to Oklahoma, where my buddy I told you about was from, and found solace in hanging out with his girlfriend, friends, and family (I didn’t move in on his girlfriend or anything, we were just friends). Being back home in Arizona was worse after going to Oklahoma. I tracked down two guys I served with who lived in North Carolina, and I threw everything I owned in my car, and drove across the country to live closer to them. I lived on my friend’s couch in West Virginia for about a week, but got burnt out by seeing him deal with his state job and his newly bought house, so I left him there. Made it to North Carolina, and my friends helped get me on track with college, I picked up a girlfriend, and lived in my buddy’s living room for about a year while I tried to figure everything out. Now, years later, I’m 5 classes from a BA in Communication Studies, and I still don’t really know what to do. I still drink a lot and have severe anger issues. I was a happy guy before Baghdad. So it sucks, man. I’m reflective enough to know that a lot of dudes like me lost any potential they may have had, depending on their time in the service. It’s not just that “war is ugly,” it’s so much more dynamic than that. No one I served with, no one I liked anyway, believed in the mission or the war, we just wanted to stay alive and go back home. A couple of us had been to Iraq two years earlier, and in 12 months we didn’t have to kill anybody. So we were like “Good. They left us alone, we’ll leave them alone.” But when we got to Baghdad the motherfuckers wouldn’t leave us alone. We weren’t kicking down doors or harassing people. We were just driving around for our patrols, checking out the city and talking to people, then going back to the base to jerk off, listen to music, sleep, and wait for the deployment to end. Then the bastards started killing us. First guy got shot in the back by a sniper, getting back into the hum vee to end the patrol. We cried, we learned to be more careful, and we learned that it wasn’t going to be the same. Then the fucking IEDs started coming. Dudes would dig big ass holes and stick hundreds of pounds of explosives in them, and we would drive over them and experience mass casualties. A guy laying in the road with no legs, his still booted and clothed legs lying on the curb a few feet away from him, and dudes full of shrapnel holes laying in the street, calmly saying “get me the fuck out of here,” through dirty, bloody grimaces. No Saving Private Ryan bullshit where dudes are hysterical, screaming for their mothers. Just wincing back tears, trying to look tough, even though a leg, or an arm was mangled like a plate of spaghetti, and they were completely defenseless. 18 year old guys, 19 year olds. Fucking teenagers, bleeding and dying in the streets. Anyway, we started to get mad. We started to hate the people for not warning us about bombs in the road, for not giving us info on the assholes who were hurting us. The Iraqis wouldn’t help us, and they wouldn’t help themselves. They just wanted to be left alone. But when your friends die in pieces, you get angry, you want blood, vengeance. It’s not about politics, nations, patriotism, revelry, or anything other than cold revenge. And we were armed to dish out that vengeance. Unfortunately, we were fighting ghosts. We hardly ever got to kill our killers, so we had to pent up our anger and wait for an opportunity to release it. My platoon eventually quit, after one of our Bradleys (it’s like a tank, only a bunch of guys sit in the back of it) got flipped upside down, ripped in half, and killed all 5 of our soldiers inside of it. The driver burned alive, some dudes said they heard him screaming as they tried to get through the flames to save him. After that, my platoon quit. We told our leadership, straight up, “If you send us back into that city, we are going to kill everyone we see. We will go if you let us do that, but we are not going if you will not let us.” We all got punished, split apart, sent to other units. All our brotherhood and camaraderie was ripped from us. Then we got back to Germany. Then, guys like me, got out of the Army and went home for good, alone. Went home and took all that anger, all that resent, and all that fucking loss. It’s still there. It waits for a driver to cut us off, or some college kid to bitch about the war, then it comes out. Some of us drink to control it, to soothe it, to keep it at bay, but at a certain point alcohol just fucking amplifies it. Then, we do things like break our hand on a street sign, beat the shit out of some punk kid for saying something ignorant, or shooting a hole in our apartment wall because we were too drunk and nihilistic to give a fuck if the gun was loaded or not, sometimes it gets us into fights where we wake up in the street outside the bar after being choked out. Some guys kill themselves. Some keep themselves occupied with wives and kids, or 60 hour work weeks. Some of us just slip through life, hoping to be left alone. On Normandy Beach, when the Germans mowed down soldier’s buddies, the soldiers could take all their anger and frustration up the beach and throw it in the enemy’s face; they had a release. Our war doesn’t typically give us that, and it fucking sucks. It is crippling. so we survive. If you’re still with me here, there’s the short answer: Coming home sucks, and we just try to get by and act like everyone else.
— Words and image by Chad Allan Darrah