COLUMN: There is no real transition from a combat zone, just dormant pain

Jon Weiler

Jon WeilerColumnist

I’m working for a grocery company as a warehouse manager. It’s interesting work. As my boss tells me (he’s a former paratrooper too with 3rd BDE, 82nd Airborne Division), “…They’re just groceries. No one is trying to kill us”.

This was part of an email that I received from a good friend of mine recently. He spent a total of three full years in Iraq that revolved around less than a six month break in between each tour. I caught up with him one time in 2006 when he was stationed in Alaska and he took me to a local restaurant in Anchorage that specializes in Halibut (the fish) pizza. He stated that it was a regional specialty and I believed him since I had never heard of it before. However, the highlight of the evening was not the pizza, although it was surprisingly very good, but the tears in my friend’s eyes as he told me he did not want to go back to Iraq for another year. I wasn’t expecting the conversation to go this way and made no attempt for an answer for there was none. I rode into Iraq with this man. He was part of our vehicular mounted company and would insert us into our drop off point on various missions throughout that year. He would also pull us out when we got into trouble. I have seen him under fire on several occasions, always steadfast and very dependable. Now I was sitting across from him in a restaurant two years later, watching him cry over a piece of fish pizza.

The reality of a combat zone is that you can spend most of your life in one place, the place in which you call home, but after a year in a 360 battle zone, the perception of home changes entirely. What I realize now, what I couldn’t see then, was that I was crying right along with him. At that time, I was a civilian working alongside the military, so I was still around soldiers which made my life transition somewhat easier. But it didn’t matter – not in the grand scheme of things anyways. There is no real transition from a combat zone. The underlying issues just stay dormant until the right time presents itself and the unidentifiable but incredibly acute pain becomes part of everyday life, like a blister that won’t heal. Combat veterans walk with some sort of pain every single day.

We all know a veteran. Many are neighbors, family members, spouses, fathers and mothers. Their pain does not stop when they come home from war. In many ways, it is just beginning. A few weeks ago I received an email from an observant gentleman who pointed out that neither one of the candidates running to represent South Dakota in Congress was asked their positions on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This makes me extremely disappointed in both the local media and the candidates themselves. War truly has become common. Both John Thune and Kristi Noem are supportive of veterans, which they should be, but why not just stop making veterans? Ten years of war and no one asks her position. If you love your brothers and sisters like I love my brothers and sisters, if you love your father and mother like I love my father and mother, and if you love your friends and neighbors like I love my friends and neighbors, then you will look inside your hearts first and ask yourself where you stand on these forever wars.

Then ask those who represent us in Congress.

Jon Weiler is a non-traditional student at SDSU majoring in English. Contact him at [email protected]