Adjusting to life after deployment

0021“Traffic lights and signs didn’t really mean a lot to me when I came back,” said Jason Schweitzer, “because they didn’t really mean anything when I was in Iraq.”

    First Sergeant Jason Schweitzer served in Iraq with the 2-135th Infantry Battalion, Minnesota Army National Guard. To many, traffic and road construction aren’t a big obstacle. But considering that many roads
in Iraq are torn up with barricades everywhere, traffic and construction are just one more thing soldiers have to readjust to upon their return.

    “Every pothole could have an IED (improvised explosive device) in it,” said Schweitzer. “We were always hypervigilant about all that.”  Schweitzer’s wife, Sara, did most of the driving when Schweitzer returned to give him time to adjust. 

    Even going out to eat with his family could cause unforeseen reactions. “I remember we were eating at Kentucky Fried Chicken and the kid in the back kept slamming the freezer door,” recalled Schweitzer. “To me that sound triggered the sound of rocket fire that was at our base all the time.” Even though he knew the sound was not rocket fire, it still disturbed him to the point that he had to leave the restaurant.

    With the Army National Guard, many soldiers are returning to the jobs they had before they left. An already difficult adjustment becomes more complicated because they haven’t accrued time off from their employers during their deployments. They don’t have time to get reacquainted with their families or even for appointments. Schweitzer, a children’s mental health case manager for Zumbro Valley Mental Health Center, says he has to take time off  to work with the VA (Veteran’s Administration).

    Access to facilities is also a problem in Rochester and other parts of Minnesota. While the local clinic can diagnosis, assess and order certain medications, treatment or additional assistance requires a trip to the Twin Cities.

    For returning servicemen and their families, both Schweitzers recommend patience and taking time to adjust. Sara recommends planning fun activities rather than jumping into house projects or other chores. Also try to plan for the eventual adjustment period.

    “The number one thing I would tell [soldiers],” said Schweitzer, “is to take time off … save up some of the money while on deployment if you can.”

Anna Matetic is a local writer and business owner. She is also a member of the Steering Committee for Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Southeast Minnesota.