Transitioning from military to civilian life, and from camaraderie to isolation

Transition from Military to Civilian LifeThe only light in the vast Wyoming darkness came from the lit end of another 5:30 a.m. cigarette as Derric Winters waited alone for sunrise on the porch of his trailer. He never slept well, not anymore, so he smoked and stared across the three miles of barren landscape that separated him from town. He checked his voice mail, but there were no messages. He logged on to Facebook, but no one was awake to chat. The only company now was the hum of the interstate behind his trailer, people on their way from one place to the next. He walked out to his truck and joined them.

His shirt read “ARMY,” his hat read “10th Mountain Division,” and his license plate read “Disabled Veteran.” Five bullets rattled on his dashboard as he swerved around another car with his right fist pressed against the horn. “Come on,” he said. “Go. Just go!” It had been five years since he returned from 16 months at war, and some days he still acted like he was back in Afghanistan. Many days, he wished that he were.

AFTER THE WARS:

This is the fifth story in a multi-part series examining the effects of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars on the 2.6 million American troops who served and fought. Find the full results of a nationwide survey of active-duty troops and veterans here.

“The lonely process of overcoming combat” was what one doctor called it as he prescribed Winters the latest in a series of anti-anxiety medications. But what the doctor didn’t seem to understand was that this was the place Winters was failing to overcome —  the America where he felt discouraged and detached, and where his transition seemed like a permanent state. “What the hell am I supposed to do next?” he had asked his commanding officer when he was medically discharged from the Army, which had provided his income, his sense of purpose, his self-esteem and 15 of his closest friends in a platoon they called “The Brotherhood.”

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