Ten Things You Should Know to Help Bring the OIF/OEF Veteran All the Way Home

By Alison Lighthall, RN, MS
(Former Captain in the US Army Nurse Corps)

10. OIF stands for Operation Iraqi Freedom, also known as the Iraq War, and it began on
March 20th, 2003. OEF stands for Operation Enduring Freedom and is a multinational
military operation aimed at dismantling terrorist groups, mostly in Afghanistan. It
officially commenced on Oct. 7, 2001 in response to the September 11th terrorist attacks;

9. Returning Service Members do not think of themselves as heroes, no matter how
extraordinary their skills, courage, or actions may be. Their heroes are the ones still over
there or coming home in a flag-draped boxes;

8. Service Members are as varied in their political beliefs as everyone else in America.
Some are adamantly against the war, others staunchly support it, and everyone else falls
somewhere in between. Assuming that everyone who joins the military is a card-carrying
right-winger will only make you look stupid;

7. No matter what his or her opinions about the war are, every Service Member of every
branch of the military takes a solemn oath to support and follow our Commander In Chief,
the President of the United States, and therefore cannot say anything derogatory about

6. No one can describe how hot it was while deployed in a war zone, so don’t ask a
returning Vet about the heat. Instead, imagine yourself putting on every piece of winter
gear you own, in multiple layers, putting a metal bowl over your head, turning your oven
on to 120 degrees, climbing inside, and living there for 6 months;

5. Worse still is asking any Veteran, “Did you kill anyone?” It is an unanswerable question.
Perhaps she did and wished she hadn’t. Perhaps he didn’t and wished he had. Perhaps
she did, but it wasn’t fast enough to prevent a comrade’s death. Perhaps it was
accidental or perhaps it was so many instances of killing, he lost count. War requires
things of us and taps into parts of us that are never otherwise touched-things most
people need to work through or want to forget. US military personnel do not take killing
lightly, and anyone who has not been there simply cannot discuss it with those who have,
much less pass judgment. Listen quietly if they choose to talk about it, but otherwise,
leave it alone;

4. OIF/OEF Veterans often want to go back to the war zone. Sometimes it’s because they
feel called to go in to finish the mission or support their buddies, sometimes it’s because
they feel they can no longer fit in to American society and its frivolous interests and fads.
But regardless of reason, it is fairly common, so if they tell you they’re planning on
redeploying, please don’t look at them as if they are insane

3. They are exhausted when they get home-physically, psychologically, emotionally, and
spiritually exhausted. They often do not have the energy or focus to talk for long periods
of time. It will take some time for them to adjust, so follow their lead;

2. There is nothing black-and-white about what has happened to them. Almost always,
there are good things that come from a deployment experience. Likewise, there are
some pretty difficult things that they face once they are back home. Do not make any
assumptions about their experiences;

And the # 1 thing you should know about OIF/OEF Veterans are…

1. They are not the same people they were before they deployed. But do not assume that
is a bad thing. The Service Member may come home more confident, with better
problem-solving skills. He may return with a deeper sense of gratitude for the comforts
that he used to take for granted or she may have found a greater sense of purpose and
direction than she ever had before. Yes, there may be many unseen wounds of the soul
and spirit. But there are tremendous resources to help heal those wounds, both for the
Service Member and the Service Member’s family, and an ever growing number of
people who truly care and want to help.

If every American understood these 10 important facts about our returning Veterans, life
would be a lot easier for them. So pass it on.

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