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

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 him;

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 into 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 is ...

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.

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

Earning Trust

For many who have lived with the effects of intense stress or trauma, trust does not come easily, and in some cases it may not come at all. 

High Alert:  Many veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have spent months or years hyper-aware and on high alert.  Those who also grew up in homes where substance use disorders or other challenges created “sub-currents” in the family system may have been on alert long before their military service began.  Many veterans’ radar is acutely sensitive, so they will miss nothing.  And you might not be trusted until you earn their trust.

Adapted from ATTC

What to Call Service Men and Women

Whenever we communicate with someone of another culture, we naturally have questions about language.  Learning about military terminology and values is an important step in preparing to serve this population, and one area of language—learning how to refer to service members and veterans—is an important sign of respect to the veteran.

The terms “Service Member” and “Military Member” are used in these pages because they are the most inclusive, referring to people in all branches of the U.S. Armed Services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines) and to both Active and Reserve (e.g., National Guard, Army Reserve) Components.  “Soldier” refers to someone in the Army (Active or Reserve), “Sailor” to someone in the Navy, and “Airman” to someone in the Air Force.  Using these terms correctly is a sign that you know a bit about the culture, and a sign of respect.

With many cultures, there is a difference between the way we refer to ourselves and the way we are comfortable having others refer to us.  The word “warrior” is a good example of a term that is used quite a bit within the military culture, and in a number of materials written about the military experience, but would be likely to fall flat if a civilian clinician introduced it in conversation.  If the veteran introduced it and you were responding, that would be a different matter.  But according to one veteran interviewee, using “warrior” as a way to show your knowledge of the terminology would not be a good idea.

And a word that is used quite a bit in the media is “hero.”  In many venues it is used almost as a synonym for “Service Member.”  Its uses may range from an expression of admiration and respect to an attempt to flatter and manipulate.

Adapted from ATTC

Understanding the Positive Aspects

For the empathic soul who has not been to war but has heard enough to guess at the depth of its tragedies, it may be difficult to think of the Service Member as having had positive experiences in the war zone.  But there are many aspects of the military culture and experience that are positive, reassuring, satisfying, and marked by deep bonds of friendship and mutual protection.  It is frustrating to many Service Members and veterans that many civilians think of the experience in Iraq and Afghanistan purely in terms of violence and destruction.  Here are just a few of the experiences some veterans have cited as positive:

  • The deep friendships they formed within their Unit
  • The knowledge that their buddies would be willing to die to protect them, and that they would be willing to die to protect their buddies
  • A powerful sense of mission and purpose in their work
  • The rush of sympathetic chemicals (e.g., adrenaline, norepinephrine, dopamine) that comes with battle
  • A wonderful sort of “gallows humor” that helps them gain perspective and cope with life
  • Interactions with children and other friendly civilians within the war zone
  • The opportunities to help civilians within the community build a new society and recover from the effects of war

To assume that any particular veteran had experienced any or all of these benefits would be just as inadvisable as it would be to assume the worst about his or her experience.  The key is to:

  • Listen
  • Follow where he or she leads
  • Look for strengths, resources, and resilience
  • Respect the complexity of his or her experience.