Veterans' Voices: Returning Home From Afghanistan


This Veterans Day, we're bringing you stories of veterans recounting their homecoming. Some remember being welcomed to the sound of band music and cheering. But Army Spc. Jeanne O'Brien remembers a different, somber scene when she returned home from Afghanistan.

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Today, we have been hearing some veteran stories about what its like to come home from war. For some, homecomings brought fond memories; for others, reentering everyday society was a struggle, a struggle that continues to this day.

Krista Almanzan of member station KAZU has the story of one soldiers return after being wounded in Afghanistan.

KRISTA ALMANZAN: An accident sent Army Specialist Jeanne OBrien home on a stretcher in 2007. While guarding ammunition in Afghanistan, a Chinook helicopter landed nearby, knocking over a piece of plywood, which knocked OBrien in the head and into the metal ammunition boxes. The impact left her with head, back and leg injuries. Soon, she was on a plane to the United States.

Specialist JEANNE OBRIEN (U.S. Army): The one thing I remember was when they took me off the plane they kept saying, dont worry, we wont drop you. Dont worry, we wont drop you. But it was strange to be back.

To begin with, I didnt want to be medevaced back. I wanted to stay and finish out my tour. I wanted to stay with my unit because you become very closed knit. And to be medevaced backe seven-and-a-half months into a 15-month tour, where youre leaving everybody behind, youre leaving everybody in danger, I still have issues with it.

But I was in the hospital unit for 18 months and it becomes a long drawn out process, it becomes very frustrating because you feel like youre stuck in limbo. Youre in the military, you cant do your job. Youre not a normal soldier, but youre not a civilian either.

ALMANZAN: A few months into her treatment at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, she saw her first familiar face from her home in California. Her fiancee, Chris.

Spc. OBRIEN: Thats when you really realize Im finally home. He dropped everything. He dropped his job. He dropped his place to live. He put everything in storage and came out there to stay with me to help me. I was having a lot of difficulty and I still have a lot of difficulty with normal everyday things.

At that point in time, I was falling down a lot. I had trouble keeping track of even what day it was. He would do everything from helping me to get my boots on, to helping me to get my laundry done, to helping me carry my tray in the chow line, so many things. And he still does so much. I will never be able to thank him enough for what he does for me.

ALMANZAN: Specialist OBrien medically retired from the Army. She returned to the Monterey Bay Area where she continues treatment for her injuries.

For NPR News, Im Krista Almanzan in Monterey.

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