Back from Iraq, Dad Settles in at Maryland Home

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Several months ago, National Guardsman Scott Fink returned from Iraq to his family in Maryland. Last week, host Debbie Elliott checked in with the family to see how they are adjusting to life together again.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott. Four months ago we were with Monica Fink and her children when her husband Scott came home from Iraq.

(SOUNDBITE OF FAMILIES)

ELLIOTT: The White Oak Armory in Silver Springs, Maryland was chaotic as hundreds of families welcomed their National Guard troops home after an 18-month deployment to Iraq. Back then, Scott told us how much he was looking forward to getting home to a plate of homemade spaghetti. As we checked back in with the Finks last week, broccoli was on the menu.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILD CRYING)

ELLIOTT: That's five-year-old Daniel refusing to try the broccoli. His three-year-old sister Genèvieve(ph) isn't too fond of it either, and even Scott sticks with the beef macaroni. Monica is bustling between the kitchen table and the stove in the family's only Maryland townhouse, trying to keep the kids focused on the task at hand.

MONICA FINK: Daniel, stopping getting up, or you're going to be finished. Okay, this is why you don't finish your dinner. Your lunch at lunch. Sit until you finish it, and then you go.

ELLIOTT: We're here to find out how Scott Fink is adjusting to life back home.

SCOTT FINK: If I led a mission in Iraq, I figure I can handle my children.

ELLIOTT: Scott's mission now includes finding tutus, loading video games, giving the kids a bath, and getting them to bed each night.

FINK: Actually, spending time with the kids, I enjoy it a lot. And sometimes it can be stressful, but it's not a bad stress. It's just normal, everyday, and it makes me feel normal again, so I kind of enjoy it.

ELLIOTT: It makes you feel normal having the stress of dealing with kids instead of...

FINK: Exactly, instead of like fighting for my life or whatever, am I going to make it back from this mission or that mission.

ELLIOTT: Scott Fink is a sergeant in the 115th Infantry of the Maryland National Guard. Monica works full time as a nurse. While Scott was in Iraq guarding fuel convoys, Monica ran the household on her own with help from her parents. Monica was ready to get back to normal but knew it would take a while. She'd taken a National Guard class that prepares spouses for a soldier's return. Still, it's been a bumpy few months.

FINK: It goes up and down just because we've had so many life changes and him going back to work and his schedule keeps changing. It's just been - it hasn't settled yet, but I know it never does. It's just been an adjust all around. He came home May, I got pregnant in June, and then I was sick for the first three months. I was just laying on the couch, so...

You have to be very careful. That's sharp. Okay? That's to open letters.

DANIEL: I know.

ELLIOTT: The couple took a vacation to Florida right after Scott got back. Then Monica and Scott renewed their wedding vows in a formal church ceremony, something they didn't have when they first married five years ago. Right afterwards, Scott returned to work as a telephone technician for Verizon, and he spends time with his older son from a previous marriage, nine-year-old Thomas. Thomas was having a hard time in school while Scott was in Iraq, but he's doing better now. In fact, all the kids are adjusting just fine to having him back home.

DANIEL: I play with (unintelligible)...

ELLIOTT: Daniel is crawling over his dad on the couch, playing with a tiny Star Wars toy, a stuffed Chewbacca.

FINK: This is something I got in Iraq and I kept it as a good luck charm. So when I got back I gave it to him.

DANIEL: (Unintelligible) and he was watching it...

ELLIOTT: What was it like the first few days you were back?

FINK: It was a little hectic coming from a war zone and you're still a little bit on edge, and it's hard to get used to regular life again. I found myself looking for roadside bombs on the side of the road.

ELLIOTT: Did you find yourself saying why am I thinking this?

FINK: Exactly. It's just the natural reaction. It's the survival instinct over there, so you're always looking and it's hard to, you know, get out of that habit. To just flick the switch and you're home, you're safe, you know, it's hard to do that. It takes a little bit of time before you can relax again.

FINK: He can't sleep at night sometimes. I think he still has dreams and stuff. I have my own reasons for staying up at night. I have to go to the bathroom all the time, and I can't go back to sleep.

ELLIOTT: So Scott you think you are suffering from some of the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder?

FINK: Very mildly. It hasn't been too bad. Sometimes I'm left with - you know, I just don't watch the news anymore because it just makes me angry.

ELLIOTT: Why?

FINK: Because of all the negative press about it. Million of Iraqis go about their daily lives on a daily basis and the majority of them aren't trying to kill us and they're very friendly to us. Can't count how many times they came up and shook my hand and said thank you to me. But you never hear about that on the news or anything like that.

ELLIOTT: Is it hard when you're in a social setting and people bring it up and try to talk about it?

FINK: Yeah, I just kind of avoid that. Kind of want to, you know, get back to normal life, you know, for a little while before I'm ready to really talk about it. I don't care who you are. If you go to a war zone, it's going to change you. It's hard to, you know, think of myself before, and now things are different. But that's the hardest part, just to get to know yourself again.

ELLIOTT: Do you feel like he's still the same man that you fell in love with and married the first time?

FINK: He's still the same person. He's just a different personality sometimes. Because he's very - he's quiet. I mean he's always been quiet, but it's just a little different now. He does get mad quicker now. Not that he has a bad, bad temper, but - I have a worse temper than he does, but...

ELLIOTT: How do you cope with that? How do you cope with the change in his personality?

FINK: I kind of ignore him. I mean I kind of ignore it. I'm like, okay, if that's the way you want to be - I just let him be. I just leave him alone. Easier that way. Then he won't say something or do something that we'll, you know, we'll regret later.

ELLIOTT: How is the relationship between the two of you?

FINK: You know, it's an adjustment. We're still getting used to each other, I think. We just need to have our own time. He likes to always have his own space and you can't always have your own space with two kids.

ELLIOTT: Do you all get to spend much time alone?

FINK: No. We had plans to go out, but then he worked late last weekend. We had a sitter and everything, so we couldn't go.

Genèvieve, please, that's very loud.

ELLIOTT: It's time for Scott to take the kids upstairs to bed, though they keep racing back into the living room to look for forgotten toys. Monica curls up in a big easy chair. She says someday soon they hope to at least make it to a movie together.

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