Coping With Move From War To Home — And Back

Commentator Ben Tupper is back from his tour of duty as a National Guard officer in Afghanistan. He has been dealing with post-traumatic stress. Recently he had a reunion with a friend whose PTSD is much worse — and who has much less time to work on it, because he is about to deploy to Iraq.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And as we've learned, service members returning from war also face other problems. Commentator Benjamin Tupper was an Army National Guard officer imbedded as a trainer with the Afghan National Army. He returned from Afghanistan last year, and he has seen firsthand how hard that transition can be.

BENJAMIN TUPPER: Recently, my friend Vandy(ph) came to visit me for a weekend reunion. When I picked him up at the train station, I saw that his arms were covered in cuts and scabs. He was wearing a knee brace, and his swollen and bruised knuckles suggested many punches thrown and landed. He told me all these injuries were the results of bar fights, some more successful than others.

A few months ago, Vandy had called me excitedly after totaling his car in a drag race on a city street. I knew all this was not out of the ordinary for recently returned combat veterans. Vandy's attitude at war and at home was always damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. He had the closest life and death call of his tour just days before he left Afghanistan. Most soldiers bunker down during their last days in country, but Vandy wasn't one to play defense. He liked to run up the score.

As his convoy was returning to base, his Humvee was rocked by a suicide bomber. The blast came without warning, and he told me the destruction darkened the world like an eclipse of the sun, choking out the light with dust and smoke. Vandy continued to drive forward through the kill zone, as we are trained to do. Vandy told me he wished he'd been able to go back to treat the wounded civilians, even though that could've exposed him to a secondary explosion or ambush. Had he been in charge of the convoy, I have no doubt that's what he would've done.

During his visit here, I coerced Vandy into accompanying me to my PTSD counseling appointment at our local vet center. We spend an awkward and difficult hour scratching the surface of his war-related issues with my counselor. Nothing miraculous happens in one counseling session, but maybe he took away something he can build on.

Vandy's visit was stressful for me, too. It was a reminder of what we went through in Afghanistan and how it changed us. And it reminded me of how close I've been to that edge of fights and car wrecks and bad decisions.

In a few months, Vandy will return to a combat zone with his National Guard unit. This time, it will be Iraq. Knowing this made it all the harder to say goodbye to him at the train station. As we hugged goodbye, I couldn't help but smile. Vandy's tough, and despite his missteps, he still keeps moving forward full speed ahead.

MONTAGNE: Commentator Benjamin Tupper was a captain with the Army National Guard in Afghanistan.

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