NOAH ADAMS, host:
Sergeant Major Robert Breeden has seen a lot of action during his 22 years in the Marine Corps.
Sergeant Major ROBERT BREEDEN (U.S. Marine Corps): Coup attempt in the Philippines, standby for Tiananmen Square, L.A. riots, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, eight times in the Persian Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan.
ADAMS: Afghanistan, that was the last tour. And NPR followed Sergeant Major Breeden and his Marine battalion throughout that deployment. Now he's home with his family near Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
Catherine Welch from member station WHQR caught up with Breeden to find out how life is going after combat.
CATHERINE WELCH: Barbara Breeden has been through nearly all of her husband's 13 deployments. This last one was different. The conditions were more austere. The fighting was intense. The battalion lost 14 Marines.
For his homecoming on Thanksgiving, Barbara thought about filling the house with family. But she didn't know how he'd be when he got back, so she kept extended family away. Then she made sure her daughter, Rebecca, understood that things would be a little different when dad returned.
Ms. BARBARA BREEDEN: We just talked about the fact that we can't surprise him with anything. And we had to remember when we were out, loud noises were probably going to freak him out a little bit.
WELCH: When the battalion returned from Afghanistan, Marine counselors asked the families to monitor the men for signs of stress. Barbara is watching but she's watching a man with more than 20 years in the Marine Corps, so it's been hard to read the signs and know what they mean. He's uncomfortable in crowds. But what does she make of the fact that for a few days he drove slower than usual?
Sgt. Maj. BREEDEN: I did drive slow, 'cause you don't, you can't drive fast over there.
WELCH: Or how he shops. He'll go in for one thing and walk out with hundreds of dollars of all sorts of things. Breeden identifies with the scene in the war film "The Hurt Locker," when the main character, back from Iraq, is overwhelmed by the cereal aisle.
Sgt. Maj. BREEDEN: That's exactly right. You'll be like, okay, I need cereal. Okay, what do I want? I want Capn Crunch. Go in there with a plan.
WELCH: Breeden's wife and daughter make fun of all of this. They say they're surprised by how quickly he has adjusted. Part of what works for him is to be off on his own.
Ms. BREEDEN: I just send him out to his shed and let him play. Well, what if he's out there all day? I don't care. At least I know where he's at.
WELCH: Where he's at is in his workshop out in the backyard. That's what he calls his enclave from reality.
Sgt. Maj. BREEDEN: It's dirty, but this is my stress relief.
WELCH: His biggest battle now is against boredom. He's back from Afghanistan, but orders for his next assignment haven't come in yet. So he works on a kitty condo - a tower for the family's cats. Projects fill much of the workshop, carving tools cover the walls, and over in the corner - his laptop.
Sgt. Maj. BREEDEN: Got my Wi-Fi. I don't need to come in the house for anything unless I have to use the bathroom.
WELCH: That's fine with Barbara. When she needs him, she knows how to get him.
Ms. BREEDEN: Either Becca and I text-message him that dinner's ready, or we'll send him a note on Facebook, dinner's ready.
WELCH: This is Sergeant Major Breeden's life after Afghanistan. He loves the home-cooked meals and being with his wife and daughter. But he actually seems to miss the war.
Sgt. Maj. BREEDEN: The whole time I was on deployment, you know, everybody was waiting to come home. I wasn't, because I have a weird feeling that a very good chance it was my last deployment.
WELCH: Are you going to miss the battlefield?
Sgt. Maj. BREEDEN: Yes. I've already told them that there's times where I wish I was back there because of what they're going through and what I've already been exposed to and, you know, what I can give back to them and...
WELCH: Breeden doesn't think, as he gets closer to retirement, that the Marines are going to assign him to combat again. So he'll have to find his home away from the battlefield.
For NPR News, I'm Catherine Welch.
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