Newlywed Reflects On Return To War U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Josh Apsey, 20, is preparing to return to Afghanistan's volatile Helmand province for his second deployment. Much will be different this time -- he will be one of the more experienced members of his battalion, and he will be leaving a new family member behind: his wife.
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A New Husband Reflects On Returning To Afghanistan

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A New Husband Reflects On Returning To Afghanistan

A New Husband Reflects On Returning To Afghanistan

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We're going to return now to a Marine family we've met before. Lance Corporal Josh Apsey is a member of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, known as America's Battalion. We followed these Marines throughout 2009 when they spent six months in Afghanistan's Helmand Province. We also met many of their families, including Apsey's parents. They worried about their son - all the time -waiting for the phone to ring. Halfway through that deployment, our reporter happened to be visiting when he called.

Mr. TOM APSEY: Hey, Josh. How you doing, son? I'm doing great. It's great to hear from you. Hey, listen, I know your mom wants to talk to you. And I love you and I miss you, and I just can't wait to see you, son.

SIEGEL: That was late 2009. Corporal Josh Apsey made it home safely from that deployment. But the time has come for him to head back to Afghanistan for a second tour.

Catherine Welch, with member station WRNI, caught up with the Apsey family just before he was due to leave.

CATHERINE WELCH: This is one of the last times Josh Apsey will sit down for dinner with his parents before heading back to Afghanistan. Vicki Apsey buzzes around the kitchen. She's making meatloaf and stir-fried brussel sprouts.

Ms. VICKI APSEY: Most people don't like brussel spouts, but got a good recipe here so we'll give it a shot.

WELCH: Josh is leaving for Helmand Province. He returned from there a little more than a year ago. This deployment's going to be different.

Last time, a Bible his mom gave him was his most treasured possession. This time, he's leaving it behind. It's full of sand from Afghanistan and now, his mom will turn to it for comfort. Josh is bringing the Kindle he got for Christmas.

Lance Corporal JOSH APSEY (U.S. Marine Corps): I'm definitely stocking that up with lots of books.

WELCH: And he'll return to war with a keepsake from his granddad.

Lance Corporal APSEY: This is a four-leaf clover he found when he was with the Army back in '58. And he gave it to me, and I've kept it in my wallet ever since.

WELCH: Knowing what to bring is nothing compared to what he learned on the battlefield, in one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan.

Lance Corporal APSEY: When we first landed last year, it was kind of a rush - you know, all that adrenaline - and then it was kind of a surprise to actually land there on the ground and to have rounds coming at me. As soon as we land, I'm pretty confident I'll know exactly what I have to do, and I'll be the first one to move, and I can help anyone else who's new to it.

WELCH: Apsey is a mortar man, which means he's on the front lines loading ammo. 9/11 inspired him to join the Marines. He would think about that when he first went to Afghanistan.

Now, he's on the back half of his enlistment, and talking more about getting out of the military. His battalion lost 14 Marines. When he came home, his superiors warned him that everyone deals with grief differently.

How did you deal with it?

Lance Corporal APSEY: I'm not going to lie, there was a period when I went internal and said, you know, I don't necessarily need help from the outside. I don't need to speak to my family about, you know, what's going on.

WELCH: Mostly because he wasn't sure himself what was happening.

Lance Corporal APSEY: You might just find yourself - just sitting there, staring off into space, thinking about something that maybe took place a few months before, and just thinking about how you could have done things differently.

WELCH: We were talking about how those deaths left a hole in the platoon, and how the new Marines in his unit ask him what it feels like to get shot at. But then his mom interrupted and called everyone to dinner.

Josh was 18 years old he left for that first deployment. He's 20 now and has a wife, Carolyn. The couple sat next to each other at the dinner table. His father, Tom, said grace.

Mr. TOM APSEY: Lord, again, we just thank you for this opportunity to be together tonight.

WELCH: Josh and Carolyn had been married for just a few months. He says he returned from Afghanistan feeling older than his age, and ready for marriage. I asked him if he's talked with his wife about what to do if the worst happened. He looked down at his plate.

Have you guys had that talk?

Lance Corporal APSEY: Not really. She is kind of putting it off.

Mrs. CAROLYN APSEY: I'm putting him off, yeah.

Lance Corporal APSEY: We'll probably have it here soon.

Mrs. CAROLYN APSEY: Yeah. The closer it comes.

WELCH: All through the conversation, Josh's father sat quietly at the head of the table. He understands that his role will be different on this deployment, too.

Mr. APSEY: I think it's going to be hard, and I think it's going to be hard because of our new family member in Carolyn, and helping her get through it. But I think all three of us together, you know, with a lot of prayer and a lot of support, it's going to even it out.

WELCH: Josh's parents say it will be a little easier this deployment, having been through it before. They won't worry as much if days and weeks go by without a phone call. But they also know that this time, Josh won't be calling them first. He'll be calling his new wife.

For NPR News, I'm Catherine Welch.

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