CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:
Time to check in with StoryCorps and the Military Voices Initiative, honoring post-9/11 service members and their families.
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HEADLEE: Today, two veterans who had trouble coming back from war. Marine Corporal Paul Wayman served two combat tours in Iraq. His friend, Nathanael Roberti, is a former Navy SEAL who deployed to Afghanistan. They met in 2012, when they found themselves in front of a special court for veterans, which takes into account the specific struggles that servicemen and women face. The judge gave them a choice: prison or enrolling in a program that helps vets readjust to civilian life. They chose to go through the program. At StoryCorps, they talked about how they got there. Paul begins their conversation.
CORPORAL PAUL WAYMAN: I did two combat deployments to Iraq I would be sleep-deprived for months. I would remember drinking just to sleep. And after I got back from my first deployment, I didn't sleep for three days. I went to one of my seniors, and I was, like, what do I do? And he handed me a bottle of rum and a PBR, and he was, like, here you go.
NATHANAEL ROBERTI: For me, it started off with just bar fights. I pulled a knife on four individuals. That's why I ended up in front of a judge. I mean, we'd come back from these deployments and I just felt like I cannot relate to anybody here in the United States anymore.
WAYMAN: The disconnect is huge. Yeah.
ROBERTI: Basically, what the world's telling us is: we trained you one way to go kill bad guys and now that you're out, you've got to completely change your way of thinking. And how do you do that? How do you switch that around?
ROBERTI: So, how did you end up being in front of a judge?
WAYMAN: We got word that one of our buddies was killed in Afghanistan. Went to a few bars, driving home I got pulled over. I was obviously highly intoxicated. I had my .45 right there, and the police found the firearm. And I really needed the help, 'cause you walk through a river, you're going to come out wet. It's funny 'cause I noticed we've always thrived in hardship, but whenever things are easy...
ROBERTI: ...we're our own worst enemies because we don't live the quiet, normal life. And that's why we hit it off in the beginning. And we told our war stories to each other and it was important for us to have that relationship because you and I, we kind of helped each other through it.
WAYMAN: If you wouldn't have been here, I do not know how I would have pulled myself out of the situation I was in. You really came through.
ROBERTI: Now, here we are a year later, dude, and I'm running a successful business now. I'm about to be running another business with you. And without getting, you know, too mushy, I've seen you grow, man. And, you know, it's a good thing to see.
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HEADLEE: That was Nathanael Roberti, an Afghanistan veteran and former Navy SEAL. He was talking to his friend, Marine Corporal Paul Wayman, who served in Iraq. Both continue to work through the program and they hope to get their charges dismissed by the end of the year. The business they're starting together will be to teach military skills as fitness. Their conversation was recorded in San Diego, California. And, like all StoryCorps recordings, it's archived at the Library of Congress. Get the StoryCorps podcast at npr.org.