Military Mama: What to expect when he comes home …


By Jade Stone

No one ever really knows how any soldier will react to their deployment any more than he or she knows what to expect to see when they get there but one thing is for sure, that soldier will never be the same. I’ve been asked on more than one occasion “what was Jay like when he came home”? Well, maybe it’s time to talk about just that. 

I had experienced life with PTSD-riddled Vietnam veterans and knew just how horrible it could be, but I also knew that it was possible to manage. This group of veterans was one of the most highly underserved populations in terms of mental health and as a result many of them dealt with their return by self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, or worse, suicide, while others never spoke a word about their experiences except with other “brothers” who truly understood.

At that time, many people would have rather spat upon a veteran than look at him. The vast majority blamed the soldiers for the war and treated them horribly when they returned. The soldiers who did come back, came back broken and in pieces, both mentally and physically. The absolute very last thing they needed was to be scrutinized by the very public they vowed to serve and had sacrificed so much for. 

Our country swore to do it better with the Iraqi veterans, and in many ways they have. However they underestimated the number of traumatic brain injuries that soldiers would come home with. While any injury to the brain is a traumatic brain injury, these differ from concussions typically because unlike concussions, which are caused typically by blunt force trauma to the head, sometimes combined with torsion of the cervical spine, this type of injury is generally caused by exposure to repetitive percussive forces like explosions, or jet engines.

These kinds of forces shear the connections normally used for sending and receiving information in the brain in such a way that it disrupts the brain’s cognitive abilities, leaving a soldier easily agitated, with some compromised short term memory, an inability to make decisions and think simple problems all the way through. 

Because TBI’s are internal brain injuries, they can be virtually undetected without closer inspection. Soldiers with these injuries are called the “walking wounded” because by all physical appearances, they seemed relatively normal.  There were no scars, no deformities and for the most part, they seemed unchanged. It’s not until you begin to test the cognitive abilities of these soldiers that this injury rears its ugly head. It is at this point that the short term memory loss, inability to make decisions about simple things, anxiety, and short temperedness to name a few become evident. 

I will never forget the very first encounter I had with this new and unusually volatile temperament. Jay had been home 2 days when we decided to go run a few errands. I was driving because he was not able to drive just yet. They recommend that soldiers try to acclimate to their new environments when they return because it is so very different than what they’ve done for several months.

The vehicles he traveled by ground in typically didn’t drive faster than 25 mph, so 70 mph felt like hyper-speed to him for a while. Needless to say, he was a little freaked out by the speed of cars on the interstate and was very relieved when we took the next exit, thinking this would be much easier to deal with. I took the exit and then began to yield before turning right. As I made the right hand turn and began to gain speed to match the surrounding traffic, another vehicle on the other side of the road decided to make a left to go the same way we were but tried to skip the turn lane, nearly pushing us over into the other lane in an effort to avoid a collision. I reacted by braking and laughed because the gentleman (or not so gentleman) believed his blunder to be my fault and gave me the one finger wave before cutting me off yet again. Now, imagine all of that happening in a matter of 2 seconds.

By the time the guy began to show me his aggravation with the one finger salute, I realized Jay was searching his right leg frantically for his side arm that for 18 months was kept concealed on his leg. All I could say was “easy cowboy”. While initially, we both had a good laugh, I quickly realized that this rage-filled, impulsive response was going to be how he dealt with everything for a while. And sure enough, this was only the beginning.  His temper flared over the smallest things.

When faced with a simple decision, Jay would become frustrated with all the choices available and would then just ask me to do it for him. The best representation of this frustration was captured perfectly at the end of the movie “The Hurt Locker”, when the the main character gets to return home and is depicted standing in front of the cereal aisle motionless and defeated, obviously overwhelmed by the choices available to him. The emotion evoked in this scene is by far, in my humble opinion, the best example in film I have ever seen.   

I personally experienced this feeling of desperation one day shortly after his return. We went to grab a bite to eat at a drive thru that had 2 lanes. As he approached, he pulled into the middle and froze not knowing which to take. It’s hard to imagine something so simple being the least bit debilitating. This was an inconsequential decision however to him, it represented everything he was unable to handle in life. I could see defeat in his tear-filled eyes and knew I needed to lead for a while. I firmly grasped his shoulder, looked into his forlorn eyes, and explained that I would take care of this. Then I instructed him to take the right lane, told him exactly what his order would be and then fed him the words as he gave the woman our order.

He was devastated by his inability to make such simple decisions as though it made him somehow less of a man to me.  I knew this would take time but I had no idea how much. Nothing could prepare me for that defeated look in his eyes. It was a side of him I had never seen before but sadly would see more and more often as time passed. My question soon changed from “how long will this take to pass?” to “will this pass? More to come next time…

k-and-j-heads1thumbnail.jpgJade welcomes your comments here as well as any suggestions you may have for her future posts. You may also e-mail her at To read previous Military Mama posts, CLICK HERE.