Quora Answers: How Do Military Veterans Feel When They Return Home From Combat?

Jonathan Kirk Davis, Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps

It is an experience that is incredibly difficult to understand and describe.

I will try to describe the emotional/psychological process that I and many other fellow Marines (soldiers, sailors, etc) experienced.

Before you understand what a returning Marine/soldier/sailor/etc experiences when they come home, you have to know what they really go through when they are over there.

What we all experience, combat or none, is a very, very long period of extended absence from comfort, security, our families, and breaks. The Marines spend seven months on deployment. Army is about twice that, but they don’t go as often. That means months where you deal with the same people day, after day, after day. There is no change and no break. You work with them, you eat with them, and you live with them. If you can’t stand them, oh well. If your boss is a jerk or psycho, there isn’t even the escape of going home at the end of the day or having a weekend. Now you need to consider the war side of things. In the best case scenario, you are under the constant threat of surprise attack. Car bombs, roadside bombs, suicide bombers, mortars. Looking at people everywhere who you can see absolutely hate you. In the worst case scenario, you actually fight. You might kill people. You might lose friends. But I won’t get into what it’s like for those cases, they are pretty tough to nail down and can vary wildly. But whatever picture I drew, don’t think about how it sucks for a few short periods of intense violence; imagine it sucking for months and months of a slow drone and a psychological beating.

And then you come home. Everything is fine now right? Not really …

First, we are absolutely elated to come home, see our families, go to our bars, women … This is a high that can’t really be expressed very accurately. In a way, you are doing things that you have done many times before, but it has been so long that it feels completely foreign to you. When you see your wife, she is unfamiliar to you. When you first see her, you get the smell of her hair and her embrace, but there are subtle differences that make you feel as if things are different somehow. Her hair has changed or she has new interests. It kind of feels like a first date for a few weeks as you try to remember how you fit together again … figuratively speaking. This “second first date” is the same with all the things you do, hanging out with your old friends, going to favorite hangouts. But don’t get me wrong. Even if we are quiet about it and act like it is no big deal, these are some of the happiest days we have ever had.

Second, there is residual stress that carries over from a combat deployment. While on deployment, military people deal with each other in ways that are not normal in civilian America. We are harsh with each other and don’t often act with kindness and gentleness with one another. Add this to natural combat stress, the constant concern that you may get attacked, the wondering if a vehicle near you is going to blow up, always seeing in the eye of every local that they want to kill you.  You are suspicious, tightly wound, and easily angered. I remember several times waking up in my bed even a few months after deployment and panicking because I couldn’t find my weapon. You also don’t mesh well with your families. They do things you don’t understand. They do things you don’t understand, mostly because they have grown very independent of you. Many confuse this for a feeling that you are unwanted or unneeded, and this makes the returning person very irritable. Combine all these, and you have an explanation as to why so many men returning from “over there” come back angry and beat their wives. It is difficult to transition between two worlds and some, especially those who experience combat, don’t cope well. It isn’t right, but it happens.

Third, there is a long phase where you try to adjust to having your life back. To be honest, it is never the same as before you left. You are changed by the experience of a combat deployment, even after the first. Every time you go, you change. And so does everyone else that you care about. Everyone matures naturally, but independent of each other, and you have to reintegrate into each other’s lives again. Young Marines often have a hard time keeping control; husbands fight with wives, and fathers can’t communicate with kids (and don’t be naive, this is different from those people who think it is the same as having teenagers). It takes time before everything settles down emotionally. Most people make it through this phase OK, but unfortunately, many don’t.

This is the part of coming home most people don’t really talk about.

This question originally appeared on Quora.

As a special bonus, this post was also published on Forbes.com.


Quora Answers: Who have been the greatest warrior races throughout history?

This is the first of a series of posts I intend share with my followers of answers I make to questions posted on the website Quora. Quora is an internet community where the users have the ability to share and promote their questions to users who have the best ability to answer it. It is much like Yahoo answers, but updated and community centered. This series is a break from some of the themes of some of heavier articles and gets more into some of the things that just interest me.

This question was:

Who have been the greatest warrior races throughout history?

Jon’s Answer:

The Spartans

It wasn’t just that these guys were awesome in 300. It’s that barring a bit of literary license where they didn’t wear enough armor and the field was bit off, not to mention the mutant Persians, the story was totally true.

The Spartans were a fierce culture that prided itself in its military upbringing. The warriors were those who were the survivors of the first eugenic filtering process in history, where the babies who were not born up to code were discarded. The male children, upon the age of adolescence, were taken to warrior training until they reached manhood. From this point on they become part of the Spartan Army as a Spartan Hoplite.

The Spartans were not only a fierce band of warriors, but also the best tacticians of the era.

  • While the rest of the world was content to create a massive slave army, the Spartans were one of the first to create a volunteer army. They believed, and rightly so, that free men would fight harder if they had something to gain or lose from the wars.
  • While the rest of the world was content to armor their warriors in cloth with wicker shields and copper or brass weapons, the Spartans were using bronze helmets, chest plates, bracers, shin protectors, spears, swords, and their most unappreciated weapon… the Spartan shield.
  • The importance of the shield, however, wasn’t that it was one of the most offensively powerful tools of war, it was in modern terms a force multiplier. A force multiplier is something in war that increases the offensive or defensive capabilities of many other tactics or tools. The shield gave a Spartan warrior complete protection for their entire body against both arrows, spears and other warriors. The shield was unique in that it had the ability to also be used offensively to create massive amounts of force directed into opponents. This force has been measured to be able to generate force in access of being hit by a car, in the face.  Even more importantly the shield allowed the Spartans to perfect a tactic called the Phalanx.
  • The Phalanx was a tactic in which many Hoplites form a wall of shields. Several actually, many rows deep. Projecting from the walls of shields were row after row after row of spears. And not the tiny spears from 300, 30 feet long spears. Yeah, 30 feet. Imagine trying to fight through a wall of pointy spears, only to have to push through a wall of bronze, only to face the fully armored Spartan warrior himself. It’s just a bad day for everyone, isn’t it?
  • To emphasize their brutality, there was the Spartan habit of ritualistically slaughtering the outlying tribes around Sparta. This was called the Perioikoi and these people were called the Helots. They were a race of free Greeks who were conquered and enslaved by the Spartans. After that they put them to fields. After all, the Spartans were all already busy being warriors, how could they be expected to also be farmers? Every now and then the Spartans would also declare war on the Helots. It wasn’t really a fair fight since they didn’t allow them to train or make weapons, but it must have been fun for them. They held the Perioikoi for more than 100 years. Was it cruel? Yes. Was it barbaric? Yes. Did it make for callous and viscous fighters? Definitely.
  • There was also an interesting perspective of the Spartans; never run, never quit. There was a saying attributed to Spartan mothers who sent their sons off to war: “Come back with this shield or upon it.” What this entailed is actually very deep. The shield was over forty pounds of metal. It was not an easy thing to haul around. For this reason, running was not a very necessary skill when using the shield. And as I mentioned before, it was basically the center of the Spartan military strategy. Now let’s consider you are facing a terrifying battle. You decide to run. You could never escape with the shield so the only choice for a Spartan coward was to abandon the shield. The other option referred to the respect Spartans gave to their dead warriors. The warriors who survived would carry their fallen back on the shield to Sparta for honorable cremation. This gave the Spartan warrior three choices in battle. To win and return with the shield, to die in the service of Sparta and be carried home upon the shield, or run in which you had better not return at all.
  • Finally the battle of Thermopylae, perhaps the greatest military event in history, is the legacy of the greatest warrior race in history. This battle was the pinnacle of military perfection in that it stacked a monumentally outnumbered force against one of the largest armies in the world. The Spartans perfectly used their terrain to funnel the hordes of Persians into their spears. A shear rock face guarded the West flank and the sea was directly to the East. The Persians were so inferior in armaments and training that tens of thousands were slaughtered at the hands of 300 Spartan Hoplites and around 1000 other Greek Hoplites.

    This battle was much more important because it served as a maneuver that stalled the Persians long enough that the Athenian navy was able to sail around the land battle and assault the Persian fleet. This disrupted the supply lines of the Persian army and most likely cost them the strategic victory in the battle. The Spartan warriors were able to fight and stall the Persians, a force that many have estimated at more than 1,000,000 warriors, keeping them at bay for more than 3 days. By comparison, the Alamo, where Texas soldiers were famed for fighting gallantly against a massive army of Mexican soldiers was 150 against 5,000 and lasted around 90 minutes. While the Spartans were all eventually killed, they achieved one of the most stunning strategic victories of all time: 300 Spartans, 1 million Persians and 3 days. This battle was the moment in time when the Spartans gained the respect of the entire world as the greatest warrior race in history.

    But don’t get me wrong. All the rest of you are entitled to your opinions.

And as a special bonus: A lego phalanx. Enjoy.