Battle wounds

BY: SHIMA RAZIPOUR

When I was younger, there was a military recruiting center next door to my parent’s restaurant. I’ll never forget the day my mom told me that if I ever came across one of the soldiers, I should shake their hand and thank them for their service. Nearly 15 years later, I not only value and respect soldiers, but I have a greater understanding of why they should be honored.

In a whirlwind of emotions, time, and departure, our nation has felt the wrath of war in recent years. Since 2011 I have dreaded the month of September, deeply embedded in my thoughts. A month that seemed so far away came too quickly for me— It would date the exact month I would kiss my soldier goodbye.

Anticipating September, I took great strides in filling 2011 with everlasting smiles, trips, and captured moments.  Somehow, in the midst of good times and numerous scrapbooks of memories made, September came and so did the tears.

 On September 19, 2011, I held onto the hands of a man who gave me my first kiss, my first love, and every smile of 2011. I sat in a room filled with families, loved ones, and friends of the men and women of the 578th Engineer Battalion. Despite the sadness, solitude, and fear everyone felt from departing loved ones for an entire year, I found great comfort, and warmth from the smiles of strangers in the room.

September 21, 2012. He’s home.

After a long, anticipating year,  my boyfriend came home. The first month was spent celebrating my birthday, having dinners, and rekindling our love. It was the honeymoon stage all over again but It didn’t last long.

Less than two months after his return, I began to notice a change in my boyfriend. He seemed short-tempered and emotionally numb. He physically, mentally, and emotionally checked-out from me.  I had read prior to him coming home how I should “handle” soldiers, but it was difficult to just let him be.  I spent the rest of 2012 and 2013 trying to “save” my soldier.

We learned he was suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). After several breakups and reunions, we sought couples’ therapy through the soldier project, a non-profit organization that supports soldiers after war.

For six months, we spent each Friday with a professional who guided us through understanding one another and building our connection again. Just as I thought we were back to good, September came. One year after he returned home, I lost my soldier again. After months of trying, he had checked out from me completely and I was devastated.

As the girlfriend of a soldier, I have witnessed the emotional extent of war and how it affects those involved. I have spoken to wives, mothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles of those who are currently serving and have served. I have learned the immense dedication, honor, and pride these men and women have established in allowing us the freedom we have each and everyday.

Although it hurts and there remains a battle wound in my heart, I only hope to commend each soldier for his or her hard work each time they return home, welcomed by fireworks greater than the fourth of July.  I dream our soldiers can find the solace they need, through the support of family, friends, and strangers. I dream that they find fulfillment in their days, in pursuing new careers, and seeking opportunity. I dream that Americans will understand the sacrifices these men and women have taken, so that we can invest more in funding counseling for soldiers when they return home.

Too many families have been broken because of war.  The battlefield is never quiet. Some battle wounds are deeper, more internal than many would ever imagine. Many soldiers have had their lives cut too short at the cost of war.

I have felt the wrath a deployment, the sadness of saying goodbye, the excitement of saying hello, and even losing someone because of war. It’s never easy, but because of their heroism, I value freedom so much more.