What Happens When Soldiers Become Civilians Again? | Reader's Digest

What Happens When Soldiers Become Civilians Again?

Three men fought together on the front lines in Iraq, but faced new perils and different fates when they came back. Meet America's servicemen as they return from war.

By Brian Mockenhaupt from Reader's Digest Magazine | June 2012

What Happens When Soldiers Become Civilians Again?Courtesy Nathan Fletcher
The Student

“I molded myself more after him than anyone else,” says Nathan Fletcher about Quilty. Now in his second year at Keuka College, a school of about 1,900 students in upstate New York, Fletcher was on patrol with Quilty when he stepped on the IED. The two friends stayed in touch during Quilty’s rehabilitation, and Quilty started urging Fletcher to think about his post-Army life. “What’s your game plan?” he wanted to know.

Fletcher had tried college before he joined the Army but left after a semester and worked in a restaurant. This time, he felt he was ready for it. Quilty encouraged him to apply to schools while he was still a soldier, rather than wait until he was out, when time would slip by and motivation might fade.

At first, Fletcher, 27, didn’t tell his teachers or fellow students he had been to war. “I blended in, same as when I went to basic training. You sit back and observe and get a good feel for what’s going on before you start opening your mouth,” he says. Quilty believes that Fletcher’s combat experience gave him a maturity that sets him apart from his fellow students. “He understands what a bad day really is, and it’s not necessarily having too many papers due,” he says.

Though Fletcher rarely refers to Iraq and his military service there, he has built several close relationships with classmates and professors and participates in a campus leadership program. Fitting in at college was a pleasant surprise for him. “I found it really difficult to believe I’d have things in common with people so different from me,” he says. He stays close to several Army friends and talks to Quilty by phone regularly, about his classes and Quilty’s work, their families, and news of Army buddies. “If it wasn’t for the support networks, it would be unbearable at times,” Fletcher says.

Like Quilty, who wants to be seen as a businessman, not a wounded vet, Fletcher embraces his civilian identity. He’s a student, like any other, though the GI Bill and school grants for vets cover most of his costs. He’s studying psychology, drawn to the subject by a desire to better understand the damage that war has done to him and his friends. He wants to help others, not just vets, and he’s already working as a nursing assistant at an inpatient mental health clinic near his school.

  • Your Comments

    • Margaretpurrcell45

      My dad was 45 wen I was born n he stayed strong. but the flashbacks. and the haunted look he would get on his facce and tthe nights he would have scremiing nightmares. have and will haunt me all my life, I’m 48

    • Dee “Phoenix” Hudson

      This was a very touching story. I had hoped that the last soldier would make it but unfortunately he took his own life. Quilty and the rest should know that Duefield didn’t kill himself to be noticed. He just couldn’t deal with the inner pain any longer. I say that because I have been there myself. I hope more people will read these type of articles and understand that many of our homecoming soldiers really do need the rest of us!

    • Dee “Phoenix” Hudson

      This was a very touching story. I had hoped that the last soldier would make it but unfortunately he took his own life. Quilty and the rest should know that Duefield didn’t kill himself to be noticed. He just couldn’t deal with the inner pain any longer. I say that because I have been there myself. I hope more people will read these type of articles and understand that many of our homecoming soldiers really do need the rest of us!

    • jsphnprk

      TYPO IN THE HEADING: “soliders” < "soldiers"

    • Gauranga

      I firmly believe that one message, from many, that one can get from this story is that, as a relative or friend of these brave men and women, you have to believe that you can be a source of support, motivation and company for them to readjust themselves to the life which they chose to interrupt in order to fight for their country.   

    • Mohammed_Almarhun

      War is just wrong, imam Ali said ” people are just two types, either a human like you or brothers who have the same believes like you”
      Why do we have to kill each others when we have to help each other for a better life.
      I might not said what I wanted to say the right way but at least I tried.

      Mohammed Ali from Saudia Arabia

      • S’pani

        Well, how many think war is wrong. There are too many state sponsored terrorism, a war like situation, why? just to prove a point and impose some thing. If all think and behave your way there no need to have boundaries, between continents, countries and even states

    • Hillington Musoke

      this article is really touching, transition is always a hard part of life not only for vets but even for other sects, we all need people like Quilty and we should all be like him in the best we can, the power of networking