America’s Troops Speak Out: 45 Things They Wish You Knew About Shipping Out, Coming Home, and How Their Lives Change

We treasure our soldiers for what they do and stand for, yet how many of us know more than the basic facts of life in the military? Here are the hopes, dreams, doubts, and everyday challenges met by our active-duty and former service people—in their own words.

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1.

1Africa Studio/Shutterstock“My favorite part is the first ten seconds. When you climb out of the F-15 and see your family for the first time, it’s like experiencing a renewal of your marriage, the rebirth of your kids. You’re so overwhelmed with emotion.” For more joy, read our funniest military stories of all time.
Air Force Maj. Jeremy Verbout, 37, 2000–present

2.

2Y Photo Studio/shutterstock“What I missed most while I was 
deployed was being able to touch my wife, especially the casual moments of tenderness like her hand reaching for mine, as if to say, ‘I’m here, and I love you.’ Do you have any idea how hard it is to go a year without a hug? When I came back, my wife ran toward me, and in the next instant we were in each other’s arms. In the space of one breath-crushing moment, I felt like the deployment was squeezed out of me.” These 10 veteran reunion videos are bound to make you happy cry.
Ret. Master Sgt. David Abrams, 51, 1988–2008, and author of 
the Iraq war novel Fobbit

3.

3Tatiana255/shutterstock“I returned from going to the store one Veterans Day, and someone had left a mum on my doorstep at home with a flag and a card that said ‘Thank you for your service.’ It meant so much. To whoever did that: thank you.” These are our favorite stories of how everyday Americans give back to veterans.
Army Maj. Holly Cribb, 40, 1998–present

4.

4mavo/shutterstock“When people say, ‘Thank you for your service,’ I sometimes have the sense that they don’t know what they’re thanking you for. What I appreciated after I got back was when people thanked me, asked what I did in the military, and listened. Even better was when I said, ‘I was on patrol in Kandahar,’ and they knew where it was.”
Former Air Force Capt. Brian Castner, 37,1999–2007, and author of the Iraq 
war memoir The Long Walk

5.

5napsterio/shutterstock“When veterans first return, they’re flooded by well wishes and meals, but then those stop. That’s when they need help. Insist they join you for 
dinner or a walk. Your insistence could save his or her life.”
Former Army Capt. Stephen Clark, 43,
 1992–2006

6.

6RimDream/shutterstock“People think you come back, hug your family, and have that reunion you see in commercials. That is a great moment, but it doesn’t end there. I remember my son running up to me in the airport, but I also remember a week later that my wife didn’t know what to say to me and my son wouldn’t talk to me, because he didn’t know me.” These are the 10 simple but powerful things you can do to support veterans.
Army Sgt. David Tejada, 30, 2001–present

7.

7Mila Supinskaya Glashchenko/shutterstock“My best homecoming was this last one. I came home at 4 a.m. and got dropped off at my house. At the door was my wife, Kim, and she handed me our new baby. Vivian was seven months old, and I held her for the first time. Then, after the three of us got into bed, my wife went to pick up 
a sleeping Sophia, our two-year-old, and placed her next to me. Kim and 
I were whispering, and Sophia woke up and yelled, ‘Daddy! You came back!!!’ I had my whole family there. 
It was the best.”
Marine Maj. Dave Fleming, 40, 1992-present

8.

8Uber Images/shutterstock"When we get back, we don't need huge parties or gifts. We need the small things: someone to listen to us, make us a meal, watch our kids."
Ret. Army Staff Sgt. April Martinez, 34, 2002-2011

9.

9WAYHOME studio/shutterstock“Making the transition from the 
military to the civilian workplace was tough. Even though I got jobs at big, well-known companies, they seemed to be completely disorganized compared with the military. I formed my own business after I realized I didn’t want to work for anyone else.” Here's how 5 veterans found their second careers.
Ret. Navy Chief Petty Officer 
Michael Marlow, 40,  1993–2013

10.

10Photographee.eu/shutterstock“In the Army, we had a buddy system. When you wake up, the guys are there. If you go play basketball, someone goes with you. It’s hard to adjust to the loneliness of the civilian world.” Army Sgt. David Tejada

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