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 servicepeople—in their own words.

America's Troops speak Out father sonJoe Pugliese/August/Texas Monthly

What It’s Really Like to Come Home

1.“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.“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.“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

 

When veterans first return, they’re flooded by well wishes and meals, but then those stop. That’s when they need help.

 

4.“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.“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.“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.“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

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8. “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

 

 

How We Readjust to Real Life

9.“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.“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

 

11.“When I came back, I can’t tell you how many times I met people who said, ‘You’re the first person I’ve ever met who’s served.’ It’s very 
easy to feel like you’re completely alone.”
Former Army Capt. Anthony Garcia, 38,
  1999–2007

 

12.“After driving in Iraq, driving in the civilian world was really hard. There, insurgents hid IEDs in pop cans and in trash on the roadside. When I came back, I’d see a plastic bag and want to slam on the brakes, change lanes, or turn around. It took a year for me to fight that reflex.”
Former Army Specialist 
Stephanie Morgareidge, 30,  2002–2005

 

13.“The war taught me that all a person can do is affect one small thing for a short time, like one part of a city for a few months. Now I’m much more interested in helping an individual rather than joining a political party.”
Former Air Force Capt. Brian Castner

 

At home, I notice that people complain about everything: ‘It’s too hot.’ ‘It’s too cold.’ ‘Traffic is awful.’ They don’t realize how easy they have it.

 

14.“Many people don’t know how to talk to wounded warriors. What they want is for you to treat them like an ordinary person. Don’t try to understand what they went through, because you can’t understand it unless you’ve 
experienced it yourself.” You’ll want to read about this teen’s amazing invention to help wounded veterans.
Ret. Marine Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Michael Langley, 49,
  1983–2011

 

15. “When we had a job to do in the 
Marines, we did it. We didn’t complain. At home, I notice that people complain about everything: ‘It’s too hot.’ ‘It’s too cold.’ ‘Traffic is awful.’ They don’t realize how easy they have it.”
Former Marine Cpl. 
Rajendra Hariprashad, 37,  1998–2002

 

16. “The number one question you should never ask someone who has deployed is, ‘Have you ever killed anybody?’ Even for those who’ve had to, it’s not something they wanted to do, and they don’t want to talk about it.”
Ret. Marine Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Michael Langley

 

17. “The toughest part about adjusting to life afterward was the feeling that at age 28, I’d already done the most important thing I’d ever do in my life. I was in a war that was on the front page of the newspaper. I had 60 people under me, a $10 million budget, and I was in charge of keeping them all alive. For me, writing eventually filled the hole, but it took several years to discover that.”
Former Air Force Capt. Brian Castner

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