Soldiers face a second battle at home
By Giles Morris • Staff writer
The National Guard’s moniker evokes the best of American values and hearkens back to a Greek ideal. The citizens of a nation, its moral fiber during times of peace, should be ready to take up arms during war.
Increasingly, though, the phrase also represents a contradiction.
National Guard soldiers returning home from multiple deployments face a complex world. The same instincts that served to protect them on the battlefields and roadways of Iraq and Afghanistan can shut them off from their families and their lives as civilians.
“I’ll be honest with you. As soon as we got the call that we were going back, I knew my marriage was over,” said Staff Sgt. Shane Trantham of Haywood County’s 211th Military Police Company.
Sgt. Trantham’s experience, as he will tell you, is not unique. National Guard soldiers returning from the combat zone are expected to resume the life they left behind as fathers, mothers, friends and co-workers, but in many cases they don’t have the support they need to transition successfully.
Episodes like the Ft. Hood shooting have instigated increased scrutiny into the psychological impact of two simultaneous wars on the men and women who execute them.
But while intentions are good, resources are stretched and, perhaps even more importantly, the military culture is still one in which psychological issues are thought of as weaknesses.
Nine years into the country’s war on terror, soldiers are starting to get the support they need, but for some of them the damage is already done.
A father at war
Staff Sgt. Shane Trantham learned his military police company was being deployed on Christmas Eve in 2002. He kept the news a secret until after the holiday. On Jan. 2 his youngest daughter was born. Newly married with a newborn baby, he left on Jan. 10 for his deployment.
“The first thing you have to think of as soldiers is what’s going to happen when you’re gone,” Trantham said. “You’re passing all of that to someone else, and that places a huge amount of stress on the family. I don’t know what’s worse. What we go through over there or what they’re dealing with at the house.”
Trantham, who graduated from Tuscola High School in 1995, spent most of his time in Iraq driving convoys on main supply routes, the principal targets for improvised explosive devices, in ragtop Humvees without armor. He remembers the scene after a U.S. Abrams tank was blown skyward by a homemade bomb fashioned from four daisy-chained 150 mm shells and a primitive detonation system. The blast killed two crew members and wounded two others.
“That stuff was everyday stuff,” Trantham said.
The National Guard experience is unique in that when soldiers demobilize they return home and resume life without the support of their comrades or the services of a base command.
“It was like, ‘If you need help here’s the chaplain’s phone number,’” Trantham said. “And that wasn’t even close to what we needed. It affected everybody, not just the young people