I have tried many times to explain what it means to come home from war, but most times, I’m at a loss. I will say that in all my years of service to our country, I’ve consistently experienced a feeling of gratitude upon returning from deployments, most of which were combat-related, although some were during times of peace.
My gratitude centered around the fact that my family has always supported me in my role. I was lucky that they were always there when I returned home, and having their support was key in helping me reintegrate back into society each and every time.
My wife, Amanda, especially understood my challenges coming back from deployment. She took care of the communication within the family, so I could concentrate on my profession and my reintegration. She mentored our children on what to do and say, so they would have an easy transition as well.
Without Amanda’s work and support, I would not have been able to rejoin society as quickly as I did. So, the lessons I’m about to share would have not been realized if I did not have the support from my wife. It’s true what they say. Behind every successful man or woman is a supportive spouse.
I have been serving the veteran community for many years, and I believe that there were two factors that contributed to the success of my own homecomings. The first, as I have mentioned, is having a good support structure—including family and friends who are there for you.
Unfortunately, many military veterans do not have family or friends nearby when they return, sometimes because they took a job in a new place where they haven’t yet had a chance to put down roots. In these cases, veterans should consider joining a club, group, team, church, synagogue or another place of worship. They should find ways to interact with others and become a part of the community. We did not fight or serve alone. Homecoming should not be borne alone either.
I know that having emotional support was key to my reintegration and my hope for all veterans is that they are able to find this in some form.
The second factor for a successful homecoming is maintaining physical fitness and overall wellness. Veterans should make an effort to maintain their physical wellness. As marines, sailors and soldiers physical fitness was a regular part of life, but many veterans leave service and do not treat it as a priority.
Running marathons or taking on extreme regimes isn’t necessary, but veterans should still seek to challenge themselves physically. It helps you to deal with stress, long hours and life challenges. It can help you deal with any life event. Personally, physical fitness has always been a cornerstone in my life and continues to be.
These factors—family, friends, support organizations and wellness—are important for getting through any life-changing event, be it returning home from war, battling cancer or losing a loved one. For this veteran of 28 years, coming home from deployments in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq has taught me life lessons that I’ve been able to use for anything life throws at me.
I strongly suggest other veterans let their family, friends and groups assist them with the process of coming home. Let them in. And take care of yourself by being active. Having a physical fitness regime will empower you to take on any of life’s challenges.
Lieutenant Colonel Charles Bagnato served in the United States Marine Corps from 1983 to 2010.
Keep Reading — Coming Home: A Veteran’s Story