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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Local soldiers are adjusting to lives as civilians again

Sunday, April 24, 2005

(Photo)
Zach Petty of Sikeston shows customer Millie Wheeler of Dexter a new car. The car salesman is adjusting to civilian life after returning from a year in Iraq.
SIKESTON -- It's little changes like friends having different jobs and new wallpaper at mom and dad's house that Zach Petty noticed most when he returned home from serving a year in Iraq with the 1140th Engineer Battalion.

"I love every piece of grass around here and to see farm equipment instead of a camel is nice," said Petty, a specialist E-4 with Charlie Company.

Nearly two months after the 1140th Engineer Battalion returned home from its year long deployment to Iraq, the soldiers and their loved ones are still adjusting to their lives post-deployment.

"It's not been bad and it's hard to explain. It's just taken a little while. I'm not used to large crowds of people not in uniform," said 1st Sgt. Steve Alexander of the 1140th's Company A.

For Alexander, it's also the minor things he's noticed most since the March 1 return.

"It felt funny the first time I got in a vehicle and drove, and I kept looking up to see if a 50-gunner was up there," Alexander said.

And knowing that it's not a satellite phone call away from home -- no delays -- is nice, too, Petty said.

"Over there you have to be on your toes a lot and now that I'm home, I've found idle time kills me," said Petty, who now works as a car salesman. Time change was another factor for a few days when he returned home, said Alexander who works full-time at the Sikeston Armory.

Lorya Knox-Walker of Sikeston said when her husband, Gregory Walker, returned with Charlie Company, his sleeping pattern was off, too.

"His days and nights were completely mixed up, and he'd sleep during the day and was tossing and turning during the night," Knox-Walker said. Now she and her husband are facing separation again. Currently her husband is in Park Hills for a month of training for his job in Charleston.

"But he can come home for the weekends, and it's not as bad as him being gone for a year," Knox-Walker said.

Linda Lowes of Sikeston said her 24-year-old son, Daniel Lowes, who served with Charlie Company, wasn't exactly prepared for rejoining college life in Columbia.

"The one thing that Daniel underestimated is the time it would take to readjust to civilian life because the military life is extremely structured," Lowes said. "And coming back to college life was a major shock for him."

Lowes said her son also returned home with a greater appreciation for his hometown.

"He has lived in Southeast Missouri for a long time and hasn't been exposed to any of the international experiences," Lowes said. "And by going overseas, he learned Missouri was not a bad place to grow up in and has more appreciation for his youth, education and freedoms he had growing up as opposed to what they have in Iraq."

Lowes commended Charlie Company's Family Readiness Group for providing support and education to family members while the soldiers were gone. State Family Program Coordinator Mike McGuire said it's normal for soldiers and their loved ones to experience changes -- both when they return and in the future.

"Anytime you have long separation from someone -- whether for military or anything else -- when you come back together, the dynamics may have changed a little bit. And if you're not aware of that, you could be fighting with each other," McGuire said.

There is some readjustment that takes place, McGuire pointed out. "They're finding out with this war a lot of effects may not become noticeable until several years down the road," McGuire said.

The Veterans Administration is anticipating a rise in post traumatic stress disorder cases, McGuire noted. Suicide rates also indicate there is a problem, he said.

And the Department of Defense has seen an increase in divorces, which is why the Army is funding Prevention Relationship Enhancement Preparation programs at six locations in the state this fiscal year, McGuire said. The Southeast Missouri program is set for July 22-23 in Cape Girardeau.

"It will be like a weekend getaway for the couple. It will be about re-

establishing the relationship and identifying risk factors that lead to a failing marriage," McGuire said.

The military is anticipating an increase in these issues, and the programs will be offered for anyone serving since Sept. 11.

"It's not any different than any other war -- now people just know about it," McGuire said, adding assistance is available both locally and at the state level.

Meanwhile local soldiers and their families will continue to adjust to their everyday lives.

"I think, overall, almost everybody is adjusting really well. It takes longer for some than it does for others," Alexander said, adding the 1140th members still keep in contact since returning home.

And not a day goes by that someone from the community doesn't offer some kind of gratitude for the 1140th's work, both Petty and Alexander said. "Most of us were pretty overwhelmed with public support when we came home. It makes us feel good," Petty said.

The 1140th will begin drilling one weekend a month beginning in May. But for now, Petty said, "It's just good to be home."