Paige Blankenbuehler
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November 10, 2012
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Who We Are: An 'invisible war'

The struggles, the happy times, the horrible times and the daily pace of life of the men and women serving for the country in the Middle East are not as easily observed by the public as it was during the Vietnam War.

America's 11-year war has been called the "invisible war," from the lack of attachment the American people have to the battles being fought from afar.

That's why, for many young veterans, the hardest part of their service is coming home.

"Over there you don't have to think - you're told what to do all the time," said Richard Jackson, a soldier with two months remaining in his active duty with the U.S. Army. "When you come back you have different responsibilities, bank accounts. It's a different set of responsibilities abroad but it's very structured and instinct takes over, that one thing that makes it hard to come back."

Jackson, 30,, who was on the front lines in Iraq, is being medically discharged and next month.

Though doctors have had difficulty classifying his medical condition, flashes from explosions, multiple concussions and exposure to stress and extreme elements have caused the vision in his right eye to degrade.

"My vision fluctuates and the retina is inflamed," Jackson said. "They (his doctors) don't know what caused the inflammation but the surgery they want to do is eliminate the inflammation which will limit fluctuation of vision loss."

"If it gets really bad, I have to wear a path on my right eye," he added.

Right now Jackson is in the transition phase at Fort Carson, going through resume writing and job fairs to prepare for life back at home.

"More than likely this will be the end of my service," Jackson said. "It's been a big part of my life for so long, I'm ready to move on."

As he begins to make more decisions back home, Jackson said his goal is to help people.

"I realized this is where my passion is headed," Jackson said. "I'm a pretty energetic guy, but I missed my whole twenties where you figure out who you are, so I'm going to take a step back and figure it out. I love working outdoors, being in the mountains and feeling the sun - I might join the Red Cross for disaster relief because I want to travel and make a difference."

As soldiers return home, they go through a program of reintroduction to daily life where they ease back into the routines at home and in the community.

It all starts with a health screening, including a mental screening for post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Soldiers inflicted with PTSD and TBI show symptoms including having difficulty adapting to life in the states.

Soldiers with PTSD or TBI, which have similar symptoms, may feel on edge with reoccurring nightmares, have a loss of interest in daily life and feel numb while experiencing anger and irritability, according to a self assessment test through the Science Daily.

The most important support that veterans receive comes from the community.

"Everyday for me is Veterans Day - in my 20 years of service, I've lost 178 friends. I think about them everyday," said Tom Torres, local veteran and founder of Forward Operating Base Summit County.

FOB Summit County, was started in 2006 to aid returning soldiers in their reintroduction to life in the United States. As part of the program, Torres hosts get-aways in Summit County with food and lodging covered and activities like skiing, hiking, fishing and camping included to ease stress.

"What these warriors have gone through the last 11 years is pretty intense, it's pretty ugly," Torres said. "The younger veterans have it the worse. I call them kids because they're all in the early to mid-20s and have already had seven or eight deployments. They still want to be in action because that's really all they know. They need community support."

It's by showing returning heroes "the normal life," that Torres hopes to work with the community to provide support for our troops here and abroad year round.

"Sometimes these guys feel like they're in a petting zoo, and it can be really tough to learn how to function in today's society after being gone so long," he said.

Torres remembers one veteran that didn't know where to look for help.

"I knew one particular veteran that lived in his basement with severe PTSD and he did not come out," Torres said. "It's days like this that the community thinks about our veterans, but we need a year-round effort to be there for our guys."

Mike Pribil served in Afghanistan for six months before returning to his wife and two children Oct. 26. For him, being away from his family and explaining to his children what his career entails is the most difficult part of serving in the military.

"My daughter asked me why I would volunteer for something like this," he said. "There are a couple of ways to explain it, but it's still hard for her to understand it. I believe in service to this country and I saw deployment to Afghanistan as an opportunity to give back, and if you know what you're getting into, you can be safe over there."

Pribil said he missed his family most while he was on a mission during the Katrina disaster in New Orleans.

"I was deployed to assist with Katrina victims for seven weeks, and though it wasn't as dangerous down there, missing the little things like soccer practice and being able to help my wife was difficult to deal with," he said.

Pribil joined the Army National Guard as a medic, with dreams of becoming a doctor, but life took him down a different path. After college, he enrolled in officer school. From there he served as a commander of his base while overseas.

From his experience, it was he and his team that served as a support system when life got lonely on duty.

"There's a lot that folks don't hear about back home - about the lives lost, the inner struggles, but there is a strong camaraderie among soldiers," he said. "It's more difficult for young soldiers, but we help serve as mentors for them. We always kept busy to avoid that depression and thinking too much. There are always struggles toward the end, seeing the finish line gets everyone anxious, but it's a team effort to stay in the right mind set."

Summit County's Rotary Club has been one of the many champions in the community for assisting veterans while abroad and when they return home.

Liz Wickert, director of the Troop Support Program, sends care packages abroad containing high-end snack foods with superior nutritional value and toiletries.

Typically the packages are sent every two months and include toiletries and high-quality nutritional food.

The cost of compiling the packages is $57 with an additional $13 for shipping overseas, bringing the value of the packages to $70.

With troops coming back to the United States from Afghanistan, the Rotary Club of Summit County is re-focusing their efforts to offer new services to them when they return.

"We're in a bit of limbo at the moment with a lot of soldiers returning," Wickert said. "We're having to modify our program by focusing on helping to rehabilitate when they get back here, physically and mentally."

The need for care packages will pick up with the holiday season nearing, as it does year after year.

"The holidays can be a challenging time for our soldiers away from home," Wickert said. "They need to know that everyone back home is thinking about them and the care packages are a great way to reach out, whether you have a family member, friend or don't know anyone serving overseas."

The Rotary Club is currently looking for soldiers to send care packages to. The Rotary troop support program is seeking information from residents for recipients of packages.

The community can make monetary or package donations by sending them to the Rotary Club of Summit County Troop Support Program, P.O. Box 4401 Frisco, CO 80443.


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The Summit Daily Updated Nov 11, 2012 07:42PM Published Nov 10, 2012 11:54PM Copyright 2012 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.