Once in Combat, Life Changes for Veterans

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Once in Combat, Life Changes for Veterans

LEXINGTON PARK - 11/11/2008

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By Pete Hurrey

Meet Robert Wahrenbrock, 27 of Lexington Park. Wahrenbrock is a Bay District Volunteer Firefighter who just finished a seven year stint in the Navy; 8 months of which he was in charge of Iraqi detainees at a detention camp in Southern Iraq.

In a conversation with Wahrenbrock at Bay District headquarters, the young man indicated that it was tough duty. “We were in charge of those captured and held for questioning and/or training. We worked 13 hour days, six days a week.”

Wahrenbrock stated that when he first arrived in Iraq in December of 2007, there were daily rocket and mortar attacks on the base. “The last one was in March,” said Wahrenbrock. “I went in after the surge was started, but the surge definitely worked. From then until August when I was shipped out, we didn’t have any more attacks.”

During his tenure at the camp, Wahrenbrock and others were in charge of housing Iraqi prisoners. He said that the detainees were not only treated well, but that those in the camp made sure they had all the amenities. “They had books, TV, soccer equipment and plenty of good food,” he said.

In some respects the detainees had it better than the Americans stationed there. “There was a time during the daily rocket attacks that we wouldn’t get three meals.” Learning to adapt to the culture and the environment in Iraq also took its toll on the young men and women stationed in the isolated outpost. “The temperature would climb to 140 degrees and the people were in charge had a completely different way of seeing things.”

When Wahrenbrock returned home on Aug. 14, he remembered that everything was different for him. “For the first three or so weeks, I was nervous and jumpy,” he said. “When you’re in combat, you are trained to listen for certain sounds. I’d hear something and jump. It took me almost a month before I was comfortable back here.”

Wahrenbrock is one of the lucky returning veterans. He suffered from the initial unease upon his return, but he was able to overcome that as time passed.

Some returning veterans are not as fortunate. It is estimated that almost 60 percent of them will suffer from lingering post traumatic stress disorder. Many will be diagnosed with clinical depression that may take years from which to recover, if at all. Family and friends have to learn how to deal with combat veterans and that knowledge is not easily available. The Veterans Administration is understaffed and underfunded and many veterans must wait for treatment.

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