The Iraq war is not over for my son

I finally got the call I had been waiting for since President Obama announced that our troops will be home for the holidays . My son will be returning from Iraq and will be landing Tuesday evening at 6:30 p.m. My body begins to swell with emotions – it is not one single emotion, they are many, twisting around my heart almost to the point where I feel as though I am suffocating.

Joy, pain, disgust, anger, anxiety, concern, a notch of happiness that he will be in the States now, worry worry and more worry. Oddly, I question: Why don’t I feel that relief of “Finally we will all be all right and we will live happily ever after.” Why don’t I feel this even though I have seen it in so many movies and news reports of soldiers coming home to their loved ones? They led me to believe that this is what I should feel, but I don’t. Instead I am gasping for air. This is what many of us mothers and fathers are feeling these days.

Yes, my son will be home but he is not out of danger. I know that, and that is why I feel this way and not how it has been portrayed in the movies and news reports.

When he came home after his first deployment we clearly saw the effects war had on him, the nightmares, the flashbacks, the drinking, the instability of his marriage. He was physically home, but he was still at war.

It changed our family too. The simple things we enjoyed, we could no longer do. For example, on holidays we used to have fun throwing crumpled gift wrapping at each other. But no more: my son was easily frightened by anything coming at him. New Year’s Eve and 4th of July were no longer family celebrations, they were days of concern: Would the noise trigger a flashback? These are the things those movies and news stories don’t ever tell you. These are the things the cause such a turmoil of emotions in me and in many of us whose loved ones have experienced such trauma.

What will this, the end of his third deployment, bring? The end of the Iraq war for our country may bring up images of happy homecomings, husbands and wives embracing, children running up to their fathers or mothers. Tears of joy on everyone’s face. But what we as parents, as spouses and children of combat troops, experience mostly is the feeling of uncertainty. How has our loved one changed? How much suffering have they experienced and how will it manifest itself?

I was comforted to hear President Obama in his speech to the troops at Fort Bragg say “We will help our wounded warriors heal, and we will stand by those who’ve suffered the unseen wounds of war.” I believe that as Americans we bear the responsibility for all our troops and what they have experienced in Iraq. We allowed this to happen, with our silence, our ignorance of the facts and our complacency. We must do all that we can now to end the war for our troops, our fellow citizens, our nieces and nephews, our sons and daughters.

It is something many people don’t understand, or fail to see: The war does not end for our troops when they return, it goes on until they can get the kind of help that will heal all the wounds that war has left them. Wounds from those frightful nights of being shot at to seeing death before their eyes, to the guilt they now carry as they reflect on their time there. We need to help them see that we acknowledge all that they went through, that we do not judge them, for we were not in their shoes. That they have a right to go on with their lives as we who allowed them to be sent there go on with our lives.

Do not be fooled by those happily-ever-after images, the war is not over, it continues and we need your help.

Photo: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Elama Palemene is kissed by his wife, Annaden, right, and children Ko’ Elani, left, and Pe’ Ela during an early morning welcome home ceremony for about 300 U.S. Army 1st Cavalry 2nd Brigade soldiers returning home from deployment in Iraq, at Fort Hood, Texas, Dec. 18. (Erich Schlegel/AP)