'Life After War': The challenges of returning veterans

    10:50 PM, Feb 21, 2012   |    comments
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    LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- Imagine being uprooted from your life and dropped into some of the most violent places in the world.

    For thousands of Arkansans, it's more than imagination. They lived through it. From Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, Arkansans have served on the front lines. (photo gallery) But then they come home, and find they are facing a whole new challenge.

    Jesse and Casey Clark are newlyweds.

    "We went on a blind date. One of the few blind dates that actually work," they say. Married in October, they just moved into their new home in Bryant.

    Casey is a dental hygienist and Jesse is a realtor and Little Rock firefighter.

    "We'd always grill chicken or goat. I mean, that was basically what you had over there," says Jesse. Over there in Iraq where he was deployed with the 3rd battalion, 23rd marines in 2006.

    "Gives you that sense of accomplishment I guess and eliteness. I don't know how else to put it," says Jesse.

    "I'm glad I got the chance to serve my country," says Ebony Campbell who spent fifteen months in Iraq as an Army medic. For her, life on the front lines became increasingly difficult.

    "I couldn't get around like everybody else but I'm a medic too so I don't want to complain that I'm sick all the time," says Ebony.

    She returned home from war safely but with a debilitating disease.

    "I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis almost immediately and it got worse and worse and worse so I came home and everything wasn't normal. I was sick," says Ebony.

    "I couldn't get in and out of the tub. I couldn't write, I couldn't pick up things, I was tired all the time," says Ebony.

    While Jesse and Ebony had two different war experiences, the challenges they faced as returning veterans are similar.

    "I was angry a lot. I wasn't what I would call depressed as much as I was just angry," says Jesse.

    "A lot of anxiety, maybe depression, being irritable, things of that nature that you probably don't notice but it's going on and you don't really know why but it's still there," says Ebony.

    "You really don't want to talk to anybody because you really don't feel like people understand why you're angry and you really don't. It takes you awhile to figure it out too because you're like man, why am I so mad?" says Jesse.

    "Sometimes you just want to be by yourself, you don't want anybody to bother you. You're depressed, you don't know what's going on, you're hurting," says Ebony.

    They are all feelings many veterans experience coming home after deployment. Leaving their normal lives--returning to find those lives are not the same--and neither are they.

    "I had a lot of people to look after me, a lot of people to come home to that were just right there if I needed anything but also I had a job," says Jesse.

    He resumed firefighting as soon as he returned, getting back into the routine he knew before Iraq. But some of his brothers in arms were not as fortunate.

    "There were some guys that didn't come back to that. They came back to no school, no job, had a hard time getting a job or got a job as a gas station attendant when they've just been over in Iraq serving their country," says Jesse.

    Campbell says after years of battling arthritis, she is now in college studying to be a personal trainer.
    "It's just life, you know. You just deal with things and you move on whether it's in the states or in Iraq. Everything has it's purpose and you can either dwell on the bad or you can take the good out of it and keep it moving," says Ebony.

    Staying "Army Strong" even without the uniform.

    "Now, I consider myself a civilian but I know that I was a solider and that's something that I will always carry with me. I have no regrets at all," says Ebony.

    Clark received his honorable discharge papers in the mail just weeks ago.

    "Now that I've got a wife, it would probably be a totally different experience for me," says Jesse.

    But the pride he carries from serving his country had not faded.

    "I've got my combat boots sitting right outside and you just look at them and think about how many miles you put on those carrying a heavy pack in over 100 degree weather," says Jesse.

    He is staying true to the Marine Corp motto. Once a marine, always a marine.

    "There is still a piece of me that is a marine. That will be a fighter and the guy that wants to be the guy on the tip of the spear. I mean that's who I am," says Jesse.

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