More than conquerors:
When warriors come home from war
By Scott McChrystal
Only days removed, but thousands of miles from the fighting,
he was finally home. As his plane touched down at the San Francisco Airport,
his mind wandered to the dark places war had taken him.
For months on end he had endured seemingly endless days
battling scorching heat, humidity, thirsty mosquitoes, monsoon rains and an
enemy he would never fully understand.
At only 23 years of age he had seen things no person should
ever see. Friends had died and been severely injured before his eyes. Bullets
had whizzed past his head. Close calls with booby traps had almost cost him
limbs. And his hands had been used to take lives.
Now that he was home he didn’t know what to expect.
The thought that his khaki uniform was the kind of calling
card that might draw the ire of civilians angered him. After what he’d been
through he certainly didn’t want to deal with anyone with an opinion on what
he’d done in Vietnam.
For a moment he considered changing out of his khaki uniform
into his street clothes. That way there would be no chance of anyone calling
him a “baby killer.” But then he thought better of it. He was a lieutenant in
the U.S. Army. He was proud to be a soldier, and he had volunteered to serve
his country. Popular or unpopular, America was at war by orders of civilian
leaders, not military.
Even so he maintained a steady clip as he cut through the
terminal. In the baggage area he would grab his duffle bag then dart to the bus
stop where he would catch a bus to Capitola. If all went well he would step
onto the bus without incident.
I’m not ashamed of who I am or what I have done, he told
himself. I’m an American soldier. If someone wants to heckle me they’ll quickly
discover they’ve picked on the wrong guy.
An hour later he sank into his seat on the bus. No one had
badgered or taunted him. He couldn’t recall any sideways glances or snarky
remarks. His pride was intact and, most importantly, he hadn’t hurt
Nearly four decades later many things have changed —
including the soldier who came home from Vietnam still looking for a fight.
I know because I am that soldier.
I was not a Christian when I walked through that airport in
1972. But a year later during premarital counseling with Ralph Holt, a minister
at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, he led me in the sinner’s prayer. I accepted
Jesus as my Savior, and where I would spend eternity was finally settled.
That decision changed my life, and I came to the realization
that God had a plan and purpose for me that would include a loving family and a
career as a chaplain in the Army.
Admittedly, some things haven’t changed since I came home
Conflict still exists. War is still part of life. Since
9/11, thousands of men and women have deployed into harm’s way as part of our
nation’s war on terrorism.
Our military continue to deploy to places of conflict. Some
die. Others get wounded. Fortunately, most survive and return home.
But coming home from war is a mixed bag.
Reentry back into one’s regular life can be like entering a
battlefield. The kind that is mostly friendly, but still laced with
From one veteran to another, I express heartfelt gratitude
for your service and sacrifice. On the whole, the citizens of our great land
appreciate your efforts. Your sacrifices are what keep our nation free. Your
blood, sweat and tears have contributed significantly toward keeping America
such an amazing country in which to live and raise children.
As one who has experienced both deployment into hostile
territory and the subsequent challenges of returning to friendly territory, I
offer the following 10 observations for your consideration.
1. Accept accountability and responsibility. It’s your job
to accept responsibility for doing your part in the transition from combat zone
back to normal life.
2. Avoid the victim mentality. You are not a victim, and
though you can’t always control what happens, you can control your response to
whatever you face.
3. Recognize that deployment has changed you. One of your
main tasks is to discover how you have changed and adjust accordingly.
4. No person is an island. Sure, you may feel alone and
distant from others, but in reality there are plenty of people to whom you can
turn — family, friends, neighbors, church, the VA, and numerous other
5. Make an effort to connect. Take the initiative and reach
out to others. People can’t help you if they don’t know you need help.
6. Try to be understanding of those who have not fought.
Most Americans need your help to understand what you have experienced because
they haven’t been there.
7. Realize that life at home is different from life at
war. Compared to the demands of life in a combat zone, many issues and
activities of normal life may seem insignificant or trivial. These feelings
will diminish as you adjust. Just be patient with others and yourself.
8. Warriors need a genuine welcome home. Yes, you need to
feel welcomed back home and appreciated for your service. As a human being, you
should not deny this need. But realize that others may not always know the best
way or most appropriate way to express their gratefulness.
9. Tell your story. You are not a robot. You’ve just
returned from a war zone. Process your experience by telling other people your
10. Warriors need peace with God. God has created you with a
purpose. Have peace with God and others. Help, grace, wisdom and peace will
come from reading your Bible, time in prayer, and meeting with a pastor,
Christian counselor, or some other person who knows God in a personal way.
Welcome home! Thanks for your service to our nation.
Remember that attitude and perspective are crucial to the process of adjusting
to life back at home.
“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him
who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels
nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height
nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from
the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39, NIV).
Chaplain Col. (Ret.) SCOTT McCHRYSTAL serves as the
military/VA representative for the Chaplaincy Department of the Assemblies of
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