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Old 10-18-2021, 06:56 AM
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Unhappy A Veteran's Odyssey After Hanging Up the Uniform in an America He Doesn't Recognize

A Veteran's Odyssey After Hanging Up the Uniform in an America He Doesn't Recognize
By: John Thampi - The War Horse & Military.com News - 10-13-21
Re: https://www.military.com/daily-news/...recognize.html

(Here's a post I think many of us Veterans can relate too - I sure did & so did many other's during VN (- Boats.)

It was said by Homer, The Odyseey: Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of contending ...

A blind poet's story of Odysseus, the mighty hero, is a story for the ages. It is a tale of a warrior who overcame great gods, mythic battles, mega monsters, and himself to find his way back home to his beloved Ithaca.

Returning to my Ithaca, I encountered so many venues to sing this song. There were workshops, talks, comedy events, long-distance runs, parades, group therapy, bar sessions, and Greek choruses to help craft and redraft the story.
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This Veteran's story above writes the following: (Photo link: https://images04.military.com/sites/...?itok=71UPAVAs).

Here's John Thampi as he prepares to deploy to Iraq as part of a Military Transition Team in 2007. (Photo courtesy of the author)
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Note: His story touched me as it continues below as it must have for many others.
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But the story of Odysseus is the story of the day after -- what happens when the battle is done?

Nothing had prepared me to live.

Sitting at the required transition briefing at my last military duty station, I watched a ridiculous civilian brief a room full of soldiers about our Veterans Affairs health and educational benefits.

I zoned in and out until he said, "Not everyone thinks your service is a good thing."

My mind slowed down.

Before my eyes flashed all the news articles I had read about veterans leaving the service and landing amazing careers.

Weren't headhunters recruiting Army junior officers like me? Wasn't I being thanked every time I stepped outside the base for my service?

He was greatly misinformed. America loved its warriors.

Even if things were difficult for veterans, I was surely an exception. As an Army captain with command experience, with multiple degrees, and with combat time, as far as I was concerned, I was a damned unicorn.

Then I left the confines of the base, took off my uniform.

Months and months after applying and applying and applying to hundreds of openings, I sat across from a human resources representative for a "military friendly" company. She had heard me speak at length about my service and deployments. She glanced at the resume I had specifically crafted for the job opening of head basket weaver. She calmly put down my paperwork, looked me in the eye, and said:

"Yes ... yes ... " as she waved away my service with her hand, "but you have no real experience, do you?"

In the lobby sat another officer far more accomplished than I, awaiting an interview. The day after, there would be more. It wasn't the last time I would encounter this.

My service wasn't an accomplishment. It was a liability. It was just missed years of real employment -- as far as I could see.

I started to see my visits to "hero" job fairs -- with recruiters who looked dubiously upon my multiple degrees and combat experiences -- as a financial and mental health liability to me. They offered no possibilities beyond accepting a resume, then citing a "poor fit" for any positions. One offered me a minimum-wage security guard position, knowing I desperately needed the work.

Where were the former officers from Forbes magazine and the poster children of Fortune 500 military websites? The real unicorns had fled the stables.

Odysseus, when he returned home to Ithaca, didn't get a welcome home parade. Homer describes a violent conflict between Odysseus' wife's suitors and the returning hero.

Ultimately, like all good war stories, the main character wins the battle and the story seems to end.

But the second half is all I cared about. Odysseus had fought for years to get home. In his battle with the suitors, he unleashes levels of violence unprecedented, hanging even his own maids for their perceived treachery. His battlefield is not in the past. He sees it everywhere.

It seems the real lesson of The Odyssey was an unending journey: How now was he going to live?

I was searching. I was searching for good examples of veterans who had left and hadn't killed themselves or hooked themselves on drugs or lost their best selves in dead-end employment.

I was looking for an employer who wouldn't treat me as the solution to years of fiscal monsters. The personnel mismanagement gods expected me to deliver a solution, like all mythical heroes, like those "skilled in the ways of contending" do.

C.P. Cavafy writes in the poem "Ithaca":

Laistrygonians, Cyclops,

angry Poseidon -- don't be afraid of them:

you'll never find things like that on your way

as long as you keep your thoughts raised high. ...

... Laistrygonians, Cyclops,

wild Poseidon -- you won't encounter them

unless you bring them along inside your soul,

unless your soul sets them up in front of you.



Have I ever seen Ithaca for what it was?

I had become so wrapped up in my employment that I couldn't see around me.

My children were growing like grass while I kept watch over at the distant sandstorms of Iraq, as if I were still driving there and wishing at times I was.

I wrote "When Will I Learn" to capture that moment.



When will I learn to slow down

the blur of thoughts, down

the sound of gunfire, down

the pulsing vision when you clear a room,

Rifles down

while the helicopter pilot overhead swears

I saw a trigger man

when will I learn to slow down

the shadow of the Stryker hovering on overpasses down

to my first review in fair Connecticut

start at the beginning down

describe your occupation

medals down

drowning between the marsh grass of the Tigris

and the sterling Hudson ...

So I put away my service in a box and worked through Veterans Day. I watched resumes come across my desk that dripped in military acronyms, ones I knew would never see the light of day. I read another beautifully crafted document where the veteran had reduced his entire military officer service into a single line.

But the more I ignored who I was, the more I was reminded by my coworkers and others.

"This is probably cake compared to Iraq, right?"

"I don't think I could have done what you did."

Finally, there was my sister, Sheeba Varkey, insisting I reconnect and join a writing workshop, of all things.

So I joined New York University's veterans workshop because it was the closest one I could find. I discovered, after repeatedly having my writing sharp-shot by veteran writers, that I had no skill for short stories and barely any for essays.

But in poems I discovered I could occasionally put order to my thoughts. I wrote and wrote. I was published and invited across the ocean to Oxford.

There, I attended the Oxford Brookes Veterans workshop run by Niall Munro and the poet Susie Campbell, discovering the hero's journey doesn't end with the return, but begins.

The workshop helped me to write "The Desert Life."

"The Desert Life" - after Tracy K. Smith

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Personal note: My re-acclimation process of adjusting to the civvy way of life - was difficult
for me (myself) - it started when I landed at O'Hara and didn't get one welcome home from
anyone in the airport. A few caskets were also unloaded from the aircraft. The pilot said
not to leave your seats while we are unloading the KIA's - the plane was quite.
-
VN was still going on then and in my mind. I caught a train from the airport to the Southside
and carried my seabag - and was walking from the station (my folks didn't know I was coming
home then and I started my 1.5 mile walk home with it. No Welcome Home's said to me. I didn't call my
parents I wanted take this walk and look at what had changed in six years (that was the last
time I was home).
-
I was half way home when an old timer pulled over asked me I need a ride. I said sure come to find out
he was a Vet himself. He said to me it will take a little time to get used to being a civvy he said.
-
Boy he wasn't wrong. No more orders given and how quite it was to be home. Some neighbors did come
over after they heard I was home. But my Brother Larry was still in Nam (he later died from AO in Military
Hosp. in CA). My best school friend (George) I grew up was killed there - and his Father came to welcome
me home and you could see the pain in eyes from loosing his only Son - George - KIA-NAM - I will never
forget those days and the loss of so many of the guys I knew.
--
But my story is not alone. The transition is a bit difficult at times. Some guys get flashbacks or the sound
of backfire or a sonic boom.
-
When you see a VET give him or her a Welcome Home (it helps to know that you know).
-
Boats
__________________
Boats

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

"IN GOD WE TRUST"
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