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Home Front: Soldiers Learn To Live After War
4:01 am
Sun April 8, 2012

Dismissed: Military Families Reunite, Face The Future

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 8:53 am

Back from a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan, the 182nd Infantry Regiment of the Army National Guard had to make a pit stop before heading home. At Camp Atterbury in Indiana, the service members were far from their families, most of which are in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

The returning soldiers had to go through a series of checkups and assessments before their welcome-home ceremony, which marks the moment they return to civilian life and the people they left behind.

Before they got there, there was anxiety on both sides — for soldiers and their families.

A Family Awaits The Unknown

"I don't know what to expect. I don't know what to worry about," says Judy Nestico, whose son survived an IED attack in Afghanistan.

The 57-year-old mother of three walks up the stairs of her family's rented duplex in Woburn, Mass. She enters the bedroom her 27-year-old son uses, the room he'll come back to when he's home from Afghanistan.

This was Spc. John Nestico's first deployment to a combat zone, and it's been a long year for his mother. She's been doing a lot of waiting. John was based in a remote province in western Afghanistan, so email was intermittent and calls home didn't happen a lot. When he did call, the line was often quiet.

"He didn't ask a lot of questions. There was a lot of dead air between us, where we would just sit, not saying anything," she says. "I'd ask questions, and then he'd usually change the subject."

Nestico didn't tell his mother was that he was in an IED attack during his first mission after he arrived in Afghanistan. No one was hurt, but it haunted him. His mother knew something had changed her son when he came home on leave late last year for a short visit and she saw a tattoo on his back.

"It's actually a date, the grim reaper and an angel-dragon ... with wings, taking something out of the clutches of the grim reaper," she says. "So I know something happened."

Other members of the family are concerned, too.

"He's one of the most important people to me. What he's done ... I could never do it," John's older brother, Frank Nestico III, says

Frank says he's afraid that somehow he'll "say something or do something that will make whatever he's going through worse."

So the Nesticos will take things slowly when John comes home — give him space, let him share his experiences in his own time.

"He doesn't seem like this open person, but he's got the biggest heart," his mother says. "I know it sounds kind of cliche, but he really does. He just doesn't show it."

Tackling Depression Early

Back at Camp Atterbury, John Nestico is finally getting ready to go home.

"[I'm] trying to wear my heart on my shoulder a little bit more, be a little bit more open with some of the things that have been going on in my life," he says.

While his family is prepping his room and getting ready for him to come home, he's doing his own fair share of worrying in Indiana about what comes next.

Nestico broke up with his girlfriend before he deployed, and he's still not quite over it. His mom lost her job a year ago, so his family is strapped for cash. He is also nervous about reconnecting with old friends when he gets home. On top of all that, he's still coming to grips with the IED attack.

"A year of the stresses and the anxieties and the deployment tempo and trying balance home life ... without being there ... it takes a toll on you mentally and it takes a toll on you physically," he says.

Depression runs in his family, and a mental health care provider at Camp Atterbury told him to seek regular treatment. He's made an appointment with a therapist back home.

"A lot of guys, they're going to go home and they're going to try to de-stress over a bottle or not at all ... maybe people will feel shut out," Nestico says. "People might get depressed. So I figured, why be one of those people?"

Carrying On At Home, Alone

All soldiers transitioning from the war zone at Camp Atterbury go through a series of briefings, reminding them that while they've been gone, life has gone on without them.

Capt. Michael Currie is married with two kids, and he's been in the National Guard for 22 years. When he was tapped to go to Afghanistan on his first combat deployment, he talked it over with his wife, Stacey Currie.

"She knew at some point I was going to need to deploy, and this was the right time," he says.

In Indiana, one colonel told a group of soldiers, including Currie, not to be surprised if their wives or girlfriends had engaged in some "retail therapy" over the past year.

"He was talking about how they get used to you not being there, how they can cope with that," Currie says, "and I wanted to stand up in a joking manner and say, 'She got a horse! ... That's what I got replaced with!"

Asha, the horse, now lives on the family's farm, about a 90-minute drive outside Boston. There's a big yard and a swing set, where 2-year-old Isabella and 7-year-old Gracelyn play.

Stacey Currie is a stay-at-home mom, so she's used to spending lots of time alone, taking care of her girls. But this was different.

"I will say one thing that has definitely occurred from this deployment is that I became a single parent," she says.

That reality hit her just three weeks after her husband left. Isabella got sick, and Stacey had to take her to the emergency room.

"We're sitting there, and she's getting an IV and the whole nine yards, and I was like, 'Yup, I'm a single parent. We're doing this by ourselves,' " she says.

Stacey's coping strategy for the year was pretty simple: Stay busy.

"You can see we've got a lot going on between the kids and the animals. It kept me at a dead run all year, and that worked for me," she says.

Now she's trying to slow down — so her husband can catch up and fit back into the family dynamic.

Back at Camp Atterbury, Michael Currie says the transition time has been helpful, but the only way to really know how to re-adjust to home life is to just get there.

"I don't know if four days here prepares you for the 40 days or the 400 days that come after that," he says.

The Homecoming

Just a couple days later, all the what-ifs about the future get pushed aside as Currie and the rest of his unit fly back to Massachusetts.

Wives and mothers, fathers, brothers and children line both sides of Main Street in Melrose, just outside Boston. Four buses, led by a police escort, pull to a stop.

The soldiers of the 182nd are home.

The troops walk, single-file, into Memorial Hall, each greeted by a staff sergeant. Most get a handshake — others, a hug.

The Curries and the Nesticos are in the crowd, too, waiting along with everyone else to lay eyes on their soldiers.

Then, the one word officially turns these soldiers back into civilians: "Dismissed."

At that point, hundreds of families — locked arm in arm — flood toward the exits. It's been a long time coming. The journey is over, the speeches are done. It's finally time to go home.

Produced by Tom Bullock with help from Tom Dreisbach.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. We turn now to our series Home Front and the stories of the 182nd Infantry Regiment of the Army National Guard.

STAFF SERGEANT JEFF BARLOW: I'm Staff Sergeant Jeff Barlow.

CORPORAL THERY NARCISSE: I am Corporal Thery Narcisse.

CAPTAIN MICHAEL CURRIE: Captain Michael Currie.

PRIVATE FIRST CLASS RICK KIDRICK: PFC Rick Kidrick(ph).

SPECIALIST JOHN NESTICO: My name is Specialist Nestico.

STAFF SERGEANT JASON KOPP: My name is Staff Sergeant Jason Kopp from Southbridge, Massachusetts.

MARTIN: For the next year, we'll follow some of the members of the unit as they readjust to life after their year-long deployment to Afghanistan. Unlike the active duty, these soldiers will return to civilian life, managing other careers and family dynamics that may have changed in their absence. We introduced you to the 182nd last week after they arrived at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. It's a transition point where they went through a standard regimen of check-ups and assessments, a process they had to go through before being allowed to actually fly home - to Massachusetts and Rhode Island for most of them. And home to this:

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

MARTIN: Their welcome home ceremony, marking the moment they returned to civilian life and the people they left behind. But before they get there, there is anxiety - on both sides - with soldiers and their families, and that's the story we bring you today.

JUDY NESTICO: I don't know what to expect. I don't know what to worry about.

MARTIN: This is Judy Nestico. We introduced you to her son John Nestico last week. He's the army specialist who survived an IED attack in Afghanistan. The 57-year-old mother of three walks up the stairs of her family's rented duplex in Woburn, Massachusetts up to the top floor.

NESTICO: I call it climbing the mountain. I don't do it very often.

MARTIN: She shows us the bedroom her 27-year-old son uses; the room he'll come back to when he's home from Afghanistan.

NESTICO: This is a light.

MARTIN: It's stuffy so she opens a window.

(SOUNDBITE OF WINDOW OPENING)

MARTIN: This was John Nestico's first deployment to a combat zone, and as you might expect, it's been a long year for Judy. She's been doing a lot of waiting. Her son was based in a remote province in western Afghanistan, so email was intermittent and calls home didn't happen a lot and when they did the line was often quiet.

NESTICO: He didn't ask a lot of questions. There was a lot of dead air between us. We would just sit not; nothing, anything, like 30 seconds or 40 seconds. 'Cause I had given him all the news from back here. I'd ask questions and then he'd usually change the subject.

MARTIN: Nestico didn't tell his mom that on his first mission in Afghanistan his vehicle struck an IED. No one was hurt but it haunted Specialist Nestico. Judy knew something had changed her son when he came home on leave late last year for a short visit and she saw a tattoo on his back.

NESTICO: It's actually a date, the grim reaper and an angel dragon or angel something, something with wings, like taking something out of the clutch of the grim reaper. So, I know something happened.

MARTIN: Other members of the Nestico family are concerned too.

FRANK NESTICO: He's one of the most important people to me. What he's done, I mean, I could never do it.

MARTIN: This is John's older brother Frank.

NESTICO: When I think about it, that's what I'm most afraid of is that somehow I'll say something or do something that will make whatever he's going through worse.

MARTIN: So, the Nesticos will take things slowly when John comes home - give him space, let him share his experiences in his own time.

NESTICO: He doesn't seem like this open person but he's got the biggest heart. I know it sounds cliche but he really does. He just doesn't show it.

NESTICO: Trying to wear my heart on my shoulder a little bit more, you know, open with some of the things that have been going on in my life.

MARTIN: This is Army Specialist John Nestico. While his family is prepping his room and getting ready for him to come home, Nestico is at Camp Atterbury, Indiana going through his demobilization process and doing his own fair share of worrying about what comes next. Nestico broke up with his girlfriend before he deployed and he's still not quite over it. His mom lost her job a year ago and her unemployment benefits, so his family is strapped for cash. Nestico is also nervous about reconnecting with old friends when he gets home. And on top of all that, he's still coming to grips with the IED attack.

NESTICO: A year of the stresses and the anxieties and trying to balance what's going on back without the ability to be there, it takes a toll on you. It takes a toll on you mentally. It takes a toll on you physically.

MARTIN: Alcoholism runs in his family, so does depression. A mental health provider at Camp Atterbury told him to seek regular treatment, so Nestico has made an appointment with a therapist back home.

NESTICO: And a lot of guys, they're going to go home and they're going to try to, they're going to try and de-stress over a bottle. You know, there might be anxiety. People might get depressed. So, I figured why be one of those people? I can go in there and work things out so when I go home, it's the best homecoming I can.

MARTIN: All soldiers transitioning from the war zone through Camp Atterbury go through a series of briefings, reminding them that while they've been gone life has gone on without them.

CURRIE: I am Captain Michael Currie. I was the garrison commander for Camp Alamo over in Kabul, Afghanistan.

MARTIN: Mike Currie has been in the National Guard for 22 years. When he was tapped to go to Afghanistan on his first combat deployment, he talked it over with his wife Stacey.

CURRIE: She knew, at some point I was going to need to deploy. And this was the right time.

MARTIN: A colonel at Camp Atterbury told a group of soldiers, including Currie, not to be surprised if their wives or girlfriends had engaged in some retail therapy over the past year.

CURRIE: You know, I wanted to stand up in, you know, in a joking manner and say she got a horse. She got a horse. That's what I got replaced with.

STACEY CURRIE: So, this is my beauty that I bought, Asha.

MARTIN: This is Stacey Currie and her horse. The Curries live on a farm about a 90-minute drive outside Boston. There's a big yard and a swing set that occupies 2-year-old Isabella and 7-year-old Gracelynn.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN LAUGHING)

MARTIN: Stacey Currie is a stay-at-home mom, so she's use to spending lots of time alone, taking care of her girls.

CURRIE: Oh, Isabel, darling, come here.

MARTIN: But this was different.

CURRIE: I will say one thing that has definitely occurred from this deployment: I became a single parent.

MARTIN: That reality hit her just three weeks after Mike left. Their youngest, Isabel, got sick and Stacey had to take her to the emergency room.

CURRIE: You know, we're sitting there and she's getting an IV and the whole nine yards and I was like, yup, I'm a single parent. We're doing this by ourselves, so.

MARTIN: Currie's coping strategy for the year was pretty simple - stay busy.

CURRIE: Between the kids and the animals it kept me almost at a dead run all year and that worked for me.

MARTIN: Now, she's trying to slow down so her husband can catch up and fit back into the family dynamic. Back at Camp Atterbury, Michael Currie says the transition time here has been helpful but the only way to really know how to readjust to home life is to just get there.

CURRIE: My wife has already planned out how everything is going to go when I get home. I don't know if four days here prepares you for the 40 days or the 400 days that come after that.

MARTIN: Just a couple days later, all the what-ifs about the future get pushed aside and Currie and the rest of his unit fly back to Massachusetts. Wives and mothers, fathers, brothers and children line both sides of Main Street in Melrose, just outside Boston.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

MARTIN: Four buses led by a police escort pull to a stop. The soldiers of the 182nd are home.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

MARTIN: The troops walk single file into Memorial Hall, each greeted by a staff sergeant.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE TALKING)

MARTIN: Most get a handshake; others, a less formal greeting.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Give me a hug, man.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: All right.

MARTIN: The Curries and the Nesticos are here in the crowd, too, waiting, along with everyone else to lay eyes on their soldiers. And then, the one word that officially turns these soldiers back into civilians:

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Dismissed.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

MARTIN: At that point, hundreds of families, locked arm in arm, flood toward the exits. It's been a long time coming. The journey is over. The speeches are done. It is now time to go home.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: To hear from other members of the 182nd and to see photos of the Curries and the Nesticos, go to our website, NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.