Cpl. Bradley Brettschneider thought nothing could be tougher than facing the possibility of death each day as a soldier in Iraq, but he said re-adjusting to civilian life has been even more difficult.
“The most uncomfortable thing I had to do in my life was come home to my family,” the 22-year-old soldier said. “You expect to come home and everything will be the same, but it's not. You're different.”
Corporal Brettschneider was one of about 64 members of the First Battalion, 24th Marines who returned from Kuwait and Iraq during the past few weeks.
Many of the troops gathered yesterday at the Naval and Marine Reserve Center in Perrysburg Township, where they chatted about their homecoming experiences after about seven months abroad.
“I appreciate things more,” said Cpl. Jeremy Tank. “I've been feeling guilty for having little things like a cell phone. People in Iraq have nothing.”
Several troops described their frequent encounters with Iraqi citizens, many of whom lived in shacks and lacked clean water.
“There is a major misconception that we don't need to be there,” Corporal Brettschneider said. “Those people need help.”
The troops provided security for military bases in Kuwait and guarded convoys carrying supplies to soldiers on the front lines in Iraq.
A few dozen members of the 24th Marines who returned earlier this year conducted anti-terrorist campaigns near Djibouti in East Africa.
Sgt. Dave McGee, who got back Thursday, accompanied several convoys to Iraq. The largest had 150 tanks traveling across the desert. “You were constantly on alert. You were exposed, and you didn't know where the threat was,” he said.
Troops said the convoys were shot at nearly every day, especially as they traveled through crowds of Iraqis. A few gunmen hid in groups of cheering civilians and fired bullets and grenades at the passing tanks.
Corporal Brettschneider said after arriving home, he could not stand near large crowds without his heart beating rapidly because he had become accustomed to being cautious around big groups. He said he woke up in the middle of the night with anxiety attacks after he first came home.
The corporal drove vehicles containing fuel supplies in Iraq, so he was especially vulnerable to injury. “We would have had Fourth of July if my truck got hit,” he said.
No members of the 24th from the reserve center were hurt seriously. The troops likely will get a break from active duty for awhile, Gunnery Sgt. Steven Kosinski said.
He said many residents have called the Marines asking what they can do to thank the troops. He suggested cheering them on as they march in Toledo's holiday parade Nov. 29.
Others urge support for the troops still on active duty by donating to their families. Michelle Buck, who coordinates family support for one local unit, said nearly 300 area families have deployed relatives.
Mrs. Buck is helping organize a fund-raiser for military families. A 5K walk is set for 12:30 p.m. Sunday at the Lucas County Recreation Center in Maumee, followed by music at the Bait Shop Bar and Grill.
“As the holidays get closer, people's needs increase,” she said. “The more help we can get early on, the more we can do for these families.”
- RACHEL ZINN