Eric Schuck: What sort of homecoming?

Post-deployment, I didn’t know what to expect. Would I still be the same professor I’d been before I headed overseas?

All the seniors I’d known had graduated, and in their place stood a whole new group of freshmen. Everyone I knew — really knew — was gone.

Normally, that’s not a big deal. I’d been teaching so many years that the constant comings and goings of students were just part of the landscape.

But this time was different. This time I was the one who had been gone, and I certainly didn’t feel like the same guy.

I was terrified to no longer be the same teacher I’d been before. And no matter how hard I searched for an answer, I just couldn’t say for sure. But I needn’t have worried.

After my family, my students were probably the best welcome home I could have received.

The beautiful part about working every day with college students is that their lives are a whirlwind of transformation and change. So even if I weren’t the same professor who’d left the previous year, well, the students just accepted it.

For them, there was neither a before nor after, simply a present. We quickly settled into a continually evolving relationship.

Guest Writer

Eric Schuck teaches economics and heads the environmental studies program at Linfield College. Now in his 12th year at the school, he specializes in agricultural economics. He also serves as an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve. And callups to active duty in the Middle East have twice pulled him away. Yesterday marked the first anniversary of his latest return to life as a civilian and academic, whetting his interest in the reintegration of returning veterans.

They helped me find my post-deployment self. It’s no small thing to say that it was their resilience, not my own, that helped me feel I was finally home. 

What sort of homecoming veterans receive when they return depends a fair bit on the people around them. Reintegration is really a community process, particularly for reservists and guardsmen who will come home directly to civilian life.

Having done it twice now — I marked the first anniversary of my return yesterday — I have become acutely aware of this. More than anything, what I’ve found is the best homecomings are marked by acceptance that things are different for everyone involved and patience in sorting out what those differences truly mean. 
That’s not always easy. Quite frankly, most people simply won’t be directly involved in the homecoming process.

Less than 10 percent of U.S. residents are veterans, and only about 1 percent currently serve. Reintegration is an exceptionally rare event for most people, which means there aren’t many opportunities to get the process “right.”

Mercifully, people are generally well-meaning. They don’t intentionally try to make reintegration difficult.

Casual oblivion, however, can be an issue. Lack of familiarity with military life can lead to decidedly awkward, sometimes even painful, interactions.

Here’s the deal: Even the most mundane deployments are wearing.

Personally, I was lucky enough to serve in places where getting shot wasn’t a threat, for which I’m extremely grateful.

That doesn’t mean these deployments were easy. I came home utterly exhausted, emotionally brittle. More than anything, I needed some sympathy and some grace as my jangled nerves settled down.

Most people, especially my family, gave this to me. But some did not. People reminding me how I volunteered to serve, or expressing their gratitude at my return primarily because it reduced their bureaucratic burdens, weren’t exactly helpful.

None of these people intended to make reintegration harder, but the effect was to communicate what they could not and did not understand where I had been or what I had done. They just didn’t know the words to help bring me home.          

This might have left me feeling even more distant. Instead, what those moments taught me was to advocate for better reintegration conversations. 

When people encounter returning veterans, the best thing is to ask — genuinely, openly and honestly — what sort of homecoming that veteran needs. Let them tell their stories, discuss what they missed and learn what they need to feel at home again.

Above all, recognize this experience will be unique to each veteran. And be mindful to use words that emphasize reintegration.

For me, it turned out I merely wanted to feel I fit in a classroom again, and my students were able to offer me that. For others, the needs will be entirely different.

We won’t know until we learn to talk about what it means to come home again. And that conversation must begin with the veteran.        



Well written, So true.


The critical data is in this article is "less than 10 percent of US citizens are veterans, and only about 1 percent serve" I enlisted back when there was a draft. Because there was a draft I met and made friends with people from across American life. Of course the rich found their way out with bone spurs and such, but not all of them. Having a draft which pulls various parts of American to a common task is the best way to develop relationship and understanding. Draft does not have to be military just some common American service. The reintegration will be part of the fabric of American family and social experience. Bring back a Draft to military or national service.

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