Oklahoma National Guard soldiers struggle to adjust year after return from Afghanistan

Employment, family and mental health issues are among the problems Oklahoma soldiers from the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team have dealt with following a deployment to Afghanistan.
BY BRYAN DEAN bdean@opubco.com Published: March 11, 2013

Their marriage suffered.

“You marry someone, and they are your best friend. And then you come back and you are different,” she said. “And I can't undo it.”

Her 4-year-old son, Nakona, was adjusting to having his mom back. He had some health problems while she was deployed and was clingy when she returned. It was worse when she put on her uniform for yellow ribbon events the soldiers were required to attend.

“When he saw me in my uniform, he would cry,” Sloan-Prince said. “He would think I was leaving again.”

She felt separated from her family. Her coping mechanism was to go out drinking and partying with friends.

“I was acting like I wasn't married and didn't have a family,” she said. “I didn't understand why I felt this way. I thought I was going crazy.”

A couple of months after returning home, she knew it was time to get help.

She saw a therapist and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. Now she is on medication and attends both group and individual therapy sessions through the Veteran's Administration.

Combat pay

Job and money issues were no better.

Sloan-Prince returned to the job she left behind at JC Penney, but noticed she was being short with customers.

She had grown used to making good money in combat. Depending on rank and experience, an active-duty enlisted soldier working in a combat zone can make $2,500 to $3,500 a month, and combat troops do not pay any taxes on their wages.

Col. Warren Griffis, director of the Oklahoma National Guard's employment coordination program, said jobs are available for returning soldiers, but pay is an issue.

“The level of compensation they were getting in a combat zone is not comparable to what is out there,” Griffis said. “There is a big disparity.”

When Sloan-Prince was passed over for a promotion, she quit her job. Griffis' office helped her with her resume.

“The process of getting employment these days isn't what it used to be,” Griffis said.

“The resume is key. We are working steadfastly to convince our unemployed the importance of a good resume.”

The Guard has placed more than 350 soldiers with local businesses and helped about 900 more with their resumes, Griffis said.

Sloan-Prince worked briefly at another job but was laid off.

She is back in school now, while she works to get her PTSD under control. She's been declared 50 percent disabled because of her symptoms.

She said the treatments don't magically cure her, but they have helped.

“It is hard,” she said. “It doesn't happen overnight. It is a long process. I knew something was wrong with me. I had to get help for my family. And I know that Little Sister would want me to go to the VA.”

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