S.C. at War: Home front trials

After a year in Afghanistan, Sgt. Ty Nelson wanted to step in and help his wife, who had been home alone raising their 4- and 5-year-old sons.

"I felt bad that she had to take it on all by herself," recalled Nelson, of Irmo. "I said: 'Here, let me take control. Let me do what I could do,' not knowing that for the first two months, the first three months, I'm messing it up.

"It was tougher than I thought," Nelson said, referring to re-entering his family’s life.

Six months after he returned from Afghanistan, the Nelsons still are reknitting the fabric of their home life. So are 1,800 other families whose sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, husbands and wives deployed to Afghanistan with the S.C. National Guard’s 218th Brigade Combat Team.

Called "reintegration,” the process is designed to help soldiers make the transition back into civilian life. It has been refined and beefed up since the first S.C. Guard members were called up for the Iraq war in 2003.

Since their return in May, the Guard troops have stood in formation for welcome-home ceremonies and attended briefings on how to reconnect with spouses and children, as well as issues including suicide prevention, post-traumatic stress disorder, and drug and alcohol abuse.

They've also resumed work as teachers, lawyers, mechanics, store managers and truck drivers.

Many have readjusted to the chaos of civilian life, including erratic drivers and large crowds — scenes that would have triggered their survival instincts in a combat zone.

"Now, the only stress is the people on the road," said Capt. Brandon Pitcher, of Summerville. "If anything, the deployment probably has made us more safety conscious."

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