August 5, 2008, Port Angeles, WA – After death and destruction were your daily diet in Iraq, civilian life seems hard to swallow.
Certain things also stick in your craw.
“Why are you so angry all the time?” is one question that annoys Logan Smith more than a year after returning stateside.
The really maddening thing is that Smith doesn’t know exactly why he’s angry.
“I’m still trying to figure it out,” he said Friday in his sisters’ home on the city’s Westside. “I’m still trying to deal with things.”
Those “things” range from combat in Iraq – where Smith served as a Marine field MP — to policing a construction site.
“You’re kicking doors down and taking weapons from people and getting shot at all day — just heart-thumping action nonstop.
“Then all of a sudden you’re in a low-end construction job, starting at the bottom. It’s not an ego booster, I’ll tell you that.”
Buddies weren’t so lucky
Smith was lucky to find construction work through what he called “connections.” Some of his buddies weren’t so lucky.
Those friends hadn’t had jobs when they entered the Marines and couldn’t find work when they left the service.
“A lot of my buddies went down the proverbial rat hole,” Smith said.
Dislocated in civilian life, they began drinking, spending their GI Bill tuition on drugs, then stealing to support their addictions, he said.
Smith had been a corporal who commanded 13 men, and he learned that wasn’t a marketable skill.
“When you get out, you’re starting at the bottom again, so that’s a blow to your ego,” he said.
“It was hard for me to just take orders from people who didn’t know what I’d done.”
‘You’ve got to get a job’
Unlike the military, the “real world” also didn’t feed Smith, clothe him, house him or tell him where or when to work.
“After six months when the money runs out, you realize you’re not being taken care of,” he said.
In uniform, “you always had a paycheck, no matter what. You get out, you’ve got to get a job.”
Smith enlisted when he was 19, soon after his father died, and chose to be an MP.
“I thought I was going to be a cop,” he said.
Instead, he was assigned to the seagoing 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit that helped victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
Next he served in Kuwait, then Baghdad for five months, followed by another stint with the 15th MEU and, finally, an eight-month tour in Iraq that grew to a full year.
‘It was good for 6 months’
“I got back in April 2007, got out in May,” he said.
“It was good for about the first six months.”
Like many people leaving the service, he’d had three weeks of 12-hour-a-day classes about adjusting to civilian life.
And like most of those people, he ignored them.
Perhaps the biggest problem was deceleration.
“Our problem was, we pushed the limit on everything,” he said about a world of Humvees, machine guns, IEDs and suicide bombers.
“Now, I’m bored all the time,” he said. “I can’t do it [a civilian job] for more than a couple months, and then I want to leave.”
Smith will return to Arizona, where he went just after leaving the Marines and where he hopes to become a police officer.
“It’s as close as I can get without going back in [to the Marines].”
What he’d do differently
Smith harbors horrible memories that he declines to describe but says he’d do nothing different from enlisting and serving in Iraq.
Getting out, though, he’d be savvier about finding people willing to help him.
Smith has met and talked to Mike McEvoy, the veterans specialist at WorkSource and a founder of Voices for Veterans.
That’s the band of vets who help other vets, especially those who are homeless, with services such as the Veterans Stand Downs in Forks, Port Angeles and Port Townsend.
The events offer one-on-one connections to social services, medical and dental care, and employment resources, as well as sleeping bags, food and camping equipment.
This year’s stand downs were May 1 in Forks and Monday in Port Townsend.
The next one is scheduled Oct. 2 at the Clallam County Fairgrounds.
“I talked to Mike, and it was good. It was a personal, one-on-one thing,” Smith said.
“He can help you. He’s going to help you take advantage of the benefits.”
‘Be patient with them’
As for the friends and families of veterans returning from combat zones, Smith said they need to understand that they’ll never understand.
“It’s hard for people,” he said.
“They’re never going to get it.”
Anger and depression are common reactions among returned vets, he said.
“If they’re angry a lot, just be patient with the person,” he advises friends and family members.
“Be patient with them. Be patient with them.”
Criticizing a vet for something that the vet cannot grasp won’t help.
“It’s hard enough adjusting without people getting frustrated with you.”
Perhaps the best thing is to point the person to a veterans assistant or someone like McEvoy or a county veterans assistant.
“They’re not going to be the same person,” Smith said.
“Nobody in the civilian world can understand.
“We’re the walking wise. We’ve gotten knowledge beyond our years.”
Help a vet come home
Clallam and Jefferson county veterans officials hope to hear from families of persons in the armed forces to send them thank-you letters now and offer help when they leave the service.
“We have a small enough community that we can be here for them and help ease them back into the civilian world,” said Mike McEvoy, veterans employment specialist at WorkSource in Port Angeles and a member of the nonprofit Voices for Veterans.
In Clallam County, family members can phone McEvoy at 360-457-2129 or Clallam County Veterans Assistant Scott Buck at 360-417-0263.
In Jefferson County, they can phone John Braasch of Voices for Veterans at 360-301-9987 or the county veterans assistant, Julie Matthes, at 360-385-9122.
Doffing the uniform can be especially hard on vets who entered service right out of high school, McEvoy said. They never had to fend for themselves and had no chance to acquire civilian job skills.
“They leave home for the military, and it’s like a different mommy and daddy,” McEvoy said.
After discharge, “they don’t know where they’re going to eat next. They don’t know what they’re going to do next.”
Meanwhile, the Clallam County’s advisory Veterans Association is preparing a flyer for Buck to distribute at the county Veterans Center, 261 S. Francis St. and an advertisement that will appear in Peninsula Daily News.