Archive for Thursday, November 8, 2007

Soldier ‘tones down’ at home

November 8, 2007

Editor's note: This is the third in a series of articles about Leavenworth County residents who have answered the call to serve in Iraq -- and how the duty affected their lives.

Capt. Jay Scrivener considers himself lucky.

He returned home to Basehor from his third deployment in the Army National Guard about a year ago and even though he spent a year away from his family in war-torn Iraq, he said the lifestyle he endured over there was not that bad.

"My day was usually 12 to 16 hours long every day; no days off," he said about his routine. "Basically, I would get up at 6 a.m., walk a half mile to breakfast, then back to work. It was really nice. We were lucky."

His unit, the 2-137 Infantry, was in charge of security for Camp Slayer, which is the southernmost part of Victory Base, the largest base in Baghdad. Checking all vehicles that entered and exited the base, manning the towers that overlooked the perimeter wall and patrolling the outside walls were all part of the unit's daily duties.

Living on the base, Scrivener and his unit enjoyed certain luxuries that some of their counterparts did not. They had their own living quarters, were able to take a hot shower daily and spent their free time fishing in the nearby lakes. However, even with the favorable living conditions, they were still subject to random acts of violence.

Scrivener said the unit lost one soldier to a suicide bomber.

"Every once in a while somebody might shoot at the tower guards, but it wasn't a regular occurrence," he said. "The biggest warning we give our troops is 'complacency kills.' You always have to be looking for things out of the ordinary."

And, while most people were sleeping, Scrivener was still looking for things out of the ordinary. Explosions, gunfire and other disturbances woke him several times during the night and he would have to determine the proximity of the disturbance and decide whether there was cause for alarm. Even now that he's back home in his own bed, he said noises wake him up and he automatically processes them to determine if they are a cause for concern.

Sometimes the noises he heard during the night on the base were a false alarm. He said one time he and his colleagues heard a large commotion outside the base walls and had a hard time figuring out what was going on. Iraq had beaten Iran in a soccer game and Middle Eastern people celebrate by going outside and shooting their guns into the air.

"It took us a half an hour to figure out that they won a soccer game and they were celebrating," he said. "That was an interesting night."

However, many times the noises were very real. He remembers his most frightening moment was one night when artillery shells landed close to the base.

Comfort from those situations came in the form of items from home such as packages and letters from his wife, Gina, and sons, Austin and Gunnar. But he said throwing himself into his work is what really helped the time go by faster.

He said he focused on the positive activities his unit was doing for the communities that surrounded the base, from cleaning up trash to providing medical aid to a girl who had been severely burned.

"We did a lot of good," he said. "We helped a couple of schools by providing them with supplies. Our biggest project though was keeping the canals clear of trash and vegetation to allow everybody to get their water. The communities we interacted with were appreciative of all the things we did for them. And, we kept the area safe."

While there were some days that seemed to drag on, he said, for the most part, the year went by pretty fast. But, coming home was a long, drawn out process.

Classes and training on how to reintegrate into society, recognizing and dealing with any problems the soldiers might have developed and reacquainting themselves with loved ones were conducted in both Kuwait and Wisconsin before Scrivener returned to Kansas.

"You need to tone down after coming out of an environment like that," Scrivener said, stressing the importance of the classes. "But it's human nature when you're that close -- the horses see the barn."

Buses took the soldiers from Wisconsin to Topeka. The Patriot Guard met up with the buses near Lawrence to lead them into Topeka for the welcome-home ceremony.

Back in Basehor

"When I met back up with my family, it was sort of like awkward and relief at the same time," he said.

His youngest son, Gunnar, who is now 2, was a newborn when Scrivener left for Iraq in November 2005. When he returned, the tiny infant had grown up quite a bit, but Scrivener said photos and chats on the phone kept them in contact while he was away.

"It probably took a little bit to come to me instead of his mom, but while I was gone, she would show him pictures and I would talk to him on the phone," he said. "It made the bond between my son and my wife stronger with me being gone."

With 13-year-old Austin, it's a little different. Scrivener said Austin was pretty well versed in the military lifestyle by then and he didn't have a long, drawn out conversation with his son before he had to leave.

"He had a rough time while I was gone," Scrivener said. "But it's just one of those things that kids understand."

Adjustments

Getting used to life back with the family and work is still something Scrivener is adjusting to, he said. Life moves at a slower pace now with his job in computer simulations.

"I went from always doing something and giving advice that affected people's action to slowing down a lot," he said. "It's not as stressful."

Perhaps the biggest challenge since coming home, he said, is interacting with his wife. Being away from each other is nothing new to them and they both accept deployments as just a part of the military lifestyle, he said.

However, while they're apart, they make decisions without the other one being there, so learning how to work together again is something they continue to work on.

"I went to Desert Storm and I went to Bosnia, so this was my third deployment," he said. "For some people it's easier and some people it isn't. For us, it's easier."

The pair is also preparing for a new addition to their family, a daughter, in March or April of next year.

Even with his fairly positive experience in Iraq and the adjustments he's had to make on his return, Scrivener said there's no better place than home.

Being able to go hunting and fishing with his son, going to the grocery store, eating Gina's cooking and driving his truck are just some of the activities he enjoys now that he's back. And, not having to go to work in the middle of the night or worry that he'll be shot at are also some positives of life back at home.

While the period of adjustment has been a process, nothing has been too difficult to handle he said.

"There are support groups out there," he said. "Do I feel like I need to call them? No. If things got so bad I could always go talk to my pastor. I'm pretty easy going because nothing is as bad here as it was there. It reaffirms how lucky I am to be living in the United States. Even at my lowest financial point in my life, I was still better off here than I would have been anywhere over there."

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