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Protestors and politicians today are pushing to bring our troops home.  The need of the hour, however, isn't just to pack them on planes and ships and head west.  The greater need is to help the troops completely come home—in body, mind and spirit—and to equip their loved ones with the tools to survive this unavoidably painful process.

Marshéle Carter Waddell, author of Hope for the Home Front: Winning the Emotional and Spiritual Battles of a Military Wife and wife of U.S. Navy SEAL CDR (ret) Mark Waddell, knows firsthand how post-traumatic stress threatens the marriages and homes of America's troops.  Mark returned to Iraq several times. After each deployment, he came home to his family in body; but, in his soul a war still raged.  

His ability to be a loving husband and father suffered greatly.  From irritability and irrationality to nightmares and emotional numbing, it became very clear to Waddell that her veteran husband was suffering from post-traumatic stress.   For two years her husband denied any need for help and unintentionally led her family into a land of silent suffering.  



The stress of Mark's job was nothing new for either of them.  In their 20-year marriage they had survived everything that a special operations career could throw at them: frequent deployments, long separations for training and real world conflicts, serious injuries and surgeries as well as multiple overseas family moves.  That may explain why Mark's frustrations and underlying anxieties caused Marshéle no new concerns at first.  It was "all systems normal" and "steady as she goes", or so she thought.  For the next three years they stumbled their way without a compass through a tangled maze of mental and emotional pain.

After the Civil War, our nation called it Soldier's Heart.  To WWI veterans, it was known as Shell Shock, to WWII vets, battle fatigue. After the Korean and Vietnam wars, exasperated experts lumped all the surfacing symptoms together and labeled it the Vietnam Veterans Syndrome.  Only in 1994 did the American Psychiatric Association officially name and define what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Medical studies, military surveys and the media are now reporting that her family is not alone.   Yes, the government and other organizations are putting forth their best efforts to help vets with acute stress disorder and its potential result: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  However, the spouses and families who love and live with these vets day in and day out are fighting from unfamiliar foxholes against an enemy for which no one prepared them to face.    

The homes of our nation's heroes are being ambushed by the fallout of post-traumatic stress. Military marriages, extended families and even churches are caught in the crossfire of the flying shrapnel of stress caused by their loved ones' wartime experiences.  

The aftermath of war is a battle fought on the home front.  The spouses, children, family and friends of U.S. service members today urgently need to understand the soldier's heart and to arm themselves with the Biblical truth necessary to weather the storm of combat-related stress at home.

The U.S. Army reported in 2004 that of the nearly half million troops who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2003, one in six returning soldiers showed signs of acute stress.  At that rate, unseen wounds, those of the mind and spirit, already outnumber reported physical injuries nearly four to one.  Today, four years and more than 3,000 U.S. deaths later, that percentage is rising quickly as troops deploy, return home and redeploy again.  Military and medical studies are reporting that depression, anxiety and combat stress are at their highest levels among troops since the war in Vietnam.  Most of those soldiers who say they are suffering combat-related anguish do not seek help from their loved ones, much less from professionals, fearing they will be seen as weak or unfit for service and promotion.  According to the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD is associated with veterans' increased likelihood of mental, physical and social problems.  Inevitably, the problems spill over into a soldier's personal and professional relationships.

The U.S. will continue to deploy its fighting forces to the War on Terrorism.  We on the home front need the proven wisdom of others who have lived through similar experiences, the practical advice of specialists and, most importantly,  the God-given promises necessary to protect our marriages, families and communities from the destructive potential of a soldier's unseen wounds.

Today, Marshéle is able to look back, connect the dots and draw a trail map for those not far behind her.  With good information posted at the trailhead, a steady faith and a supportive team of family and friends beside them, a military family's journey from combat-related pain to healing will be smoother.

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