TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Spc. Nash Lindley is a different man from the one Courtney Lindley married in 2009. And she’s a different woman.
That reality began to sink in after the homecoming ceremony, when loved ones are elated to bring home their Oklahoma National Guard soldier for the first time in a year.
“Real life kicks in pretty quick,” Nash Lindley said.
About 3,000 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team soldiers and their families are working to establish what their life is now and move forward with that new reality, nearly two months after the last soldiers returned from their deployment to Afghanistan and Kuwait.
Soldiers can face several issues once they return from the battlefield.
A variety of services are available from civilian and military sources to help those veterans, either as soon as they land back in country or decades down the line.
It’s been a difficult time for the Lindleys. But it’s something they are working through together, and it’s helping to build their relationship and their family.
“She went through heck and came out on the better side,” Nash Lindley told the Tulsa World (http://is.gd/skqCwA).
One of the first things they realized is that what was normal before likely won’t exist again. Lt. Col. Chris Evans, the family program coordinator with the Oklahoma National Guard, said their experience is common.
“Nobody is unchanged by the process,” Evans said. “The soldier is different because he’s gone and done things they don’t normally see. Going to war changes you, but it changes the family that stays back. They’ve had to deal with everything that’s happening at home.”
Nash Lindley signed up with the Oklahoma National Guard in 2006. In 2009, around the same time he started work at the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, he married Courtney.
Two months after they were married - on Valentine’s Day - they learned Courtney was pregnant. With their son Treyton, they were becoming a family.
Soon after that, Nash Lindley learned he was deploying with the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. He helped his wife move to Tahlequah to be closer to her family two days before his unit’s pre-mobilization exercises.
It helped her to be closer to her family, so she could finish school and get help with Treyton. But after her husband deployed, she had to cope with a family tragedy with her grandfather’s death.
“He died about two weeks after my husband left,” Courtney Lindley said. “So, I thought it was going to be a good year, but then I had my husband gone, grandpa died. But it was good to be around family. I didn’t want to be here by myself.”
Nash Lindley was with the 160th Field Artillery, which deployed to Kuwait. Being in Kuwait was a unique experience for Nash Lindley. He was in the country when the last American troops left Iraq and patrolled the border during his last few months there.
The soldiers in Kuwait followed what their fellow Oklahomans were doing in Afghanistan and their mission there and knew how dangerous it was. They knew that 14 Oklahoma Guard soldiers were killed.
Courtney Lindley said that while it was difficult, she handled the deployment. She and her husband were able to talk frequently. But the communication was not a good substitution for his actual presence. When he returned, the real work started.
“But, getting back into things - like even coming home for two weeks - that was hard because I’m living by myself and have been doing things my way, then he comes home and he wants to do things his way,” Courtney Lindley said.
Evans said that couples and families quickly learn that the family dynamic has changed.
“When they come back, they’re each trying to figure out,” Evans said. “You don’t just come back and instantly resume your normal life. It’s a process that takes some effort on everyone.”
What it takes is patience and realizing that how things were before are different now. Trying to get to how things were won’t work, so the families find what normal is now, Evans said.
Courtney Lindley said it started soon after her husband returned, but there isn’t a first step in the process. It’s just that, she said: A process.
“You come home and that’s it,” Courtney Lindley said. “I get to find out who he is because they don’t stay the same as they were. They don’t. They are completely different people, just like me. I’m a completely different person than he knew before he left. It changes you. It really does. You’re not the same person that you were before.”
Capt. Andrew Wilson has retired from the military, but with three deployments and the last two years as a contractor in Afghanistan, he’s spent five of the last 10 years overseas.
The new normal for his wife and six children still changes, but for the most part, his wife runs the show.
“Now that I’ve been home only since December, we’re still kind of in the same growing phase even though we’ve been married those 10 years,” Wilson said. “Some of those kids I’ve been away for more than I’ve been here.”
Wilson, who owns Easy Moves Tulsa, knows Courtney and Nash Lindley and helped them move back to the Tulsa area recently. He said that although things are difficult for them now, the fact they are open and willing to acknowledge their difficulties shows they are working through them.
Evans said that family issues may not present themselves for some time after they return.
“There’s the period right after they get back - the honeymoon period - they don’t see the issues themselves,” Evans said. “When they realize that they do have issues and they do need help, they’re receptive to it.”
The ONG holds Yellow Ribbon Programs at 30, 60 and 90 days after the soldiers’ units return from the deployment. There, soldiers have access to a wide variety of services and information, from family counseling to how to navigate the VA and places to find work.
Those extensive programs are new for the guard. Evans said when he returned from Iraq in 2008, there was one Yellow Ribbon event at 90 days. After that, the family programs with the guard keep in contact with families, especially those they believe to be struggling.
Nash and Courtney Lindley said it’s something they will continue to struggle with but will come out stronger.
“You can do anything if you survive a deployment,” Courtney Lindley said. “It sucks. It sucks every day. But I really think that you can still make it happen.”
How they move forward is slowly. Nash Lindley took about three weeks off before returning to work. Courtney Lindley was looking for jobs in Tulsa but is now able to stay home with Treyton, who is 2.
Their new life will be something they both work through.
“It will help us grow together, that’s for sure,” Nash Lindley said.