Hawaii Soldiers Coming Home
For many soldiers getting back from Iraq or Afghanistan, the battle has just begun.
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Sometimes the end is just the beginning. It’s a lesson U.S. Army reservist Michael Naumu has learned well. It’s been almost six years since he returned from a yearlong deployment in Iraq with the 411th Engineering Battalion, building bridges, repairing roads, conducting military checkpoints, and he deals with the after-effects of his experiences every day.
HONOLULU Magazine profiled Naumu and his family in January 2005, near the end of his tour of duty, and, at the time, everyone was eagerly awaiting his return to Hawaii. It had been a difficult year apart, and Naumu still remembers the excitement he felt seeing his family again in a Wheeler Air Force Base hangar. “The anticipation was so high,” he says. “The kids were grown since the last time I had seen them. My oldest son was as tall as I was, suddenly. My girls had changed.”
The reunion was a joy, and Naumu was more than ready to get back to his normal life. A carpenter journeyman, he was soon back working on a construction site, thanks to friends in the construction industry.
But not everything was the same. Naumu had been looking forward to being home safe again, away from the mortar rounds and rocket propelled grenades that got lobbed over the walls of his Baghdad camp on a nearly daily basis. But he found it unexpectedly hard to adjust to the new peace and quiet.
“I had been in an environment where anything can happen,” he says. “We were driving around in Hummers that we added steel plates to, to protect them. It looked like the movie, The Road Warrior. When I got home, just waking up and having everything be quiet, it was unbelievable. It took more than a month to relax, to even be able to sleep in.”
And somehow, a wall had been erected between Naumu and his wife, Laurie. “It was hard to talk to my wife about what I had gone through. It’s hard to explain to anyone. Until you’ve been there, you don’t know,” he says.
Today, Naumu is going through a divorce, which he attributes at least partially to his war experiences. He also wakes up every morning at three, and battles chronic pain from a knee injury he says he sustained in Iraq. And he still has trouble being in crowds.
“If there are too many people, sometimes I find myself backing up, looking left and right,” he say. “It’s instinct, like second-nature. I try to control it, but it’s always there.”
Naumu still belongs to the Reserves, conducting regular training exercises. He says he’s heard rumors of another deployment in the works, but that it’s just talk at this point.
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