Writer Jonathan Raab’s interview with Captain James Caggy on his experience of returning home after his 2nd of two deployments overseas follows. This excerpt is presented in two parts.
- His first steps out of the taped “corrals’ that sectioned off army turf and civilian space
- Next steps in which his new work, family and life reality is fully understood Now…… to the two veterans’ own words……
On a windy, cold Christmas Eve, Army Captain James Caggy, commander of Alpha Company, waited with his fellow soldiers inside the Syracuse armory for the Army to release them after a year-long deployment.
He stood with bags stuffed full with gear, clothing, and what few personal items he still had with him. All around him were his fellow soldiers, tired from a full day of flying.
The men and women, anxious to get home, stood in taped-off square “corrals.” Supervised by aggressive sergeants who barked out orders, they were told to remain where they were until released. A soldier called off numbers and destinations, releasing one corral at a time to board buses bound for cities spread across New York State.
Somewhere in the armory was James’ girlfriend Emily. She was anxious to see the man she had stood by for many years – including two overseas deployments within five years.
Finally, with all the buses boarded, the NCOs barking out orders changed their tune. They released the last group of soldiers, who moved to meet a rush of family members and friends.
“Just like everyone else in Syracuse, I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there,” said James. His thoughts drifted back to those final moments of frustration and waiting.
Seeing his family on Christmas Eve was welcome, but it would be several weeks before he felt comfortable out of uniform and away from the Army.
“You’re home, but you’re not home yet, if that makes sense,” he said.
For the next few days after Christmas Eve, James spent time with his girlfriend Emily, family and friends. While he was glad to see them, he mostly wanted to spend time with just a few people. He also desired time to himself.
As a company commander, he spent the last two and a half years supervising about 150 other soldiers – and dealing with their problems.
“It’s part of the job,” he said, careful to point out that he was not complaining about the responsibility. “But when you spend that much time working on behalf of others, dealing with their issues, dealing with their most intimate personal problems, you put your own personal wants and needs on the backburner.”
It wasn’t until the end of December 2012, several days after coming back to New York, that he allowed himself to – unexpectedly, forcefully – decompress. It happened during a visit with Emily’s parents. He sat down in their living room and began to talk to her mother.
“It was probably the first time in a while – in at least 15 months – that I dealt with my own personal emotions,” he said. “I don’t want to say ‘PTSD,’ because it’s not in that sense, but just dealing with the grief and emotion of everything that has happened to me over the years. I just sat there, and it was good to be able to talk to someone about it, and let it all out, and cry.
“A lot of guys come back from a deployment, or any prolonged period of time away from family and friends, and I feel they make one of the biggest mistakes if they don’t take that time to sit down with someone they trust and let their emotions out, and let their feelings out, and talk about what’s going on, what makes them angry, what makes them sad. I feel a lot of guys… they feel it’s not the manly thing to do. Or maybe there’s a little bit of weakness if you do that as a man, especially being an infantry soldier. You don’t want to have that perceived weakness, and I think some guys don’t do that, and that hurts them.”
James offered this opinion in the context of his service in Afghanistan, and the ways in which he mishandled his first transition. He came home from that deployment in the fall of 2008.
“I didn’t deal with it at all after Afghanistan. And I really didn’t deal with the deaths of my friends, really, until the fall of 2011, right after we got back from NTC [the National Training Center]. It wasn’t until right after that – and that’s like three years later – that I really dealt with the emotional trauma of Afghanistan, and losing my friends, over an 18 month period. So, I knew coming back from this last tour that it was important for me to deal with everything sooner rather than later, so I could kind of move on with life.”
Although James knew he had to deal with his memories and experiences, he did not have a conscious plan for when or how.
“I didn’t wake up one morning and say ‘Hey, I’m going to sit in my girlfriend’s family room for the next two hours and cry my eyes out,’” he said. “But I did know I had to deal with it. That’s just what I did.”
The process, however unexpected, gave him a sense of progress. The following day, he returned to his apartment in New York City. He had some time to himself, and to get reacquainted with his girlfriend.
“I was kind debating what the hell I was going to do over the next three months – if I was gonna sit on my ass, or try and find a job,” he said.
……continued in part 2…Working life in process