- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2005

EBENSBURG, Pa. - Early on a Sunday morning, Jason Brosk stands in front of 40 or so camouflage-clad Marine reservists back from their second tour of duty in Iraq. A list labeled “Tips” is projected on a large screen behind him.

• Avoid alcohol and drug use.

• It helps to exercise.

• Eat right.

• Talk, talk, talk.

The 28-year-old with a muscular build stands casually, his khakis and striped button-down shirt making him look more like a college jock than a former Army officer.

He tells them nightmares are common. He tells them he, too, partied too much when he returned. He tells them that, oddly enough, although being deployed overseas is stressful, so is being a civilian.

Mr. Brosk’s difficult readjustment to life back home and search for new purpose make him the perfect outreach worker.

“The worst part was coming home,” he says. “You lost a year of your time that you really can’t account for. Your reality was Iraq.”

In some ways, Iraq and home would have much in common.

From Fort Campbell in Kentucky to Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait to the battlefields of Iraq, the soldiers waited.

Waited for orders. Waited for the enemy. Waited to go home.

Never knowing what would come next, Mr. Brosk says, had everyone on edge.

At Camp Pennsylvania, where his platoon spent nearly a month, the soldiers watched movies or played cards when they weren’t conducting drills.

Then, on the night of March 23, 2003, Mr. Brosk was awakened in his tent by an explosion and a siren. His first thought: The Iraqis were attacking first with mortar rounds.

He grabbed his gear and helped set up a perimeter of soldiers around his section of the camp. He later would learn that about two football fields away, an Army captain and Air Force major were killed, and more than a dozen injured, at the hands of a fellow soldier. Sgt. Hasan Akbar was recently sentenced to death in the grenade and rifle attack.

The experience shook the nervous soldiers.

Days later, the order would come for Mr. Brosk and his reconnaissance platoon to enter Iraq. The platoon led into the desert a division that included about 400 vehicles. It provided surveillance for forces going into the city of Najaf. The soldiers went on more than a dozen raids, many at schools. They found tons of ammunition but little resistance, also the case in smaller villages.

“I’m ready to fight and we’re not really fighting,” Mr. Brosk says. “I was expecting kind of like a tooth-and-nail kind of fight and that’s not what’s happening.”

The waiting was difficult. For fun, the soldiers would bet on what day they would be sent home. He missed home and missed color amid the sand and dust. He returned home in September 2003.

“Six hours after I was back on American soil,” he says, “I went to a bar.”

Discharged from active duty in November 2003, Mr. Brosk turned his attention again to civilian life. He needed a job.

He found no job prospects at the FBI or CIA. With an accounting degree from the University of South Carolina, he tried unsuccessfully to find work at a bank.

Mr. Brosk thought someone would see the value of the skills he learned while leading a platoon into battle and being responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars of military equipment. But no one seemed to, he says.

He waited, this time for his life to start again.

He says he began drinking four or five times a week, and burning through the savings he had accumulated while deployed. He picked a fight at a bar one night, and had trouble relating to friends and even family. He was jumpy.

He worked briefly in construction and worked out at the gym, sometimes twice a day.

Mr. Brosk’s mom, Mary Ann Brosk, saw her son, the third of four children, grow increasingly frustrated.

“When he came back, of course, we were all so caught up with being so thankful,” she says. “We just lived in that aura of happiness for several months.”

Mrs. Brosk was thankful when her son heard about a job with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Who’d have known,” she says. “If he was struggling with this all by himself, maybe he wouldn’t look for help, but it’s right there.”

His new job title is readjustment counseling technician.

He works out of the Greater McKeesport Vet Center, located in a suburban Pittsburgh storefront. Most of his colleagues also are veterans.

More than 2 million veterans have visited centers nationwide since the counseling service was established in 1979. But many veterans still don’t seek help.

A study last year by Army researchers found that about one in eight soldiers who fought in Iraq reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder such as nightmares, trouble concentrating and sleeplessness. But the study said less than half of the soldiers with problems sought help.

In March, Mr. Brosk was asked to speak at the headquarters of the 4th Marine Division’s Truck Company in Ebensburg, 90 minutes east of Pittsburgh. Leaders of the unit, which could be deployed a third time, had noticed that some of the reservists were drinking more, withdrawing from the group, or becoming easily agitated. The unit has lost two in battle and about 30 have been wounded.

“We kind of built a family here, and when someone withdraws from that family” everyone grows concerned, says Travis Miller, a hospital corpsman first class. “We’re trying to get a grip on it now.”

Mr. Brosk talks first to the group, later to their families.

Each Marine fills out a post-traumatic stress disorder questionnaire, then meets individually with counselors from the vet center.

Mr. Brosk waits again, this time in a large meeting room while the private sessions are taking place. But he has found his purpose behind the closed doors.

He is taking 10-hour classes each Saturday to earn a master’s degree in counseling. He hopes to have his degree in 1years. He also is still repaying his Army commitment as a member of the Individual Ready Reserves until December 2007.

Until then, there’s always a chance he could go back.

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