Never Truly Over: Discussing Deployment A Challenge Of Its Own

Mar 29, 2014
Originally published on March 29, 2014 8:27 am

Army Capt. Drew Pham, 26, returned from a tour in Afghanistan in October 2011. Since Drew's been back, it's been hard for him to make sense of what he saw there and adjust to his life at home. It's been difficult for his wife, Molly Pearl, to respond to some of the things he would tell her, too.

Pham called once to tell her he had shot a man. He says she didn't know what to say, so she replied, "Well, we'll deal with it when you get home."

"I did a lot of bad things. We killed this 60- or 70-year-old schoolteacher. He was an old man and snipers shot him because he had a 2-liter water bottle in his hand and we thought it was a rocket," Pham says. "I had to go and clean up the mess. I had to talk to his son and try and convince him that, you know, it was a mistake, I'm sorry."

It was hard to fight in Afghanistan, he says, but "here in the States I don't even know how to talk to people."

"I don't think anything that anyone says anymore is important, or what they think or what they feel. Sometimes I want to take everyone that I know to Afghanistan and force them to see it. I want them to feel all of it," he says.

When Pham first joined the Army, Pearl assured him four years of duty would fly by like four years of college. She says that used to help him — "that ability to look past and see how time always moves on and moves you with it."

She's not sure they'll ever be able to put Afghanistan behind them.

"I don't think that this is ever really gonna be over for any of us," Pham says.

His wife is the only thing that keeps him going, he says: "I still don't know how to carry on a normal life with all these things, but at least I get to carry all of those things with you."

Audio produced for Weekend Edition by Jasmyn Belcher.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This weekend, we're beginning our second season of StoryCorps's Military Voices Initiative, honoring those who've served in post-9/11 conflicts and their families. Twenty-six-year-old Army Capt. Drew Pham returned from a tour in Afghanistan in October of 2011. Since Drew's been back, it has been hard for him to make sense of what he saw there, and adjust to his life at home. At StoryCorps, he spoke with his wife, Molly Pearl, about that transition, and some of his most difficult combat memories.

CAPT. DREW PHAM: I remember I called you and told you that I shot a man. And you didn't really know what to say so you said, well, we'll deal with it when you get home.

MOLLY PEARL: I had a hard time responding to some of the things you would tell me.

PHAM: I did a lot of bad things. We killed this 60- or 70-year-old schoolteacher. He was an old man, and snipers shot him because he had a 2-liter water bottle in his hand, and we thought it was a rocket. I had to go and clean up the mess. I had to talk to his son and try and convince him that, you know, it was a mistake, I'm sorry. So all this stuff happened, I come home and, even though it was hard to fight in Afghanistan, here in the States I don't even know how to talk to people. I don't think anything that anyone says anymore is important - or what they think or what they feel. And sometimes I want to, like, take everyone that I know to Afghanistan, and force them to see it. I want them to feel all of it.

PEARL: I remember when you first joined, I would tell you that eventually if we look back, they would be four years just like college was four years. And that used to really help you - that ability to look past and see how time always moves on, and moves you with it. I don't know if that ever happens with Afghanistan.

PHAM: I don't think that this is ever really going to be over for any of us. I mean, honestly, like, you really are the only thing that keeps me going.

PEARL: That's tough. But I'm OK with that.

PHAM: I still don't know how to carry on a normal life with all these things, but at least I get to carry all of those things with you.

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SIMON: That's Army veteran Capt. Drew Pham with his wife, Molly Pearl, at StoryCorps in New York City. Drew was honorably discharged from the Army last year. Their conversation was recorded as part of the StoryCorps Military Voices Initiative. It will be archived at the Library of Congress. You can get the StoryCorps podcast at npr.org.

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SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.