Returning (all the way) home from war

Johnny Elsasser served in some of the most elite units in the US military.  Because most of his military career was during the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), Johnny also served in some of the most dangerous missions. Like any elite warrior, Johnny picked up some skills that helped him face the enemy with courage on more than 500 combat missions.  

It was sometimes challenging for Johnny.  He made some mistakes along the way that created some major career setbacks. But overall, his military career was incredibly successful by almost every measure possible.  

However, some of the skills that made Johnny successful on the battlefield made him distant and hard to relate to for his friends and family. Johnny’s life had become a case study for success at work and failure at home.

Countless warriors have experienced the same difficulty relating to the people they love most after returning from war. Over many years of constant combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, it became clear that although Johnny was physically home in the USA, his head and heart were still at war.  Not one to back down from a fight, Johnny decided to fight through the challenges of reintegrating into family and society.  

But this became Johnny’s most challenging and vital fight. 

Forward this article to someone you know, like Johnny, who has had difficulty adjusting after returning from combat or some other significant traumatic life experience.  The steps that helped Johnny return (all the way) home from war can help them also.

Finding perspective again

Johnny’s most significant challenge was learning to be comfortable with himself again. After many years of constant firefights in the GWOT, Johnny had to learn how to adjust to the future despite his violent past. Johnny describes this challenge as “reinventing healthy masculinity”.  

Perspective makes a world of difference. How you view your current problems can have a massive impact on the direction your life takes in the future.

If you have been down some bumpy roads in life, they might be causing you to be cautious about your future. You must remember that bumpy roads can often lead to the best views.

Finding peace again

Sleepless nights, struggles accepting the past, and difficulties adjusting are common to warriors returning from combat. Johnny’s story highlights the challenges of adapting to life without someone shooting at you nightly. 

Every warrior who has conducted themselves with honor on the battlefield deserves to return home and find peace. However, peace can be elusive for people who have spent an entire adult life at war.

Just like a soldier’s body armor protects them against the enemy’s bullets, peace is often stronger than bullets or body armor for those that do the hard work of coming home emotionally and physically after combat.

Finding psychological healing again

Every warrior is thoroughly trained to avoid showing weakness to the enemy in combat. This natural protection mechanism gives warriors a distinct advantage over a weak enemy force.

However, the stoic ability to handle pressure in war can become the very challenge that makes reintegrating back into normal society so tricky. 

Many of my buddies from combat struggle to show their vulnerability when they return home.  I remind them that accepting their vulnerability is usually the first step in developing mental health.  Even though it feels contrary to everything a warrior has been taught, it’s okay to let them see you sweat

Finding purpose again

Johnny didn’t join the US Military as a career.  After his parents’ divorce, Johnny focused on his sports and friends and tried to leave the house as much as possible. When he reached the end of high school, he hadn’t set himself up for college, so he joined the Army at 17. 

Being a soldier was a quick way to change his environment after a difficult childhood.  

Eventually, becoming a career warrior greatly impacted Johnny’s identity. After returning from many years of combat and leaving the United States Army, Johnny had to learn to develop a new identity. Johnny’s story is excellent advice for anyone learning to pivot successfully in life

Finding your personality again

Men are especially tempted to identify themselves entirely by their work. This is even more exaggerated by warriors in the military. Because the military determines how you eat, dress, talk, and live your life, many warriors find little value as human beings when they no longer wear the uniform.

But this identity crisis is not isolated just to warriors.  A recent #Unbeatable podcast guest, Sherry Eifler, also learned firsthand how major life transitions can challenge your sense of identity. Although learning to identify yourself after leaving the military might be a great challenge… it might also be the most crucial challenge of your life.

The peace that Johnny now enjoys and the relationship with his family demonstrate that the hard work of returning (all the way) home from combat is worth the hard work.

Listen to my whole conversation with Johnny HERE.

Further reading

A modern Harriot Tubman

Quintina Sonnie helps rescue other women from sex trafficking and works with them over a long term to help heal their hearts and their bodies from...