National Guardsman talks about readjusting after serving in Afghanistan

Since his return from Afghanistan in March 2010, Matthew Marlow has been on a journey to return to the life he had before he left.

“It has taken me two years to get back on track,” Marlow said, “but I’m pretty well adjusted now.”

To adjust to everything he saw and felt while serving, Marlow sought help at the Henderson Vet Center, 400 N. Stephanie St., and talked to the staff about once a week for seven months.

Like many young soldiers, Marlow wanted to join the military after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He joined the National Guard in 2006, and three years later, he found himself in Afghanistan.

“Your priority changes from what it is stateside,” Marlow said. “Over there, it is all about you and your fellow soldier completing the mission safely. Every day is truly life or death, and it’s all about getting back to the base safely.”

It wasn’t just life or death, Marlow said. The fear of being seriously injured from improvised explosive devices weighed on the soldiers’ minds.

“With the technology advances in the trucks we use, a lot of times soldiers aren’t dying but getting maimed,” Marlow said. “So now it’s not just about coming back alive, but it’s worrying if I will come back missing a limb.”

To escape these thoughts, Marlow worked out every moment he could, kept a journal and tried to get proper sleep.

He talked to his long-time girlfriend and his family members. Looking toward the future, Marlow and his girlfriend made plans to go on a cruise when he returned.

But after a while, his mind adapted to the circumstances.

“The mind has its own defense mechanisms,” Marlow said. “After a while, you become numb to a lot of things.”

Marlow returned home, and, as promised, he and his girlfriend went on a cruise.

“The issue was, my mind was still in combat mode,” Marlow said.

Everything seemed trivial compared with what Marlow faced abroad.

“Everything fell by the wayside,” Marlow said. “My girlfriend had a miserable time. She could tell I was disconnected. I was numb. I wasn’t the person I was when I left.”

To make matters worse, a few months after Marlow returned, his grandparents died.

“So not only did I have to deal with losing buddies who were blown up,” Marlow said, “my two favorite people in the world passed away.”

Marlow’s readjustment took its toll on his life.

With his girlfriend, things were on again and off again. They would have a big blowup, and Marlow would walk away from the relationship only to repeat the cycle.

At work, which Marlow didn’t want to disclose, his performance stayed the same — he always did well on evaluations.

However, Marlow didn’t have any aspirations or goals.

“I think I poured myself into work as a distraction,” Marlow said. “I never thought about the future.”

At home, Marlow started having sleeping problems.

“I would wake up gasping for air,” Marlow said. “I don’t think I suffered from nightmares. I could never remember my dreams. I just know my sleep was affected.”

His last spat with his girlfriend was the final straw. It pushed Marlow to seek help, which is when he found the Henderson Vet Center. The center, which has operated in Henderson for nearly two years, focuses on readjustment counseling services.

In his first phone conversation with the Kelly Edwards-Barron, Henderson Vet Center’s team leader, Marlow said he felt at ease. He made an appointment to meet in person and spent the next seven months making strides to get back to his former self.

Marlow didn’t have post-traumatic stress disorder but more of a readjustment stress disorder, he said.

While meeting with Edwards-Barron, he was able to talk about anxiety and emotions he had repressed.

“This is great for soldiers,” Marlow said. “You think you can do it on your own, but that only takes longer. This just speeds up the process. They’re there to help.”

Marlow and his girlfriend aren’t just back together, they’re engaged.

“I can’t tell you the last time we had a blowup,” Marlow said.

He is looking at promotion opportunities at work and thinking about enrolling in college this fall.

“I feel great,” Marlow said. “I feel like every day is a holiday.”

The Henderson Vet Center is slated to host its second anniversary celebration from 3 to 5 p.m. April 4. Veterans are invited to check out the center and what it has to offer.

The center is also expected to offer two meetings to provide veterans with information about living a better quality of life. The first meeting about nutrition and health management is scheduled from 2 to 3 p.m. Monday, and the second meeting on Veteran Affairs benefits is from 2 to 3 p.m. March 26.

Veterans and their families are welcomed to attend.

For more information on the center, call 791-9100.

Contact Henderson/Anthem View reporter Michael Lyle at or 387-5201.

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