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August 31, 2014
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Iraq: The aftermath; a veteran returns home


“What made you want to join the army?” I ask.
William Knibbs gives a short chuckle and responds, “I’ve thought about that quite a bit. I don’t really have a good answer for that.”

Knibbs is a U.S. Army veteran. He joined the army in 2001 when he was 18 years old. For 15 months in 2003 and 2004 he was deployed to Iraq as a specialist responsible for communications equipment. After being stationed in Germany for another year in 2005, he returned home, for good.

Home for Knibbs was in Middletown, NY with his mom and two sisters. After a short while, he moved out and lived on his own while attending college. This began Knibbs’ transition from army life to civilian life. Like most veterans, this transitioning period was difficult.

“It was a long process,” said Knibbs. “I started going to college in 2007, and that was a big adjustment, trying to see where I fit into my peer group. It was difficult at first, not because anybody made it difficult for me, but because of how I approached things. I’m basically comfortable where I am now, but it took me some time to get there.”

Today he is living in Beacon, NY and attending graduate school at Fordham University to receive his Master’s Degree in social work. According to Knibbs, his transition was made easier thanks to the Committee for the Families of Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans (www.familiesofwarvets.org), a Sullivan County-based organization that helps vets in the Mid-Hudson Valley region.

The committee helped Knibbs catch up on his rent payments and, after that, he stayed in contact with Ray McCarthy, the committee’s founder. Now Knibbs works with the committee and volunteers at events, attends meetings and does fundraising work. Along with the committee, he recommends the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as a good resource.

However, Knibbs said that returning veterans may not know where to turn. “Awareness is a big issue, and at least letting people know about what’s available to them and maybe getting them the help and the intervention they need before the problems start mounting. I think outreach is necessary,” said Knibbs.

Coming back home presents a host of issues, like financial troubles, mental health problems, substance abuse and dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Knibbs said a veteran’s problems can affect a lot of people, especially friends and family. “If you’re not coping well,” he said, “it can lead to substance abuse and it can have an influence on your relationships.”

Knibbs said he and his veteran friends were fortunate to find their place back home. “I know it’s not like that for everybody,” he conceded. “A lot of people have a really hard time.”

Of his fellow soldiers, Knibbs said they made his stay in Iraq “endurable” and became some of the most important people in his life. “When I was in Iraq I could come home for two weeks, and I had a certain level of anxiety about being away from my friends and the guys in my unit,” said Knibbs. “And I think a big part of me was sort of eager to get back and be with them, not because I liked Iraq, but I didn’t enjoy the separation, being away while they’re still there.”

In July of 2005, when Knibbs got the news that he could come home, he said, “I didn’t react too much to it, because we had gotten extended before… You don’t want to get your hopes up.” But this time it was really happening. He could return home and begin fulfilling his desire to become a social worker.

He is unsure about where his master’s in social work will take him, but he wants to work as a family therapist and eventually with the VA. “What I like about social work is that if you’re available to give somebody support and provide some level of advocacy for them, if they get that support when they need it, it could help them transition and make improvements in their life. I like that idea.” Knibbs said.

Going to war is an experience that only those who are there could fully understand. Knibbs said being at war develops a lifestyle, and that lifestyle stays with you, even after you leave the warzone. Knibbs explained that going to war has “lasting effects” and that “everybody’s different and everybody copes differently.”

It seems for William Knibbs, the way he copes is by helping others.