Transition back to civilian tough for this veteran
Editor’s Note: This is the last in an occasional series of stories about the homecoming experiences of local war veterans.
GREENFIELD — Shannon (Hosmer) Gamlin says it hasn’t been easy returning to a life she walked away from a decade ago.
“After all I’ve been through and all I’ve seen, it’s difficult, for instance, to hear someone freak out about missing their favorite TV show,” she says.
Gamlin, 30, joined the U.S. Army when she was 20 years old. She left four years ago with a Purple Heart, a medical discharge and some issues she is yet to fully resolve. She served as a military police officer in Iraq for 15 months.
“You struggle when you get out,” says Gamlin. “How can you not? You leave a very structured environment and when you get home no one tells you what you need to do — they just expect you’ll know.”
Gamlin, who refers to herself as “very competitive,” was promoted to sergeant E5 within three years and served the 15 months in Iraq beginning in 2006.
“I always wanted to be a police officer,” says Gamlin, who has been staying in Greenfield to be near family for the past year and will be returning to her husband in Colorado in May. “I’m applying to the Colorado Springs police force. That’s where I belong.”
Gamlin says though she would never change having served in the Army and being stationed in Iraq, she is dealing with the repercussions.
“We had to be the jack of all trades,” she says. “We provided security, detained people and transferred them.”
Gamlin says she spent many of her days in Iraq wondering if “today would be the day I died.”
“That’s just the reality,” she says. “I signed up for it, so I never blinked, but it was always on my mind. I watched a lot of people die, because as military police, we were always the first on scene.”
Gamlin was injured and lost several close friends.
“You lose people in war,” she says. “I lost my team leader, not while I was there, but when he returned to Iraq after the deployment with me. It’s a tough world to live in, but the Army becomes your family and I always felt like I was doing something meaningful.”
After everything, Gamlin still believes serving in the Army was one of the best things she’s ever done. She says she would do it all over again and take the good with the bad. She says she loved it enough to compete for a spot in a commercial about the military in 2008.
“I was chosen because I got the highest score in physical training and got promoted early,” she says. “I was up against 60 others, so you can tell I’m very competitive.”
Gamlin says she did the commercial not to try to convince young people to join the Army, but to explain to their parents why some kids just need to join and that parents should respect those decisions.
She says she was stationed “right in the city” when she was deployed to Iraq.
“It was tough on my parents because they couldn’t talk with me all the time and when someone was killed (the Army) would shut down the phones, so no one at home knew who was killed until they heard from the rest of us,” she says. “It changes your life and your perspective.”
Gamlin says the first thing she did when she left the Army was go to beautician school for 10 months.
“I needed something right away and I didn’t know what that was at the time,” she says. “It was a mistake, so I left that and got my associate’s degree. I’m a personal trainer and life coach now.”
Gamlin went to IntelliTec Medical Institute, a trade school in Colorado, to get that degree. She says that’s when she fell in love with the area.
“I stayed out there for a while,” she says. “I came home for a visit and started dating my husband Geoffrey and we got married in 2012. He works in the auto body field. He’s out there right now.”
Gamlin says she came back to Greenfield and stayed the past year because she “needed to be close to family.”
“I was having a difficult time and I needed to be near the people I love,” she says. “I also wanted to take some classes at GCC.”
Gamlin says it takes time for veterans to adjust to civilian life. She says the best thing a veteran can do is contact his or her local veterans agent immediately upon return.
“They help with everything,” she says. “They’ll send you in the right direction if they can’t.”
Gamlin says her time in the military made her stronger, both mentally and physically, even though it doesn’t always seem so.
“It made me analyze my life,” she says. “The transition from Army to home set me back, but I think there is a reason for that — I think every experience allows us to learn.”
Gamlin says she’s not afraid to admit that she’s been in therapy.
“Everyone needs to do what they need to do to be a healthy person,” she says.
She says she and her husband thought about moving back to Franklin County permanently — her parents live in Greenfield and Colrain and her husband lived in the area his entire life and graduated from Franklin County Technical School — but there isn’t enough opportunity for them here.
So, Gamlin says she will return to Colorado and continue with her personal training, which she says is mostly a hobby. She says she’ll do some life coaching online and continue her quest to become a police officer. She always has a deep desire to help veterans who are having a difficult time.
“I love to help people,” she says. “That’s what everything I’ve done has been about. I would love to start some kind of program for veterans eventually.”
Gamlin says she loves taking risks — that’s probably what led her to a military life.
“I guess I’m addicted to adrenaline,” she says. “I love to show that women are as strong as men.”
Gamlin says she can’t describe those feelings, they’re just inside of her.
“You have to fail to succeed,” she says. “You can’t live your life in fear or you get stuck. I’m excited not knowing what’s next. I have a path to follow now, but there’s lots of side doors and I’m willing to go through each one of them.”
She says the best advice she can give family and friends who are welcoming home a veteran is to be patient, give them lots of support, and show understanding.
“It takes time for us to readjust,” says Gamlin. “Some of us are scared, others are angry. It just takes time.”
Gamlin says that should not be a surprise to anyone.
“We’ve seen things most people can’t even imagine,” she says. “We’re taken and put places where our lives are threatened on a daily basis. Then, we watch our new family killed in front of us. Bills just don’t seem to really matter that much when we return.”
Gamlin says family and friends should expect a roller coaster ride with their returning veterans for a while.
“Your vet will fear things, have nightmares and not sleep very well,” she says. “You don’t sleep well at all when you’re over there.”
She says loud noises will disturb some returning veterans and some will have to sit at the back of crowds so that they can see everything that’s going on.
“It affects everyone differently, so just be prepared,” she says.
Gamlin says she always researches veterans services before going anywhere.
“I don’t care whether I’m moving, visiting or going on vacation, I want to know who’s there to help me if I need it,” she says. “I love Colorado Springs, because it has everything for veterans.”
Gamlin says, “The one big thing I’ve learned from this experience is to appreciate, every day, the things and people you care about.”
If you are a veteran who needs help or information, Gamlin says she may be able to help or point you in the right direction. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.