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Life after war

When Capt. Aaron Krenz of Fargo returned to the Red River Valley after a deployment to Iraq, he found a different world from the home he left 15 months earlier.

Aaron Krenz and family

When Capt. Aaron Krenz of Fargo returned to the Red River Valley after a deployment to Iraq, he found a different world from the home he left 15 months earlier.

The 9-month-old daughter who couldn't talk or walk in September 2004 had grown into a toddling bundle of energy with a mind of her own.

His wife, Monica, having learned to live as a single mom for a year, had developed a system of running the household, and Krenz wondered where he fit into the equation.

Simply put, after the flag-waving and cheers that accompanied Krenz's return to the U.S. in November faded away, he faced a new set of challenges: adjusting back to civilian life.

For Krenz, 32, the transition from company commander of 152 field artillery men to husband and father of a 2-year-old hasn't been easy. It's been a day-by-day process for the veteran whose job was to train Iraqi police forces in southeast Baghdad.


"Certain sounds or smells will take me back mentally to Iraq," said Krenz, who still jumps when a door slams before realizing it's not a roadside bomb.

"My focus has been on trying to get back with my family, trying to integrate with my wife and my daughter, Ellie. I also want to help educate the public on things they may not know about."

That's one reason Krenz is working with Clay County to offer community training on how to ease veterans' re-entry into daily life.

A series of public forums sponsored by the Minnesota Army National Guard is addressing how neighbors can help newly returned soldiers. Veterans such as Krenz will speak about their experiences.

Veterans hope the initiative will help the community to better understand issues such as what it's like for a combat veteran to return home, how combat stress affects a veteran's daily life and how employers, clergy, school personnel, law enforcement and other community members can assist in the re-entry process.

A presentation will take place at 1 p.m. today in the Crookston (Minn.) High School. The seminar is scheduled for May 23 in Moorhead.

Krenz and Clay County Veterans Service Officer Tom Figliuzzi told the Clay County Commission on Tuesday the community needs to prepare for what will likely be the largest influx of new combat veterans in the state's history.

In March, about 2,600 Minnesota National Guard members were part of a 4,000 multi-state brigade that left for a 12-month stint in Iraq.


The 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, has several members from the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Come spring 2007, those veterans will be grappling with the same re-entry issues that sometimes perplex Krenz.

He remembers his anxiety when his wife ran an errand leaving him alone with Ellie for the first time since his return.

"I was struck with fear. I didn't know what to do," Krenz said. "It was going from changing her diapers and carrying her around (as a 9-month-old) to now what do I do? What is the system of living here like? It was completely different than what I remembered."

Other soldiers struggle with different situations.

Krenz said some drive excessively fast, swerving through traffic as they were ordered to in Baghdad.

Many soldiers get depressed moving from high-tension situations to more mundane tasks, he said.

"You've got an 18-or 19-year-old kid up in the turret of a humvee making life or death decisions everyday, whether to pull the trigger or not to pull the trigger," Krenz said.


"Now they come back and they may be flipping burgers at McDonald's. To have that amount of control and power taken away and to make sure the hamburgers aren't burning - that's a difficult transition for some people.

Figliuzzi said National Guard members in particular need support because they find themselves immersed in civilian life outside the environment of a military base that many veterans return to.

While National Guard members' main role used to be disaster assistance at home, their duties have shifted to active military participation abroad, he said.

Commissioners were receptive to the idea and complimented the National Guard's efforts.

"Whether you support the war or not, it's important that soldiers have support," said Commissioner Mike McCarthy.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Melinda Rogers at (701) 241-5524

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