Veteran readjusting to life after deployment 

Capt. Antoine Brooks is no stranger to improvisation. He had to work on the fly to keep order in a war-torn country and now he’s acclimating to civilian life with a new family and new business.

The 38-year-old Army National Guard veteran from Menlo Park led a platoon in one of the first deployments in Iraq after the close of the initial hostilities. Then a first lieutenant, Brooks commanded soldiers tasked with keeping law an order in Karbala and Najaf, two of the holiest cities in the recently invaded country.

Without extended training in the cultural differences between Iraq and the United States, Brooks’ men and women had to learn some of those differences through experience and through their translators.

Brooks remembered going on patrol in Karbala with several soldiers and acknowledging, with a smile and a nod, a man and woman walking past. "As we passed, the husband started to beat up the wife," whom he accused of having invited the soldiers’ attention, Brooks said. Brooks and his soldiers restrained the husband, and the public scene caused a "big, unnecessary" commotion.

"Just knowing some of the cultural not-to-dos made life easier for us and made it easier to do our jobs," he said.

Though he was not injured, and did not lose a soldier during his 10-month deployment, Brooks felt antisocial when he returned to the United States. The former roller-rink operator found the crowds at his workplace unbearable.

Now, Brooks is starting his own business, an online service called Medical Envelope that stores users’ medical profiles and automatically alerts loved ones when the profiles are viewed by emergency or medical personnel. He also has a 2-year-old daughter and 5-month-old son with his wife.

Brooks receives medical care and counseling from the Department of Veterans Affairs, where he says his experience has been "helpful but frustrating as well." While the level of care has been good, it can take time, which can leave soldiers "frustrated by the time it takes to resolve something that seems like a small issue for them," he said.

Brooks said that it can be hard for soldiers to open up to doctors and counselors without combat experience. "You look at someone who’s clinically trained and has never known what you’ve gone through and you look at them and wonder how you’re going to relate to this person and why you should spill your guts to them," he said.

Asked if the VA should hire more veterans, Brooks said, "It could only help."

amartin@examiner.com

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