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St. James Plaindealer - St. James, MN
  • Life without the uniform, veterans returning from the Middle East

  • For most of us, it is hard to imagine leaving our homes to live half way across the world, preforming arduous tasks commendably. In fact, we’d probably come up with excuses why we can’t leave - family, work, school. Yet, thousands of American soldiers volunteer to do this everyday. When they return, veterans face ...
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  • For most of us, it is hard to imagine leaving our homes to live half way across the world, preforming arduous tasks commendably. In fact, we’d probably come up with excuses why we can’t leave - family, work, school. Yet, thousands of American soldiers volunteer to do this everyday. When they return, veterans face the challenge  of attempting to  assimilate back into civilian life. This is a challenge 29 year old Jacob Karau knows well.
    Karau enlisted in the Army National Guard April of 2004 and was part of the one hundred twenty-fifth artillery unit of Fairmont.
    “October of 2005 we went to training, mobilized to camp Shelby, Miss., right after Katrina,” says Jacob. “We were deployed in April of 2006, got in country Easter Sunday in Iraq and were stationed in Scania.”
    Jacob served one tour in Scania until July 2007,  before he finally returned to the United States, four months after he had originally planned to return, as part of the longest active tour served in Iraq by any  branch of service.
    While in Iraq, Jacob was tasked to base security and convoy support.
    “We were basically  a giant fuelling station, we  did pull security on the base,” says Jacob. “There were about seven towers and two checkpoints. We also did some convoy support, IED [improvised explosives] hunting.”
    “It was his job to sit in a tower and stick his gun out windows,” adds Megan Karau, Jacob’s wife.
    Many in Jacob’s unit came away from Iraq with a combat action badge. This badge signifies a soldier was shot at during active duty. He earned his one night when incoming rounds were landing about 25 yards from his bunker.
    Outside of combat, Jacob faced the same challenges many face in civilian life.
    Jacob and Megan’s relationship is a story in and of itself. They were introduced to one another by a mutual friend after Jacob was deployed and began training in Shelby. From there they had contact only through instant messaging and infrequent phone conversations. While Jacob was in Iraq, they spoke weekly over the phone and exchanged letters.
    “He came home on leave and he said ‘ I knew I was in love with you, because it shouldn’t have been that hard to get back on the plane,” says Megan smiling. “He got back in July, we were engaged in September, married in June.”
    Where most might find it difficult to embrace a relationship without physically seeing each other, Megan proved ever the optimist.
    “It was I think, easy, because it took the physical out of the relationship. you didn't get sidetracked by any of that, it was all communication so you really do get to know somebody,” says Megan.
    Page 2 of 2 - That is not to say there weren’t complications. Some things that Megan had assumed to be true about Jacob turned out to be forced omissions - things Jacob couldn’t really discuss in-uniform like politics.
    “It's had it's ups and downs,” says Jacob.
    A phrase most people can repeat when explaining their relationship.
    “PTSD was a big problem, but it's made us stronger,” says Megan. “Many blessings have come out of it. But, it was Hell while I was going through it. It was horrible and it was nasty and I pray that nobody has to go through that. But, on this side of it, I'm very grateful for it.”
    Megan’s ability to find light in a dark place is a very special personality trait. She explained, the things that make Jacob difficult to understand also make him a great person to have around.
    “Nothing really gets to him, so he just kind of anchors me. So I guess that's a benefit. He's just stoic,” says Megan.
    What Megan calls stoic, others might describe as blunt or rough around the edges. Jacob and Megan speculated a question that is troubling much of America right now - why has it been difficult for a veteran to find work when he/she returns home?
    “I think it's a lot of the employers are actually scared, and I almost want to say intimidated by veterans, because they speak their mind. I mean, they call it as it is. If something's messed up, they'll say it.” says Jacob.
    Jacob explained that he was turned down from state jobs 24 times and from county jobs about eight times. Veteran Preference works to get veterans an interview, but doesn’t go any further in helping a veteran find a job.
    It is difficult to understand why finding work has been difficult for so many, including at one point Jacob, who, along with his National Guard Training and experience, has a two year degree in heavy equipment operation.
    “Training helps really with work ethic and showing up on time -intangible sort of things,” says Jacob.
    These things should make a veteran an ideal worker, yet Minnesota has a post-9/11 veteran’s unemployment rate of 11.7 percent. A scary statistic for people like Jacob, who are now returning to civilian life.
    However unconventional, Jacob and Megan have found a way to make things work. They have two children,  daughters Elizabeth, who is 22-months-old and Emily, who is just 5-months-old, and are happy to report that their life post-Iraq is going well.
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