Seconded By: Beth Wald,
In 2009 I began documenting U.S. military troops deployed to war in Afghanistan. I have continued to photograph the lives of same military service members for the past decade in Afghanistan and at Fort Drum’s U.S. military base in New York - documenting soldiers at war, as they make their way home from deployment, and then back to war again - in what for many military families has become an endless cycle.
The majority of Americans enlisting in the U.S. infantry are in the age range of 18 - 25 years old. They come from a variety of backgrounds, but most come from a low socioeconomic demographic and lack a high school degree, are exhausted from difficult situations at home, or some have a past drug addictions and criminal records. Many are eager to join the U.S. army in hopes of going to college on the GI Bill, while most simply want to escape where they are from to see the world, do something noble, or to start anew.
However, the US military’s return home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has repercussions as devastating and traumatic as war itself. After the welcome home ceremonies are over, service members begin waging a different type of war – one of invisible wounds and inner-conflict which can go undetected for years. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) about three million U.S. service members have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past twenty-two years since 9/11. Among the veterans treated at the V.A. for psychological disorders, 1/3 have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), while 1/4 have been diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Nearly 56% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been diagnosed with at least one mental health condition. Symptoms of PTSD and TBI can include depression, anxiety, changes in personality, sleep disturbance, substance abuse, and violent behavior, while the most extreme cases result in suicide. In 2009, the rate of suicide among U.S. military service members surpassed the number of those killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Today, one U.S. veteran commits suicide roughly every hour, totaling to about twenty-two a day.
Through visual journalism and storytelling, this project aims to create community support and awareness at a grassroots and media level. From 2011 - 2023 The Homecoming Project participated in over 50 exhibition platforms and educational programs worldwide, bringing awareness to the hundreds of thousands. Through this body of work, I hope to tell a story that illuminates the realities of war and its aftermath, the depth of exposure affecting those involved, and complexities of trauma and courage experienced by a generation of soldiers and their surrounding communities.
Specialist James March wears his dress blues Class A uniform at Fort Drum before going home on leave After serving in Afghanistan March suffered from depression and in February 2015 at age 31 he committed suicide in Painesville Ohio
Two soldiers from Alpha Company 2-87 Infantry Regiment touch the dog tags of Staff Sergeant Cody Anderson at his memorial at Fort Drum New York After serving for 12 months in Afghanistan Anderson was diagnosed with PTSD and bi-polar disorder On the morning of Jan 14 2010 Anderson was found dead in his apartment Although the Watertown newspaper first claimed his death was an unknown suicide police later stated that Anderson died of acute pneumonia It is unclear whether Anderson s death was also related to the medications prescribed to him by Fort Drum s Behavioral Health Department
Stefanie Strausser displays photographs of her black eye at her home in Watertown New York The day after he returned from Afghanistan Staff Sergeant Cody Anderson Strausser s fianc blacked out from intoxication and assaulted Strausser giving her a severely bruised eye and several lacerations Anderson was later diagnosed with PTSD and bi-polar disorder for which he was receiving treatment at Fort Drum
Welcome Home My Hero
Stefanie Strausser cries under a welcome home sign she made for her fianc Staff Sergeant Cody Anderson 25 who was found dead in his apartment in Watertown New York
Tess Terpstra comforts her brother Brandon Terpstra at the funeral of their brother Specialist Dirk Terpstra at Ft Custer National Cemetery in Augusta Michigan After 12 months serving in Afghanistan Dirk Terpstra suffered from PTSD and depression He shot himself in his front yard shortly after returning home from Fort Drum br
A soldier s diary entry recalls the death of Specialist Dirk Terpstra who suffered from PTSD and depression and committed suicide after returning home from Afghanistan
Specialist Adam Ramsey shows where he cut his legs using a knife at him home in Carson City Nevada After coming home from Afghanistan Ramsey s mental disorder caused him to self-harm by cutting his arms and legs a practice that released adrenaline and helped him manage his anxiety
Ramsey in His Room
Specialist Adam Ramsey 22 looks out the bedroom window as he experiences a psychotic episode at his home in Carson City Nevada Ramsey served 12 months as a 240 machine gunner in Afghanistan After returning home he became severely depression and began having psychosis and suicidal thoughts
Specialist Adam Ramsey lies exhausted on his air mattress bed with his prescription medications after packing to leave his home in Watertown New York After returning home from Afghanistan Ramsey was diagnosed with PTSD and Schitzo-effective disorder and was prescribed over 13 anti-psychotic medications by the Fort Drum Behavioral Health Department br