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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Swords into Ploughshares

Swords into Ploughshares

The return to civilian life is never easy after years in the military, especially for those deployed in a war zone. For students like Pat Doherty, the Boston Veterans’ Center and the William Joiner Center at UMass Boston offer the support needed to make that transition easier.

Doherty, who now works at the Joiner Center, is appreciative of the older generation’s assistance. “All these Vietnam veterans have really helped me. They really understand what we’re going through. They’re lobbying for me… helping me.”

Pat Doherty enlisted in the US Army’s Delayed Entry Program in early 2001, and began taking classes that September. “I was actually here at UMass, down at the registrar’s office when somebody mentioned that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center.”

He was deployed to Iraq May 2003 and returned home July 2004. “I wanted the training… and travel,” said Doherty. I wanted to do my duty, get some muscles, beef up.” His physique may have improved from his civilian days, but 15 months active duty in Iraq as a medic in an armored division has left unseen scars.

Strong friendships have kept him going, and Doherty is still close with many of the guys from his platoon. They may not be local, but with email and telephone they all stay in regular contact. “We shared a lot of experiences.”

One friend took him to his the tent he had been sleeping in the night before, and pointed to a spot, “He asked me, ‘Wasn’t that your bunk?’ And it was completely blown to bits by a mortar. You never forget… that.”

“Processing a lot of the stuff I’ve been through has been kind of hectic and confusing,” Doherty said. “It’s difficult to talk about.”

The controversy of the war is difficult to avoid. “It’s bogus,” said Doherty. “You read in the paper, ‘Combat operation, 3 people killed, two were babies.’ That happened yesterday in Afghanistan, during night raids.”

Alhough problems with veteran services have been in the news, Doherty hasn’t had any problems with them. “The veteran’s services, I think they’re really well organized and they’ve taken care of me so far. No complaints.” Pat paused and with a chuckled tossed out a quick addendum, “I’d like to see my old company commander someday, you know… call him ‘sir.'”

That sort of experience hasn’t soured him to the military life, however, and Doherty doesn’t rule out the possibility of re-enlisting. “My life has turned around in the past year. It’s really come together,” he said.

Particularly important to Doherty are Vietnam War veterans like Kevin Bowen, Director of the Joiner Center. “They’re examples of a success story, of a person who went to war and came out. A person who became something, you know, because of what they’ve been through, and not in spite of it.”

The support of the Joiner Center and the Vet Center has been a crucial part of Doherty’s transition to civilian life, as he prepares to return to UMass Boston to pursue a degree in Biology, with hopes of getting a PhD. “Through these people, and through the community, it’s been able to form a structure of support that prevents me from going down that road. It helps to hold me at a certain standard, just like it was in the military.”