CEDAR PARK, Texas (KXAN) - Many people have a daily routine: Grab some coffee, go to work, meet a friend for lunch and maybe squeeze in a few errands.
But what if your daily routine was dodging bullets?
"I saw friends die. I saw people I didn't know die, " said Chris Marinaro.
Marinaro was deployed several times to Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It was just constant -- you never knew if it was going to be an RPG, IED or an ambush, " added Marinaro, referring to rocket-propelled grenades and improvised-explosive devices.
The transition from living on the edge 24/7, not knowing if the next moment will be your last, to the calm and quiet of home is proving to be one of the toughest challenges facing Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
"They don't have a normal life anymore. It's very difficult to have that normal civilian life again," said Paul Pro, a veteran from the Vietnam War era who knows how difficult it can be.
"I can fire up anger in an instant," he said. "Other emotions are tough. Sometimes I have to fake them. Coming out of a combat situation you have a tendency to numb yourself."
Pro works as a peer specialist offering a much-needed ear to listen and shoulder to lean on for a new generation of veterans who would otherwise suffer in silence.
Shirin Bazaz is a psychologist at Heroes Night Out Resource Center in Cedar Park.
"They feel lost, and [it's important] to provide them with a sense of meaning, purpose and to help them find that confidence," Bazaz said.
And give them courage to overcome the fear some of them have that opening up could cost them their military careers, or cause family and friends to see them differently.
"It creates an opportunity to realize you're not being judged and immediately see the guard being lifted, " Bazaz said.
It's a safe place to share with someone who understands where they've been and what they've seen. And for many the first step toward a better tomorrow.
The Long Journey Home
KXAN and Leadership Austin have teamed up for an in-depth look at solutions to the challenges our servicemen and women face when they return home. Join us for the next Leadership Austin Engage Breakfast called "The Long Journey Home: Central Texas' Growing Veteran Population." It's on Wednesday at the Long Center's Kodosky Donor Lounge. Doors open for networking at 7:30 a.m. with the breakfast starting at 8 a.m.
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