Soldiers Revisited: Sebastian Szykier

06/11/08 7:50AM By Steve Zind
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(Host) Two years ago, VPR profiled a group of Vermont guardsmen who had just returned from a year long deployment to Iraq.

The soldiers of Task Force Saber had seen combat in one of the most dangerous provinces of the country, and six of their members were killed during their tour of duty.

Recently, VPR's Steve Zind visited several of the soldiers we interviewed to find out how they've adjusted to civilian life.

Today, in our final story, Sebastian Szykier talks about the memories and the after effects of his time in Iraq.

(Zind) The day after he returned from Iraq, Szykier described the deployment this way:

(Szykier) "Most of the time we spent over there we spent waiting for something to happen. Waiting to get attacked. Waiting for your shift to end. Waiting to get blown-up, just waiting for something to happen. And most of the time nothing happened."

(Zind) Szykier didn't stay put for long after he returned to Vermont. First he traveled to California. Then he went to visit an ailing grandmother in Poland. There he got a taste of how much of the world views the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Szykier says the Poles he talked to were angry at the United States and blamed America for the deaths of Polish soldiers in Iraq.

(Szykier) "That was interesting and kind of a good wake up call as to how the world saw what we were doing over there."

(Zind) Even when he returned home to Newfane, Szykier found that people felt more sympathetic toward the Iraqi people than he did.

Szykier says he didn't have much face to face contact with Iraqis. His impressions were shaped by what he observed from his perch inside a tank.

(Szykier) "I don't feel very much compassion, I guess I would say, for the Iraqi people. It seemed to me that whatever we gave them was thrown back in our face. Whether we'd do improvement missions for a village: They'd put in a new generator or deliver school supplies to the kids and two days later troops could go through there and get blown up. I couldn't trust them."

(Zind) At home with his family and newborn child he thinks of the handful of life and death situations he was in in Iraq.

(Szykier) "Some of them were very cut and dried. You knew right away the action you had to take. Others were, you know you were operating in the gray area of logic. Those are the ones that are hard, because you think, ‘what if I would have done this', or, ‘what if the situation would have been a little different.'

(Zind) Like the other soldiers deployed to Iraq, Szykier thinks often of his time there.

Szykier says the thoughts fueled his post deployment anxieties.

(Szykier) "For a while I was afraid to take a shower. When you're taking a shower, it's typically noisy. You can't hear things around you, you can't hear if somebody opens a window and climbs into your house. I always felt that maybe somebody would come after me and try to pay retribution for something that we did over there."

(Zind) Szykier had originally planned to leave the guard in 2004, but he was caught up in a stop loss order that kept him in uniform much longer than he'd planned.

(Szykier) "We came back in 2006. That's 2 ½ years beyond what I had signed up for, so in my mind going over there was a breach of contract, but at the same time I knew that getting deployed is part of being a soldier. But I was a little angry. I felt I'd been short-changed."

(Zind) And yet, Szykier is happy he was deployed to Iraq. He says the experience creates an unusual bond among those who served in the war.

(Szykier) "I'm proud of that. And so I'm glad that I did go. Because I know other soldiers that didn't go and even though they are soldiers, they don't belong to the brotherhood."

(Zind) One casualty of Szykier's deployment was his business. Before he shipped out he was self-employed as a computer network administrator. When he came back, he decided it would be too difficult to rebuild his list of clients, so he took another job.

For VPR News, I'm Steve Zind.

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