Sgt. Derrick Speed knows the challenges faced by soldiers returning from deployment. He faced them himself returning from Iraq.
Now, he works with the N.C. National Guard to provide support and connection to job and education resources for service members returning from overseas.
Staff writer Chelsea Kellner caught up with Speed last week to talk about the importance of welcoming our soldiers home and the stereotypes that can cause challenges as they try to rejoin the workforce.
Responses have been edited for length.
Q. What do you do working with soldiers returning from deployment?
We help those soldiers coming back reintegrate into their families and the workforce easier. We provide vendors they can talk to and representatives from schools, maybe places they can get jobs.
Q. What’s it like interacting with soldiers just back from deployment?
It’s really easy for me, because I was just in their shoes a couple years ago. A lot of civilians couldn’t relate because they didn’t go through the same thing. We don’t really need to talk to know what each other has been through.
Q. How hard is it for soldiers to get jobs when returning from overseas?
It’s hard. Coming back from overseas, if you did a specialized job there that no one is hiring for here, it can be very difficult to find a job when you’re back in the real world.
Q. Do you face any stereotypes?
Yes, we do, because everybody thinks that just because you went to a war zone, you did what they see on TV, just stepped off an airplane and started killing. You face that stereotype, and people are very cautious, they want to know about you. It comes from knowing that you’ve been in a war zone. They want to protect themselves as much as possible.
Q. Were you deployed yourself?
I was in Iraq in southern Baghdad from 2009 to 2010. I am a fueler, but while I was there, I mostly did convoy security. It was dangerous.
Q. How did it feel to come back from that and face those stereotypes we talked about?
I don’t want anybody to be scared of me because of what I experienced. I just want them to know I did it for my country.
Q. When strangers come up to you and thank you for your service, what is that like for you guys? Does it make a difference?
I absolutely love it when somebody thanks me for my service. I feel important, and I feel like I’m making a difference. That’s what everybody serving in the military is serving for – to make a difference, not just for a paycheck. When people thank me, I feel like I’m really doing something with my life that is good.