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Spc. William Medlin sips coffee in his barracks in Fort Drum, N.Y., in October. Medlin, assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, left Fort Drum as a newly married man in fall 2007 on a deployment to Kirkuk, Iraq. He returned home separated from his wife.

Spc. William Medlin sips coffee in his barracks in Fort Drum, N.Y., in October. Medlin, assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, left Fort Drum as a newly married man in fall 2007 on a deployment to Kirkuk, Iraq. He returned home separated from his wife. (Ben Bloker / Stripes)

Spc. William Medlin is cooking himself some bacon and eggs in his unexpected new home, the barracks.

When he left for Iraq 14 months earlier, he lived in a house with a wife and three kids. That’s all over now.

"We grew apart," Medlin said. "My outlook on life changed a little bit. I re-enlisted for six years because [being a soldier] is what I love. I guess it didn’t suit."

He’s in the kitchenette, just steps away from the bedroom, with its single bed and a bottle of Crown Royal on the windowsill. It’s a week since he got back from Iraq.

"She became more independent. I became more independent. There wasn’t no yelling or anything else. We just talked, and we noticed we grew apart," he said.

Medlin is 22, a preacher’s son, one of four, from a small North Carolina town, and a proud country boy who enlisted a year after he got out of high school. He became a mortarman. Three years ago, still a teenager, he married a woman five years older with three children — two girls and a boy, now ages 6, 9 and 11.

"I’m a sucker for kids," he said.

The couple had problems on and off, he said. Then on his R&R in February, there was more conflict.

"We kind of clashed," he said. "I wanted to stay in; she wanted to go out. I wanted to help out with the kids — I was Daddy the whole time we were together.

"I just didn’t feel needed."

Medlin’s wife could not be reached for comment.

During the last part of his deployment, if Medlin was off-duty, he was on the phone, other soldiers said.

"Three years — you don’t just let it go," Medlin said.

When he was on-duty, life was good.

"You’re going to think I’m crazy. I honestly love my job with a passion," he said. "I was lead driver, voluntarily. I just like being on point. I like being in charge of my life, and I wasn’t in charge of my life with my marriage.

"People change, even here. We probably shouldn’t have gotten married. It was one of those young, dumb, lustful things."

Was the Medlin marriage doomed from the start? Or was it his deployment — the separation, the changes that occurred in both people, the thoughts of others that ended it? No one can know for sure; experts say deployments are hard on many marriages but provide breathing space for others.

Medlin said he really knew his marriage was over during a phone conversation in August.

"I was back from the patrol base — she said she actually noticed big changes in me. Changes in my personality. I don’t notice them, myself. I’m a pretty straightforward person, pretty levelheaded. Sometimes brutally blunt. I’m like a cougar when pushed in a corner," he said.

"She told me she was deciding whether to stay with me or not. I told her I’d get the paperwork drawn up the next day. If it’s already in your mind, you’ve been thinking about it.

"I didn’t stop caring. It just sunk in that it was over. I gotta pack up what I got and truck on."

When Medlin returned, he went to the house to get some of his things, take his car and check in.

"It was kind of ugly. There were a couple of people over there I didn’t approve of," he said. "There wasn’t much of a confrontation."

A couple of days after his return to Fort Drum, Medlin said, he discovered that his wife had started an Internet romance with another soldier.

"She’s actually dating one of my friends," he said. "It’s OK. I’m trying to be the bigger person."

And he also started a new romance with a woman in Syracuse that he met online. She came to the welcome-home ceremony, along with Medlin’s dad. Her photo is up in his bedroom.

"She’s nice and easy to talk to," he said.

It upsets him that his estranged wife is still receiving money and benefits, that she is in the house and he has to find an apartment.

"She’s living in a house I’m paying for," he said. "And her boyfriend is staying over. It’s very trying."

In May, Medlin is to move to Fort Stewart, Ga. When he re-enlisted, he was guaranteed a spot in air assault school and given a $10,000 bonus. He’ll be glad to be back in the South, he said, closer to his family.

As for the family he married into, he said, "We just changed, grew apart. There’s nothing you can do about it."

See multimedia, including the series overview, video and links to more stories.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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