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Telling their stories: Lt. Cmdr. Mark Fetterman

By STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 9, 2016

Lt. Cmdr. Mark Fetterman, 34, Navy Reserve, co-founder of the Homefront Foundation, Matt’s twin:

It’s 2011, we are in Afghanistan. My team, we’re going home. Every single one of us made it. Our whole team is getting on that plane. We’re gonna go. We got our rucksacks. We got our bags. We get on the plane in an orderly fashion. Two by two ‘You take that seat, in front of you, take that seat.’ We are going home! We made it.

We take that flight out. We land in Kuwait. That’s where things change. All of a sudden they tell me, ‘Okay soldier, you have to take that uniform off. You are flying in civilian clothes. You are leaving from Kuwait International Airport.’ ‘Wait a second. I can’t wear the uniform I’ve been wearing for the last year? This is mine.’ ‘No, you are flying in civilian clothes.’

‘Roger.’ I take it off, put on civilian clothes. I get on a civilian flight and we are crammed in. Thank God I have a window. This flight brings us all the way back into the states. The stewardess says ‘You can all use your cellphones now.’ I don’t have a phone. Everybody’s calling their friends, ‘Hey, come pick me up. I checked a bag, it’s gonna take a little while but be there. We wanna get going. We wanna start our day.’

I don’t have anybody to call. I don’t have a phone. I don’t know what to do. This bustle. This chaos. It’s not the two by two orderly fashion of loading and unloading a C-17. It’s unloading an American Airlines flight into San Diego. And everyone’s got their business and everyone’s going about it. They don’t know who I am. They don’t know where I just came from.

Finally, I get off the plane. I start feeling like I am being moved by everybody coming out of this plane, rushing to the carousel. I get to the carousel and all of a sudden “bah, bah bah.” Was that incoming? Our bags are coming out. All of a sudden, everybody started pushing up again. Its chaos. I can’t stand it. I gotta step back. Louis Vuitton goes by. A brand new suitcase goes by. Hello Kitty goes by. But to me this is still chaos and I am alone. I am alone until I see mine. My bag. It’s that sea bag, that dusty torn sea bag. That’s mine. But I can’t go up there and get that bag. I stand back and I wait for this chaos to move out.

Finally, my bag is the last bag on the carousel. I go up there and I grab that sea bag and I put it back on. And I hold onto it as tight as I can because that’s all I have.

When I got home from Afghanistan I felt alone and I felt lost. And it’s what veterans, servicemembers and several of these stories have told you tonight. And our plea from you – because this is why the Homefront Foundation was started: Don’t let these veterans and servicemembers feel lost. Reach out. Say thank you. Reach out. Give them a hand up. Not a hand out.

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