Home from Afghanistan

The Warren Sentinel
FRONT ROYAL – After spending more than a year in a war zone, Maj. Amy Gray said it’s hard getting used to life at home again.

“I’ve been home about six months and I’m just now actually sleeping,” Gray said, explaining that during her deployment, she worked 16-hour days, was on-call 24-hours a day and slept two-hours at a time.

Gray said she's still in the process of transitioning back into civilian life in Woodstock after a 15-month deployment at Daghram Air Base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

The 47-year-old Army Reservist is also mother of three and works for Valley Health as an occupational therapist.

She spoke Dec. 6 to students at Randolph-Macon Academy about her experiences working as an occupational therapist during her most recent deployment.

“It’s a different transition to come home,” Gray said. “You can’t just unwind. You’re in a different mode. You’ve been that way for a long time. … You have to be one way over there. You’re always on.”

Yet, Gray said, it was possible to focus completely on work during deployment because she wasn’t juggling domestic duties such as doing laundry or answering the telephone. She gave up her smartphone before leaving the United States, found she didn’t miss it and doesn’t use a cellphone now.

When a student asked Gray if she had ever had a near-death experience, she replied, “When a vehicle loaded with explosives blows up within half a mile of you, that can shake you up pretty good. That’s the closest I ever came to a near-death experience,” she said.

As an occupational therapist working with soldiers who had suffered brain injuries, Gray said she often took on a maternal role.

“It was my job to make sure that soldiers got rest and recovered so they could go back out on the front line,” she said. “I thought of everybody who came to me like they were one of my children.”

Many of the soldiers were close to the age of Gray’s oldest child, who is 21. She also has a 15-year-old and an 11-year-old.

Gray thanked the students at RMA for sending her letters while she was deployed. She said she received nearly 1,000 letters from students at the school.

After speaking, Gray showed the students how to make cord bracelets, which is one of the activities soldiers did in Afghanistan while recovering from their injuries. Gray explained that occupational therapists encourage clients to use their hands for purposeful activity during the recovery process.

In addition to bracelets, many soldiers learned to make blankets for their spouses and children, Gray said. Some were reluctant to start, but quickly became interested after seeing other soldiers making items such as blankets and scarves.

Gray declined to talk about some of the more serious injuries she saw, saying she was reluctant to go into details in the presence of reporters.

She encouraged the RMA students to consider military service as a way to pay for college and serve their country.

“The proudest thing about being an American is our service members because they are the greatest in the world,” Gray said. “I always felt very, very safe around them.”

Gray said she would go on another deployment if necessary and told the students that some soldiers actually choose multiple deployments.

“I wouldn’t always feel sorry for a soldier who’s been deployed four times because maybe they asked for it.”
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