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Manatee veteran Amy Spears: ‘It is good to be home’ (audio)

Doing dishes and laundry are fun again for Amy Spears.

So are re-potting plants and trimming bushes.

“Grocery shopping, too,” she said, rifling through plastic grocery bags stacked around the kitchen counter. “It is good to be home.”

Home from Iraq.

Spears, 47, is a captain in the U.S. Army Reserves and spent a year with Operation Iraqi Freedom as an occupational therapist for the 55th Medical Company at Forward Operating Base Warhorse in Diyala, Iraq.

“There are so many things you take for granted, things you can’t do in the middle of the desert,” she said, holding grandson Jacob.

Spears is Friday’s guest speaker at the monthly 11:30 a.m. luncheon of WOVEN (Women Veterans Network) at Nicky’s West 59th Restaurant in conjunction with Women’s History Month.

“Her first-hand experience working with troops there will be insightful,” said Celia Szelwach, WOVEN director and an Army veteran. “It will sensitize the group to the needs of our vets returning and how we can help in their transition back home.”

Spears’ unit specialized in combat stress control, a new facet of the military, she said, to confront the increasing number of Iraq and Afghanistan vets committing suicide.

According to published reports, there were at least 128 suicides in 2008, an increase for the fourth straight year.

Spears said her unit, which covered numerous FOBs, counseled 800 soldiers during the year, including, “eight to 12 per week who were at risk for hurting themselves or others.”

The most common cause was not combat-related, either. “The biggest thing is real life situations — somebody’s wife or husband was back home cheating on them and they found out through Facebook,” Spears said. “They get frustrated, they can’t call home, they can’t talk to that person. So they have pent-up anger and they don’t know how to deal with it.”

Spears has seen what can go wrong. On May 11, 2009, at Camp Liberty in Baghdad, a soldier killed five comrades in the base combat stress control clinic.

“I was at the base for a conference and had just left when I got flagged down and told to go the medical center to help ID casualties,” Spears said. “It gave me a heightened awareness of the danger of my job.”

The incident frightened her family, too. “We just waited with bated breath until she got home,” said Bill Cleland, Spears’ stepfather. “It’s a war zone.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.

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