Milling around his house, Jon Masseria froze.
He heard a loud noise coming from the television.
It sounded just like the alarm to warn soldiers of a rocket attack in Iraq.
"You hear that noise, and it trips you out," said Army Spc. Masseria, 20.
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Masseria, a 2008 graduate of Jay M. Robinson High School, returned home in April from a deployment to Iraq with the N.C. Army National Guard's 1-130th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, based in Mooresville.
In Iraq, Masseria said he lived on hope and the anticipation of coming home. But now that he's here, he said he isn't sure what to think. He has to find a job. He will start college classes this year. And his friends have changed - or he's changed.
As the seven-year war continues in Iraq and Afghanistan, a generation of young troops continue to flow back into their hometowns after deployments to war zones. But sometimes the adjustment from military to civilian life is a challenge as the young veterans deal with the emotional transition, as well as new stressors, such as finding a job.
Travis Waldron, director the Cabarrus County Office of Veterans Services, said it's difficult for some people to readjust to civilian life, which lacks military discipline and order.
"You have new freedom," he said.
Waldron, who retired from the Army after 20 years and several deployments, said young veterans must now face a tough job market. Many opt to go to school instead, taking advantage of the GI Bill, which provides education benefits to veterans. He said many young veterans who come into his office are seeking help to find money to pay for school.
Lives on hold, then transition
Sgt. 1st Class Michelle Tate of Concord was enrolled in Rowan-Cabarrus Community College's radiology program when she received notice that she would be deployed to Iraq.
Tate, who has been a member of the U.S. Army Reserve for more than 20 years, has been deployed three times over her career - once to Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm and twice to Iraq.
Last October, she returned home from Iraq, where she served as a platoon sergeant and heavy vehicle operator, providing logistical support to other military units.
Now Tate, a member of the Army Reserve's 991st Transportation Company based in Salisbury, is readjusting to civilian life.
"You have to go from training techniques and procedures and carrying a weapon every day to transitioning back to your personal life," she said. "It's difficult."
But the transition back to student life has been smooth, she said.
She spent the spring semester auditing classes and refreshing her skills. She'll begin taking classes for credit in the summer semester, and she plans to graduate in May 2011.
Tate said she's always had a passion for the health-care field, and she wants to become a registered radiologist.
She could retire from the Army Reserve, she said, but she won't. She hopes she can finish her degree without another deployment.
"There's always that possibility," she said. "You take that oath to support your country. We have to put our lives on hold sometimes, but that's what we signed up to do.
Masseria, trained as an Apache helicopter mechanic, arrived in Basra, Iraq last July with a mission: "Keep the birds in the air."
He said his job wasn't particularly stressful, but his base was hit by rockets on about 15 different occasions.
"You never know where they'll hit," he said. "You hear the alarm, and you hit the dirt and pray."
About a week before he arrived, four soldiers will killed by a rocket attack.
"I thought, 'I'm too young to freakin' die. Not here,'" he said.
Reminders always there
A member of the Marine Corps Band, Andrew Duncan traded his drumsticks for a machine gun when he was deployed for seven months to Iraq with the 5th Marine Regiment in 2006.
"The Marines have a saying: 'Everyone's a rifleman,'" said the former sergeant, who graduated from Concord High School in 2003.
While he was stationed just outside Fallujah, he suffered inner ear bleeding and a concussion after an improvised explosive device hit his truck.
Duncan, 24, spent four years on active duty and is now in the Corps' inactive ready reserve, part of the Marine Corps Reserve that allows for former active duty Marines to be called up.
When he first got back to the states, Duncan said was a mean, angry person. He was short-tempered. The things that mattered before just didn't matter anymore, he said.
"At one point, you were just trying to make sure you didn't die," he said.
And like Masseria, he still has triggers that remind him of his time overseas. Seeing a bag of trash in the street will make him stop in his tracks. That's how explosives were hidden on Iraqi streets.
When Duncan left active duty in 2007, he used GI Bill funds to take classes at CPCC before transferring to UNC Charlotte, where he is a sophomore with plans to major in sociology.
While he was in Iraq, he hated being there. Now - three years later - he misses it.
"Every day," he said. "I'll never regret it. It's a part of my life I'd never want taken away."