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Coming Home

Homecoming is the easy part. It’s the journey to come that’s the challenge.

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Lester Holt

MSNBC TV premiere's "Coming Home" on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET

Beyond the homecoming parades and yellow ribbons, a quiet struggle rages on the homefront as the roughly one million men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan begin to rotate out of combat.  But how much do we all understand about what these service members have experienced and the kind of support they now need?

Lester Host hosts “Coming Home,” a one-hour documentary which premieres Sunday, June 26 at 9 p.m. ET. “Coming Home” begins and ends with homecomings.  But we learn that the war does not end when our veterans arrive in the U.S. -- for these men and women, it is just the beginning of a long road home.

Mark O'Brien's journey home
It’s homecoming day.  The people and the towns are unique, but the scenes are the same -– a final arrival for troops who’ve spent months in harm’s way.  Not since Vietnam have so many troops returned home from war.

The arrival home is the easy part but what follows is a complicated transition to life back in the states. In order to really understand what it takes to come home you have to return to the war zone that these men have just left.

Iraq is a particularly brutal conflict.  It is a guerrilla war of hidden explosives, suicide bombers and ambush attacks.  It is a place where there are no frontlines; no safety zones.  

Mark O’Brien is a 21 year-old marine corporal in Golf Company.   Mark’s platoon battled the insurgency in Iraq’s Sunni triangle.  Under constant threat, his fellow marines became family.

Mark’s safety zone was the size of a gun truck. They called it the beast.  The man in charge was Gunnery Sergeant Miller -– or Gunny.  Also in the truck was 27-year-old Nathan Mcdonell, known as Doc.  He served as a company combat medic.

At six foot one, Mark towered over the other marines in his gun truck.  He is known to be fearless.

Mark, Doc, and Nathan were in the cradle of the insurgency.  As Doc McDonell commented, “There were times where a battle would be raging and you feel that terror in the pit of your stomach.”

And the unit was about to be tested. It was November 8, 2004.   The enemy was in front of them, maybe about 150 yards.  The insurgents were trying to coax them into the “kill zone”.  Four rocket-propelled grenades were fired on them.  Three missed, hitting various explosions in and around their area.  But then one rocket propelled grenade slammed into Mark’s gun truck.  It was an armor piercing round and it punched through the door and it exploded, basically, on him.   Mark recalled, “At first I just kinda had the wind knocked out of me and I kinda shook it off. And I looked down and something was burning on my chest so I went to go hit it off with my right arm. Well, my right arm was like a rope.  Then I looked down at my leg and saw my femur was snapped in half – you could have stabbed somebody with it, it was so sharp.”

The rocket blew apart his right arm and his right leg.

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