11/12/2014 11:42 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Battle on the Home Front: A Journalist Documents Life After War

Contributor: Erin Trieb
Age: 32
Occupation: Photojournalist, Founder of The Homecoming Project
Location: Austin, TX


©Erin Trieb/The Homecoming Project

2010.03.24 Corpus Christi, Texas

This is the first time I've been truly alone in what feels like weeks. I feel like I've been living the life of a ghost. Groundless, rootless, floating from above, watching everyone else's life unfold before me. It's a strange thing. Since Afghanistan in July 2009, I haven't really had a home. I've been crashing and paying rent, uncomfortably in Brooklyn and Watertown, but most of the time I am on the road, traveling across the country to listen to anyone who will speak with me. It's been hard, but I'm finding that the families are the ones who understand what I am doing more than anyone else... even more than the guys in the army. They just seem to get it.

I have been living in and out of families' tragedies for the past three months, as they happen before my eyes. In February, I traveled to Dirk Terpstra's house in Michigan. Dirk at age 26 killed himself in a family friend's yard on the night of Feb. 24, 2010. His friends called him "Terpstra" or simply "Terp." I drove from New York to Michigan with the hope that I wouldn't get a door slammed in my face. Instead, I was welcomed with open arms.


Friends and family at the funeral of Specialist Dirk Terpstra © Erin Trieb/The Homecoming Project

The day of his funeral, I showed up early to the Terptra household, where Gail and Jay, his mother and step-father live. Tess and Brandon, his siblings, were there along with Sophie, his best friend's wife. I stood by, camera in hand, as his mother took the curlers out of her hair, often brushing the tears from her eyes, and checking on Brandon, Dirk's brother, who was in the garage chain smoking cigarettes.

I am consistently heartbroken. It is taking a toll on me. Today is the first time since I can remember that I've been able to sit alone and breathe and cry and think about everything I have seen since Michigan. It feels good. It's a release. Sitting here, in the Omni hotel café, I feel like I can peel back a layer, and step out of my skin for a while and just be Erin. I don't have to be strong when I am alone. I can be myself. I can let a lot of things go.

Context: Journal entry by The Homecoming Project founder, Erin Trieb, as she travels across the United States to document the impact of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on the soldiers returning home. The Homecoming Project collective is comprised of photography created by over 30 photojournalists displayed alongside art, writing and creative works from military, veteran and military family contributors. The campaign illuminates issues faced by returning service members, veterans, and their communities to further awareness on PTSD and help diminish the stigma associated with military suicide. Currently, one U.S. veteran dies by suicide roughly every hour.

Marvi Lacar for 1in20


1in20 is a community offering validation, support and a creative outlet for people coping with and surviving mental illness.

1in20 honors servicemen and women, as well as those who stand with them, by encouraging freedom of expression through storytelling and art. Our goal is to help bring an end to the stigma surrounding an issue which continues to claim lives long after combat. If you are a sufferer, friend, family member, or caregiver suffering in silence, we invite you to join us and share your story. Email us at


Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.