Reunion & Reintegration Training: The Final Countdown
October 31, 2007
The part of a deployment that Family members and Soldiers alike look forward the most, is when that Soldier finally steps off that plane, back on U.S. soil after spending a year or more in a hostile environment. Part of the final countdown, to ensuring that things go smoothly when the Soldier returns home is Reunion & Reintegration training, that is mandatory for the Soldier and offered to the Family members as well. At Fort Hood, that Final Countdown is in progress, even as I write this.
For the Families of Soldiers who are deployed, they are given information on what to expect when their Soldier returns home. Let’s face it… War Is Hell and many of our Soldiers have seen things, experienced things and had to do things that leaves them a changed person. By educating Family members on what to expect, when their Soldier returns home, the Army hopes that problems can be avoided or at least lessened.
Reintegration and Reunion training is a multi-faceted, team approach. Representatives from various agencies across the post come together to provide information and resources to the Family members, so that if difficulties arise, the Family member knows where to turn for assistance. These workshops are provided to Family members and Soldiers to ensure that the reunion and reintegration process goes as smoothly as possible with hopefully few problems.
On October 25th, spouses and Family members from the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade came together to learn these things. Mary Prater, a representative from the Family Advocacy Program at Fort Hood spoke to spouses about how to slowly reintegrate their Soldier back into the household.
“This is a stressful time for not only the Families here, but for the Soldiers as well,” Prater said. “There have been many challenges for both the Soldiers and the Families in the last year. You must work together to adjust to these changes.”
“Many children may have a lot of questions. They many act out for attention, or be resentful of the parent for leaving,” Prater continued. “Continue with the routines, discipline and activities, and slowly integrate your spouse back into these areas of life.”
Representatives from Army Community Services also spoke to the group about how to correctly plan for reintegrating the deployed parent back into the Family. There is a right way and a wrong way. Sometimes spouses are resentful that they’ve had to handle problems in the home while the Soldier was deployed. By the time the Soldier arrives home, they’re ready to dump all that responsibility back into their lap, as soon as they walk in the door. That can cause problems.
“It’s important to communicate with the Soldier - both now and when they get home,” said Dave Gretsch, the ACS representative. “There will be obvious changes. Time changes everything - take the time to take in these changes before reacting to them.”
Spouses of Soldiers who have experienced deployments in the past were available to speak with the group. Bridgit Lawson, spouse of SSG Darren Lawson, 4th Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment shared what she had learned about the “C2″ of reunion.
“We can’t come together and have a successful reunion if we don’t communicate and compromise,” she said. “The Army has a version of C2 - command and control. But in reunion, you can’t have command and control if you want it to work. You have to communicate and compromise through the hard times and changes that have happened while you have been apart.”
Social workers were on hand to discuss how the stresses of the deployment may have affected the Soldiers and how to tell the difference between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Post Deployment (Combat) Stress. According to Stacy Nelson, Social Work Case Manager, all Soldiers returning from deployment will experience some form of PTSD or combat stress. The spouses will experience combat stress. According to Nelson though, only about 5-10 percent of returning Soldiers will develop full-blown PTSD.
“Many of your husbands will not want to talk about what they have experienced, others will have family or friends tell them to not think about it,” she said. “But not talking about it and holding everything in can be harmful.”
Nelson compared the mind to a filing cabinet, where every file has a place. Sometimes, the mind takes awhile to figure out where the appropriate place is to file things… where it all goes.
“When people hold in bad experiences and don’t talk about what they have seen, done or been through, the mind doesn’t have a chance to process the information and put it away so that it no longer affects day to day activities,” she said. “Talk to your spouse and remember you don’t need full details to communicate and help them through the process.”
As important as it is to talk about it and be there for the Soldier when they’re ready to talk, it’s also important to note that they shouldn’t be pushed into talking about it, before their ready to. That can cause as much harm and lead to difficulties as well. It’s important, as the spouse or Family member of a deployed Soldier to let their Soldier know that they are there for them and that when they are ready to talk, that they will be there to listen to them.
While the spouses and Family members attended their reunion and reintegration trainings, Soldiers are preparing to return home themselves. They too, are being provided with Reunion and Reintegration training, prior to leaving theater and they will continue with that training, upon their arrival back at Fort Hood.
The key to a successful reunion, is communication and compromise and to utilize the resources that are available on every military installation. Patience is also important, as Mr. Gretsch said, readjustment takes time and that with patience, things will begin to start feeling normal again 30-90 days after the Soldier returns home.
For myself, the Final Countdown has started. Marty will be returning home soon. While there have been changes here at home ,(i.e. purchasing a house while he was deployed. Sean going off to basic training, etc.) we’ll take the time to communicate and compromise, as the reintegration process happens. I have the advantage of knowing what the resources are, of being part of the team that conducts the trainings for the Family members, as well as the Soldiers when they return and to have been able to take part in the trainings as a Family member as well. I know that there may be bumps along the way, but I also know that by working together, communicating, compromising and utilizing the available resources, that our reunion will be a successful one.
It should be noted, that Reunion and Reintegration training occurs across the entire military, at all bases, in all branches of the Military. Resources are available on each installation and I suggest that all Family members and Soldiers learn what those resources are and how to access them, to help make the transition during reintegration successful. The resources available on the military installations are there to help the Soldiers and their Families and they should be encouraged to seek out those resources when necessary, before problems get out of hand.