Fort Campbell Families Adjusting to Newfound Togetherness
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 25, 2004 The emotional reunions are almost over, with all but a few hundred of Fort Campbell's 20,000 troops now home from Iraq. Yellow ribbons are slowly coming down from trees and telephone poles around the Kentucky post at the Tennessee border, and around the surrounding communities. Many military families have left town while units enjoy block leave. Those who have stayed pack local restaurants at night, celebrating their newfound togetherness.
Army Sgt. William Holmes, recently returned to Fort Campbell, Ky., from a yearlong deployment to Iraq, said the key to readjusting to life with his wife and 11-year-old son, Detarian, is to "take it real slow." Photo by Donna Miles
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
It's what Marianne Erdman, a Family Advocate Program specialist at Fort Campbell, calls the "honeymoon period" that typically follows long military deployments. But Erdman said honeymoon periods don't last forever. In fact, she said, they all too often end in divorce, domestic violence and even suicide attempts.
"Redeploying is a crisis time," Erdman said. "In fact, deployment is easier than redeployment. With deployments, everyone's spirits are up. There's the excitement of going away to a new place, using your training to serve your country."
Not so with redeployments, she said. Redeployments force families to confront change, including a spouse's new sense of independence and new ways of doing things. They face emotional issues: Am I still loved and needed? Has my spouse been faithful to me? Will my children accept me? In addition, many families face financial crises.
And any problems a family was having before the deployment are likely to resurface even before the "welcome home" signs have come down, Erdman said.
To help returning soldiers prepare for these challenges, military units provide mandatory classes for all returning soldiers. Fort Campbell's Family Advocacy Program also offers military families a 90-minute session called "Getting Back Together: A Homecoming Reunion Seminar."
Leona Ferrell, Fort Campbell's family readiness coordinator, said she's witnessing what she calls a promising trend: more soldiers and their families are seeking free, confidential counseling the military provides.
"There are a lot of expectations involved in redeployment," said Ferrell. "Some families deal with it really well, but some have a hard time adjusting."
Among them is Master Sgt. Floyd Fennel, a re-enlistment noncommissioned officer from Division Support Command's Headquarters and Headquarters Company. Fennel said he and his wife had already endured two long deployments, and both seemed to actually strengthen his marriage. But Operation Iraqi Freedom, he said, "put more of a strain" on his family.
"We're still adjusting," he said, five months after being sent home from Iraq with kidney stones. "She was in charge, then I came in and took over. Things were kind of rough."
Sgt. Milton Cummings with the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry "Rakkasans" said he and his wife are having more disagreements than before he deployed. "Over there, I was in charge of people," he said. "I came home and felt like it was the same thing, but my wife has her own way of doing things."
Many of the returning soldiers said they're learning to reshuffle family responsibilities and reestablish their places within the family.
"My wife did everything for a year," said Staff Sgt. Edward Owen Heath with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Brigade, 327th Infantry. "I realized that I couldn't just jump in and take charge."
Heath said regular contact with home by letters and phone calls, and later by e-mail, helped him maintain a strong relationship with his wife and two teenage daughters while he was deployed. Even so, he acknowledged, "You can't just take over where you left off. You have to start over in many respects in terms of your relationship."
Children can have particular difficulty getting reacquainted with a parent who's been gone for an extended period. Cummings said his 2-year-old daughter "wouldn't even look at me" when he held her for the first time after arriving home. He said his battalion temporarily is working three-day weeks to give soldiers and their families the time they need to readjust.
Four-year-old Timber Falin, too, is getting used to having her father, Sgt. William Falin with 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery, back home. Timber said she loved the family's welcome home celebration at a local child-oriented pizza restaurant, with the seemingly endless supply of tokens her dad offered for rides and games. But at home, if she wants a snack or drink, it's still her mom Timber turns to, she said.
Sgt. William Holmes with B Company, 326th Engineers said that after three long deployments, he's learned the secret to readjusting to life with his wife and 11-year-old son, Detarian. "Take it real slow," he said.
Since returning to Fort Campbell four weeks ago, he said he's playing "Mr. Mom," giving his wife the break he said she deserves and catching up on "honey- do" chores around the house. After setting up a new trampoline in the back yard, he said he's looking forward to taking his son fishing. "I'm trying to catch up on the things we all missed when I was gone," he said.
Staff Sgt. John Mulrooney with the 801st Main Support Battalion's B Company has dealt with more family separations than most soldiers, with seven months in Afghanistan before deploying to Iraq for 11 months. During the past five years, he figures, he's been gone "more than three years and 10 months."
But rather than putting a strain on his family, Mulrooney said the deployments seem to strengthen his family. "Every time I come home, it's better than the last time," he said.
The secret, he said, boils down to communication. He admitted it wasn't always easy giving up sleep to stand in a four-hour line to call home, but he said it went a long way toward helping him stay active in the lives of his wife and two toddlers.
Now that he's home, he said, he's enjoying the little gestures that will give his children memories and keep the romance in his marriage, like taking the kids into the back yard to pick daffodils for their mother. "I'm trying to keep every day interesting," he said.
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