Reunion Training Helps Soldiers, Families Reconnect
By Eve Meinhardt
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORT BRAGG, N.C., Mar. 16, 2009 Spouses of soldiers in the 18th Airborne Corps have a better idea of how to reconnect with their other halves upon redeployment, thanks to the Army’s Battlemind reunion training.
“Reunion is not always easy, is it?” Army Chaplain (Col.) Larry McCarty, a Task Force Bragg chaplain, asked at the beginning of the training, which began here March 4.
The Army created Battlemind to help soldiers and families adapt to the changes and difficulties that come with redeployment. While the current training here was for spouses, soldiers receive the training immediately before deployments and after redeployments.
“Even if you’ve been through multiple deployments, each one is different,” said Angie Streets, program manager for mobilization and deployment, Army Community Service. “It is important for you to discuss your expectations and what your spouse’s expectations are when he [or she] returns from deployment.”
In addition to spouses having different expectations of how things are going to be or what is going to happen when they reunite, soldiers often faces adjustment issues that may affect their ability to sleep, cause a feeling of loss of control and hinder their ability to reconnect or communicate with their families.
With the additional stress of long separations and combat, the resiliency of soldiers and their families is facing additional challenges. McCarty compared a person’s ability to bounce back under pressure to a stress ball resuming its shape after being squeezed.
“As soldiers come back home, we’re finding that some people are being squeezed and not bouncing back,” McCarty said.
Soldiers face different challenges as they reintegrate and reunite at home, no matter what their rank, age or family status. Canadian Brig. Gen. Nicolas Matern, deputy commanding general of 18th Airborne Corps, discussed with the group challenges from a soldier’s perspective and from his experience. Martens moved here to become deputy commander of the corps last summer and subsequently deployed with the 18th Airborne to Iraq. He returned from deployment in December.
“It’s all about anticipation,” Matern said. “You’re separated for such a long time, and you have an idea in your head about how things are going to be back home. The problem is, things have evolved back home and changed since you’ve been gone.”
With deployment lengths ranging from three to 18 months, a lot of changes can take place at home.
“The children keep growing up. The spouses at home change, and their roles change,” Streets said. “The spouse at home takes on the role of mom and dad as well as additional roles outside the home as they strengthen friendships and become more involved with the Army community through their family readiness group and other support systems.”
The Battlemind reunion training helps soldiers and their families learn about actions they can take when they encounter issues, as well as how to restore an emotional balance and where they can compromise on expectations and activities.
They learn about flexibility and about understanding some of the emotions the soldier may be feeling, such as a possible need for order and control or reassurances of their partner’s loyalty and commitment.
Spouses learn about recognizing cues in daily life that serve as warning signs that their soldier may need help, including nightmares, anger, substance and alcohol abuse, performance problems, aggressive driving and not making plans.
They also learn to recognize signs that the soldier may need help with problems such as depression, anger, difficulty sleeping, sleeping too much, appetite changes, taking frustrations out on others and isolating themselves.
McCarty broke down the reunion process into what he called the “Big 4.”
“Just remember the Big 4 to help you through the changes. No. 1, redeployment is a process, not an event. Everything doesn’t go back to normal once your soldier gets off the plane,” McCarty said. “No. 2, expect ups and downs. Three, don’t over-schedule homecoming activities. And, No. 4, if you need help — ask for it.”
He added that couples experiencing problems always can talk to a chaplain confidentially about anything.
“If problems are ignored instead of addressed, they tend to fester and worsen instead of going away,” McCarty said. “The most important thing is each other and your relationship.”
(Eve Meinhardt writes for Fort Bragg’s Paraglide newspaper.)