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‘Balancing Act’ Stresses Reservists, General Says

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

BETHESDA, Md., Dec. 14, 2009 – Reservists face unique challenges that may be tipping their stress level over that of their active-duty counterparts, a health affairs official said.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Margaret Wilmoth, assistant for mobilization and reserve affairs for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, discusses reserve-component challenges at the Trauma Spectrum Disorders Conference in Bethesda, Md., Dec. 10, 2009. DoD photo by Elaine Wilson
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The balancing act of multiple job requirements, coupled with geographic isolation, combine to put a strain on the reserve force, said Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Margaret Wilmoth, assistant for mobilization and reserve affairs for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.

“Civilian employment is the highest level of stressors that military [members] report who are in the reserves,” the general noted last week at the Trauma Spectrum Disorders Conference here.

“We are trying to juggle two careers,” she added. “How do you meet the demand of a civilian employer who wants you 40, 50, 60 hours a week and then your reserve job?”

As a result, “The stress that a reserve-component member feels may be even higher than that of an active-duty member,” she said. “We don’t know.”

Reservists, who make up half of the nation’s military force, deploy on a rotational basis along with their active-duty counterparts. They often are required to return to a civilian job following deployment without an opportunity to recharge, Wilmoth said.

“When we come off active duty we may have two weeks of leave built up … then you’re back at work,” she said. “That is not much time to reintegrate, refresh, even deal with changing time zones, much less demands on one’s time and how one functions.”

In turn, the employer also must bear the deployment burden.

“It’s important to note that we also have a civilian employer who gets strained when we get deployed,” Wilmoth said. Reservists also face geographic isolation because they don’t live near a military installation, she added, making it tough for their families to obtain the support they need.

Reservists are “extremely geographically dispersed, and we live in communities that have very little understanding of … what it’s like to wear the uniform,” she noted.

And their children go to schools with other children “who don’t know what it’s like to have mom, dad, or brother or sister deployed,” she added.

Wilmoth also pointed out the unique challenges reserve women face.

“Women who are in the reserves are also juggling a civilian job, military job, family responsibilities, and that has a whole lot of stress for women,” she said. Women feel that strain when they’re in reserve status, she added, and also when activated to deploy.

“Your spouse may live in California, and you’re in Georgia, and the family readiness group is meeting in Georgia,” she said. “So who do you go to if you’re that family member who is taking care of things back home?”

It’s no easier for the deployed member. “You’re in theater worrying about what’s happening back home,” Wilmoth said. “And you don’t know who to reach out and touch to help family members cope, and then coming back, all of a sudden you’re back into being the wife and the mother and the employee if you’re working.”

Wilmoth emphasized that the stress women experience, particularly in the reserve components, needs to be more heavily addressed. She also called for research that explores the impact of service on reserve-component children.

“There’s a lot we don’t know for our reserve components,” she noted.

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