contributed by Liz Zaczek, senior staff writer
While returning from deployment is often a time of celebration and reconnection with family and friends it can also be an adjustment for service members, and those in their lives, as they return to “normal” life whether they are still active duty or have made the transition to veteran status. There are several ways to make the reintegration into everyday life easier for everyone involved.
Welcome Home Parties: Chances are good that well meaning family and friends will want to celebrate the return of their loved one from a deployment that took them away from home. Be sure to share plans for any celebrations with the person returning from deployment. Some may feel that a larger gathering is too taxing after so long away from home. Smaller and shorter gatherings may be a better option to allow everyone a chance to celebrate and have quality time together. Also keep in mind that travel arrangements are subject to change and that even though they are coming home, it may not be when expected. Keep plans flexible knowing that delays or even early arrivals are often out of their control.
Reconnecting with Family and Re-establishing Roles: Returning service members may feel out of sync with their friends and loved ones. Coming home isn’t just an adjustment for them — it’s an adjustment for everyone around them. Be prepared for children to have outbursts of emotion or resist “parenting” from the returning family member. Keep the lines of communication open and be patient with everyone involved. Including one-on-one time with each member of the family and closest friends can help everyone feel more comfortable.
Feeling a Sense of Belonging to the Community: Sometimes a return from deployment includes a move to a new base, state or even country. While the military assists service members and their families adjust to their new surroundings there is still much to learn about the new people and places around them. Whether or not part of the return from deployment includes transitioning to veteran status and civilian life, moving to new places frequently can make it harder to feel like part of the community. Reach out to local groups, get to know families from school or church or even joining a recreational sport’s team can create the bonds of being part of the community.
Transitioning to the Civilian Workforce: At a certain point an individual may choose to leave the military after their commitment has ended. As a newly minted veteran this may be the first time they’ve sought gainful employment in the civilian sector. While in the military a service member learns and hones many skills, plenty of which they will carry with them throughout their post military life. However, there will be a learning curve in other areas and just with their personal life, time and patience is key to easing frustrations and apprehensions along the way.
Returning to a Job: If deployed with the National Guard or Reserve, a Service Member will have to adjust to resuming their previous job or another similar job at the same company. For some recently returning Service Members, they may find themselves behind a desk in as little as three days after leaving a combat zone. Returning to the job may include a period of catching up, learning new skills, or adjusting to a new position. It will also include adjusting to social changes that may have occurred in the workplace. During the transition back to work, some individuals also experience worry and fear about possible job loss.
General Life in the Civilian Sector: After a high regimented career and life in the military those making the transition to veteran status often find the lack of regimented structure as well as the multitude of choices in everyday life a challenge to adjust to. Along with these choices and changes comes the adjustment to providing basic necessities like food, housing and finding medical care for oneself and one’s family. In the military not only are these basics provided but often there is little choice of “when, where and what”. Meals are served at specific times at specific places, duty station determines one’s dress, medical services are provided by specific doctors and medical centers as well as many other daily small decisions that suddenly a veteran will need to consider. The lack of choices in the military versus the vast array in the civilian world can be overwhelming for a new veteran.
Finding Support: If you or your loved one are finding adjusting to life post deployment or even post military career there are places to turn for help. It can be helpful to turn to another veteran and/or service member who has returned from a lengthy deployment. Turning to trusted friends or family members, whether they are in the military or not can help ease feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. Lastly, seek professional help for yourself or for the service member in your life. A professional counselor or therapist can help provide perspective and tools on how to deal with stress, sadness or confusion or other issues related to returning home or leaving the military. Find a counselor by talking with a health care provider or by contacting your Employee Assistance Program (EAP).