A few days ago, I published a post that dealt with reintegration. You can read that post by clicking here. Today, I'm posting an email written from the perspective of a soldier who hopes that his words will shed some light on what reintegration is like for the returning service member.
You step off a plane in front of a sea of well-wishers carrying red, white, blue, and yellow ribbons and giant posters saying "Welcome Home," maybe even a band. After a formation and a short speech where anything longer than "Fall Out!" is too long, you rush with outstretched arms to a family, then a full night of intimacy and happily ever after. Every soldier dreams of it; hardly a day passes without the thought. But... in all my deployments, too many to count, it hasn't happened yet.
Reality is substantially different. Seldom are there crowds of well-wishers. On one occasion they didn't even have the stairs to get us off the plane; we just looked out the door for half an hour watching it rain for the first time in six months. Actual home comings usually have me getting off a commercial plane at my local airport, picking up my bags and waiting for my wife to pick me up on the curb. After a long hug and a few kisses I am a passenger in the car rubbing her hand, a constant stimulus ensuring it is not just another dream. The immediate intimacy I had been dreaming about for so long is postponed, sometimes to the next day; travel, time zones, culture shock, and emotions all take their toll from me.
The next morning I am faced with a decision I am not accustomed to making; what shall I wear? I will look around anxiously for a rifle and pistol.
That lost look on my face is because the structure I am used to is no longer there. When I drive I am constantly checking for the suspicious and then lulled by the lack of stimulus; there are much fewer cars, motorcycles, scooters, and pedestrians that will weave in and out of your path requiring your constant attention. I will cry in the grocery store when I see its opulence; it happens every time. Crowds will make my pulse rate increase, and I'll put my back into the corner at the restaurant. I will check everybody's hands for possible threats. It will usually take me between two and four weeks to control these instincts.
Everyone has changed since I left and it will take time for us to get reacquainted. My wife will not be used to picking up my socks and I will not be used to seeing the toothpaste squeezed in the middle. My ideas of discipline will not have been enforced while I was gone and it will take others time to get used to them again. Reintegration can be more painful than the separation.
I have been through this more times than I care to count in my 15 years of marriage. It has been our shared faith, love and commitment that has helped us survive each of these difficult times but they still have left their scars. The emotional roller coaster of repeated separation and reintegration is very painful so I tend to level my emotions. If I suppress my joy at home, the pain of separation will be diminished. Sometimes I feel like an emotional zombie. This is my greatest sacrifice; I still think it's worth it.
I think it's extremely helpful for both the returning spouse, and the spouse who stayed back and kept the homefront functioning, to understand the concerns and difficulties that each of them face during the reintegration process. I'm grateful to this soldier for being so candid about such a personal, and often difficult subject.