Last weekend I attended our Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Brief for my husband's unit. Ahh...it seems so unreal to say that word - reintegration! That means this current deployment is coming closer to an end! While I obviously have no actual homecoming date as of yet, and it could still be months away, finally hearing information related to homecoming is a relief. It's nice to finally be beyond the half-way point and into the "light at the end of the tunnel" stage.
The Yellow Ribbon event provided the families with helpful resources available to all servicemembers and their families once they are home, as well as information regarding our Tricare benefits, financial planning, and how to help our Soldiers fit back into civilian life a little more smoothly. So much information was packed into four hours that I am still sorting through it all! Being the "have to know it all" type person that I am, most of the information was prior knowledge for me, but it was nice to have a refresher and I did learn a few new things. For some of the other spouses and families, though (who may not spend hours in front of the computer relentlessly searching for info!), much of this information may have been unknown and could potentially be what helps their families to have a more successful homecoming.
The speakers gave tips on how to help the Soldiers transition back into family life and to resume their pre-deployment roles. Giving them time and space to adjust to being at home and keeping the lines of communication open will help to ease some tension and anxiety. They also spoke about waiting for our Soldiers to open up about their experiences at war, rather than asking them questions about what they saw or what they did. Letting them know that they have someone who will listen when they are ready to talk is the best way to help. This was valuable advice for me. I would love to be able to know what life was like for my husband overseas and typical me, I would probably start with a million questions. While I am just curious and interested, to my husband these questions may bring up bad memories or be things he is not yet ready to discuss. I need to be patient and wait for him to be ready to share if and when he does.
Another topic that was discussed is change. Homecoming brings to mind so many happy thoughts, from the moment we first see our Soldier to the idea of living happily ever after once he comes home. While it's great to have these "fantasies" we also have to be realistic. Yes, we are all elated to be back together again, but everyone has changed during the deployment - the Soldiers, the spouses, the children, even friends. It's been many months since our servicemember has seen us and a lot has happened during that time. Spouses have had to become more independent while the Soldier was away, which may at times cause them to feel unneeded. The Soldier may seem distant, causing the spouse to feel rejected. This is again where patience and communication are vitally important. It takes time to get to know each other again and for life to begin to feel normal. The fantasy homecoming is wonderful to dream of and sometimes necessary to get us through the final days of a deployment, but staying flexible and keeping expectations realistic is important to help avoid disappointment.
One of the last, but I feel most important, topics that was discussed was PTSD. While not all servicemembers who have been to war come home with PTSD, it is beneficial for all family members to know more about it. I am certainly not an expert on PTSD, nor even close to one, but the best piece of info that was given to us was to encourage our servicemembers to talk with another person, either in the military or an outside confidential source. This encouragement is one of the best ways to begin to help. Many times, Soldiers still have the mind-set that by admitting they are having difficulties, they will be seen as weak or that it could affect their careers. But it is important for them to find someone they can talk to if needed, and it is our job as family members to continue to encourage them to seek the help that is offered.
I am grateful for the Yellow Ribbon Program and the wonderful events that they put on for our families in order to share all of this important information. Hopefully by making the families aware of this information and the resources available to them, our Soldiers will have a smooth transition back into life at home. I know their will still be bumps and challenges along the way, but I feel that I have the tools and knowledge to overcome them...now we just have to wait for the actual homecoming!!
What are some helpful tips that you received before your servicemember arrived home from a deployment? What advice can you share about how to help make reintegration an easier transition for both the family and the servicemember?