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When Our Heroes Come Home: 7 Things to Remember

Philip's Graduation 152Philip and Papa Day of Deployment Feb 2014Philip's Graduation 120“How is Philip?” I heard for the tenth time this week and it always brought a sense of anticipation and joy to my heart.

“He coming home in nine days and 12 hours” I replied with a big smile.

Then I can breath again.

Then my heart will be home again.

Then I can relax… for a while.

In the USMC, they call it “redeployment” when our Marines come home. And here’s what we know about redeployment: times are uncertain, and we have to remain flexible.

I remember speaking to the Stryker Brigade in Alaska a few years ago when the Army troops had been deployed for a year and then half of them came home—and went back for three more months. But the other half just stayed over there for the next three months.

What would be better, in your opinion, for your servicemember to come home for two days after being gone a year, then leave again for several months? Or do you think it would be less stressful on you and less confusing on the kids to just have them extend without coming home?

When our heroes come home again, here are some of the things we have to remember:

  • Adjustment – There is a transition time where they are glad to be home but have to get used to being home again. If they’ve been in a combat zone, they are used to an operations tempo that is night-and-day-different from the rhythm of home. So give them plenty of space, but be prepared to draw boundaries when you need to in order to remind them about what being home means.
  • Who is In Charge, Anyway? – When Bob left me at home with five kids seven and under, for extended periods of time, I had to be the sole person in charge. When he came home, he was used to being in control and tried to tell me how to load the dishwasher, wash the dirty clothes and how much salt to put in the beef stew. I began to dread having him look over my shoulder and second guess my work. “Do you think it needs more salt?” While I was thrilled he was back home, I had survived without him just fine and somehow the clothes got washed and the dishwasher got loaded without his input. So we developed a code phrase that we both agreed on ahead of time. When I said, “How about those Yankees?” It was a clue that “you are annoying me by trying to take charge and you really should back off before I sent you to the hospital with a mean backhand.”
  • He’s Different – War changes people. You don’t go to the theater, see the things you see, do the things your country and duty requires you do and come home the same. The best illustration for us civilians is to watch the final segments of “Return of the King.” I highly recommend that you watch that movie before or after they redeploy. At the end of the film, the Hobbits have just survived many battles and had many great adventures. They’ve lost dear friends, they’ve suffered emotional, psychological and physical wounds. They go to their old haunts at home: the pub, the neighborhood. But all the singing and partying around them makes them feel more isolated because of what they’ve survived. So, understand that “different” isn’t “damaged,” it’s just different.
  • PTS – Not all post traumatic stress is a disorder. That’s why in the Navy Seal Resilient conferences I’ve attended, the trainers talk about PTS in a very normal way. It is completely natural to feel stress after you’ve just been in a battle, seen some F16’s fly overhead to scare away the Taliban and then jumped on your helicopter to get out of there safely. Even with no injury or loss of life, it’s natural to feel stress. In fact, feeling nothing after that kind of experience is unnatural. So don’t get upset if your military member expresses their feelings about the PTS they naturally felt when they come home. As my husband used to say when he flew the F117, “Whatever you do, don’t panic.”
  • PTSD – So how do you know that what is natural has become unnatural in terms of PTS? I’ve heard it expressed this way by one of the Resilience Trainers: “After that kind of experience, we all carry around PTS. The question is how big is your load? Five pounds, 50 pounds? 500 pounds?” Obviously, no human is meant to carry around more PTS than they can bear. That’s why we have the wonderful resource of MFLC or Military Family Life Counselors. This is a place you can go to get a sanity check and see if you need to encourage your military member to get more help. One of the very best things your hero can do is to talk to a fellow team mate who has also seen action or been in the combat zone. Just the idea of talking about it to someone who has “been there, done that” helps them lose 10 pounds of stress immediately. Peer-to-peer sharing is a great and healthy place to talk about PTS before it becomes PTSD. Even after it becomes PTSD, this kind of engagement amongst peers can be helpful in encouraging the military member to talk to a MFLC counselor.
  • A New Kind of Normal – I had a friend say that she and her husband were having problems because, “He’s just not the man I married anymore.” Well, after 15 years of marriage, I hope not. If my husband were the same guy he was all those years ago, when we got married, he wouldn’t have been a growing, thriving, maturing individual. We all change and not all change is bad. In fact, I want to be a better version of what I was in my youth, one that has learned from the hard knocks and experienced great joys. Give yourself permission to transition to a new kind of normal, understanding that you can embrace the growth and marginalize the negative as you go through the normal challenges in redeployment. Things will not be the same as before they deployed. Take this opportunity to start a new chapter together and move forward with confidence and hope.
  • The Cycles of Deployment – I wrote for Military Spouse for seven years and I’m always on the lookout for great resources for families. If you haven’t checked out Military.com Spouse, then you are in for a treat. They continue to put out great information. Be sure your check out the hyperlinks to their five stages of deployment:

The Five Emotional Stages of Deployment

  1. Pre-deployment (varies)
  2. Deployment (1st month)
  3. Sustainment (months 2 thru 5)
  4. Re-deployment (last month)
  5. Post-deployment (3-6 months after deployment)

Well, now it’s only 9 days and 10 hours until my Marine comes back home.

Let me hear from you and tell me, “How do you celebrate your hero’s homecoming?”

elliek

About elliek

Ellie Kay is the best-selling author of fifteen books and a frequent media guest on CNBC, ABC’s Nightline, MSNBC, Neil Cavuto and Fox News. Ellie is also a gifted keynote speaker, presenting to standing ovation crowds of over 8,000 people.