Monday, March 03, 2008

Reintergration & Reunion

Over the past several weeks I have been giving classes to our Soldiers in preparation for our redeployment to Fort Stewart, Georgia and our reintegration with our families. As mentioned in an earlier post below, the first class I provided addressed the issues of suicide awareness and sharing combat experiences. The ideal size of a group attending these classes is about 30-40 Soldiers, allowing me to customize the material and provide for exchange and conversation. Each class or brief was a little over one-hour long. Today, at JSS Hawas, I finished the last of these briefs; I have conducted 44 of them. LTC Silverman, CSM Sumner and 1SG Biggs have sometimes joined me in teaching—their occasional presence not only lends validation to the subject matter, but gives me a much needed breather. The repetition turns my brain to mush, but the unique dynamic of each group has helped keep me focused. At the risk of sounding boastful, I must say these briefs have been an absolute success. Soldiers’ attentiveness and engagement during the conversations have less to do with my skill and presentation and more to do with their own appreciation for the challenges that lie before us upon our return home. Soldiers always stick around afterwards with individual questions or to make appointments for counsel.

The subject matter of this second class has been divided into three sections: self-care, family-care, and the contrast between combat and garrison life. Within the realm of self-care, we discuss diet, exercise, sleep, alcohol, and finances. (The principle to remember in every case is self-discipline.) As sweet as it is to be home, Soldiers and leaders can easily become frustrated and irritated with the lack of purpose and mission they experience when compared to what they regularly experienced in combat.

One of the seven Army Values is integrity. I have explained that the root word of integrity is “integer”—yes, the same word we were introduced to in math class. Just as an integer is a whole number, such as 2, 3, or 4—and a 2 is a 2, and not a 3—having integrity is being true to who I am: who I am as a professional, as a husband, father, son, friend, neighbor, etc. Furthermore, the goal of reintegration is to be true and loyal in my roles as husband, father, and Soldier. Reintegrating is the process of finding our groove—so to speak—in being true to the roles that help define us. It’s unimaginable that one could return from combat and reintegrate without difficulty; we will all hit a few speed bumps along the way; some of us will hit a brick wall. Recognizing that difficulties are common can help us patiently endure this season of adjustment.

Among the issues of great interest is intimacy. Soldiers—and most in our society—understand this word as a synonym for sex. It is essential we understand it to mean connection and closeness, and it is therefore helpful to acknowledge there are various forms of intimacy. It is wise for couples to acknowledge their need for sexual, emotional, intellectual, spiritual and physical intimacies. Every Soldier has changed during his tour, and so have our family members. Change is natural and, of itself, is not a threat. The long separation makes it difficult to connect as easily as we would like, or as we had previously—but patience and time will payoff.

Intimacies or connections can be re-established. Since love is what we do rather than how we feel, we should not be alarmed if the same feelings for one another do not fully and immediately return. They are nurtured in relationships of trust, security and mutual respect. In other words, how we feel for one another (which, is important, no doubt) is largely determined by how we care for or serve one another. So when a leader—because it’s been his custom for the past 15 months—speaks to his wife as if she is one of his Soldiers, she won’t like it. But if she can keep in mind that he likely didn’t intend disrespect, then it will be easier for her to be patient with him as he becomes reacquainted with communicating in a fashion that is personal, rather than professional, and horizontal, rather than a vertical. The same is true of the Soldier whose wife speaks to him as if he is a child. Although offensive, it is wise for him to remember that the mode of communication with which she’s been most familiar during the past 15 months is parent-child. He’s going to use his business tone with her and she’s going to use her maternal tone with him—and each will do well to be patient with the other.

Unfortunately, many of our Soldiers’ marriages have not weathered this storm. Some will return single or in the process of divorce. Others expect that it may soon be the case for them. I counsel couples not to press the issues of contention prematurely. Wait until the dust settles. Seek out any one of the various resources for counseling and marriage enrichment: unit chaplain, family life chaplains, counselors available through http://www.militaryonesource.com/ , or one’s pastor/religious leader—to name only a few.

Finally, it is essential to remember that everything of value comes with a price. The cost of a loving and stable home environment is hard work and patience. That being said, many couples report experiencing increased understanding and connection upon reunion—and what work and patience is required will (for a change) be something they can finally work on together, side-by-side.

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