We know that military deployments impact not only Service members, but their families as well. Deployments are a time of separation, changing roles, sacrifice, missed life experiences and fear. As Service members return home the reintegration phase can be challenging as families become reacquainted, reset expectations, and renegotiate roles.
This 30 Day Reintegration series, originally published as OneOp Family Transitions Facebook posts in the spring of 2015, provides an intimate insight into the reintegration experience of one active duty Air Force couple. Their story, unique for this family but also probably similar to other military family reintegration stories, reminds us of the joys and challenges military couples and families face. It is our hope that this four part blog series will help military service providers understand the range of emotions family members experience during reintegration. These emotions may or may not be visible or communicated outside of the home, but they truly impact the family’s mental and physical health as well as their ability to serve, work, volunteer and function. Be observant and prepared to ask service members, partners and children specific questions about their reintegration experience to identify how you can help and find needed resources.
This 4-part blog features 30 days of post-deployment journaling by what we’ve been calling our “30-Day Couple”. Their names are not used to provide anonymity. What is their back story? He enlisted in the Air Force during his last year of high school because of career and education benefits. The couple went to high school together but didn’t start dating until he returned from Basic Combat Training and Tech School. After he was assigned to his first duty station they had a brief long distance relationship. She dropped out of college so they could get married, but didn’t continue her education due to limited funds. She quickly learned that the military lifestyle applied to her as a military spouse, stating “It’s become an OUR thing”! As a Flying Crew Chief he has a fast paced job and is frequently away from home. They have three children. She left her job to stay home with the children to avoid childcare due to his frequent absences. She is active in many groups on base and receives support from other military spouses. “When you have a military friend you have a friend for life”. She is a Key Spouse volunteer and works hard to provide support to other military spouses.
They believe that their family is stronger because of the military experience. They feel the kids have gained confidence and have benefited from learning how to adjust and adapt to whatever military life throws at them. They appreciate the steady income the military provides, but agree that being a military family has influenced their life course. They are hesitant to buy a home in case they have to move. They haven’t gotten a family pet because they may PCS overseas. Education has been put on hold for her. Given his job expectations she “assumes” that he is not going to be there. She know she can rely on his support, but doesn’t rely on him physically being there. They acknowledge that “military transitions happen just as fast as family transitions”.
Continue reading to learn about this couples’ first five days of reintegration. During this ‘honeymoon’ phase observe how the family reconnected and the wide range of emotions felt by each family member.
Day 1 – Her
So here is my first 24hours…. After impatiently waiting for hubby to be done checking in his equipment, it’s finally 1am by the time we get home. Everyone is asleep and it’s wonderful to be with my hubby. Determined to not throw off my kids’ normal day, I get the day started. I have to confess that more than once I was frustrated that things weren’t going the way I wanted them. Trying not to mom block him I just keep trying to keep the kids on time for school. As soon as the kids were at school and hubby made all his calls to work, I just wanted my time. Spent the day doing whatever he wanted to do. Hitting up his favorite restaurants. A lot of “I love you” and “I’ve missed you” was said all day long. I struggled with jealousy a lot today. Jealous that work was on his mind, the kids forgot me a little. Still today was great. I have him home. I got to talk face to face, and I’m grateful
Day 1 – Him
My first 24 hours back from my latest deployment was primarily one of observation. So many things have changed since I left so many months ago. I could spend all day voicing every change I noticed, but instead I elected to try and focus on the bigger differences that affected my family. Examples of these included my son’s new adult teeth or how tall my oldest daughter had gotten or even how talkative our youngest had become. These, along with so many other changes, were a bit hard for me to really accept. I didn’t really imagine my children any taller when they ran toward me upon my return than their height I remembered them at when I left. I had received my redeployment brief about how important it was to ease back into family life, so I tried to do just that. I pitched in helping with the kids as much as I could, but things like discipline I chose to avoid since I wasn’t sure how my wife had been handling those situations. My time home so far has been filled by elation and euphoria, all while hoping this feeling will last forever. Despite these changes, I’m extremely thankful to be home with my wife and children and look forward to adapting to the changes that inherently await me to discover
Day 2 – Her
Today has been a quiet day. Hubby stepped in and took the dad role so effortlessly. Running the kids to their practices, and picking up vegetables from the farmer’s market. He was amazing letting me have plenty of time alone and not having a little one need me. I don’t feel like I struggled with anything today. Just really enjoyed having someone to share the day with and help with the responsibilities.
Day 2 – Him
Today I decided to jump into taking care of some things on my “Honey Do” list. I saw this as an opportunity to impress my wife, since I felt I had left her to do everything on her own for the past few months. This feeling was magnified by the fact that we have three children, ranging in ages between 2 and 9. I was in awe of how much she had taken care of while I was gone and only wanted to prove to her just how much I appreciated how much she has done. I hope to find my place in this “new norm” and contribute as best I can throughout these next thirty days home.
Day 3 – Her
Today we felt bored. The excitement of finally having my whole family together again is starting to wear off. I found myself asking my kids what I would normally be doing. The obvious answer was cleaning, cooking or on FaceTime with daddy. There wasn’t as much motivation to finish the to-do list but was still worked on. Preparations were made for hubby to go into work tomorrow. Not ready for the reality check then, but the sooner he gets his in-processing done the sooner we can go on family vacation. The kids have loved playing and jumping around with daddy, and not sure how they will feel about seeing him gone in the morning before they wake up. Our youngest has been wrapped around him this whole time. She may be very cranky tomorrow.
Day 3 – Him
We decided today was going to be a lazy day. We’ve gone out shopping and stopped in at a few restaurants these past couple of days in part to celebrate being all together again and partly to indulge in what I had missed over the past few months. Due to these indulgences, we decided to stay in today. We tried to clean the house a bit and I finally tried to tackle unpacking, but the laziness of the day prevailed. I only started a few chores and, instead, lounged while watching a few movies. I played with the kids even more today than I did before I left. Although today was a lazy day, I remembered through the Resiliency courses that I’ve taught others, that even small moment with your loved ones count. It was important to me that my children understood that daddy had each of their undivided attention. Today was less about fitting back in as it was just enjoying the presence of family
Day 4 – Her
Today has been a roller coaster. First day back to work. One of the things that helped it work was that hubby went into work late. He was able to see the kids off to school. As soon as my son woke up to see his daddy back in uniform he did his best Charlie Brown impression “ugh!” We made sure the kids knew daddy would not be home when they got home from school but he would be bringing home pizza when he did, they were content with that. A touchy subject that came up was our date night. A babysitter was scheduled three weeks ago for this night. It was important to me. I had asked several times about what would we do. At first I was told hubby wasn’t ready to think about that while he was overseas. Then when hubby got home he made me feel I was nagging him. Today hubby told me that I was making him mad because he felt forced to be romantic. I didn’t speak to him for a few hours. Later he texted me to tell me he made reservations at a waterfront restaurant. We were able to then talk out how we were feeling and what he meant when he misspoke. The kids were surprisingly good today, even my son brought home a note from teachers saying it was a wonderful day. This is great because during the deployment we had gotten several letters saying he was being disruptive and twice sent to the principal’s office. My oldest daughter was crying about us leaving her with a babysitter while we go on date. We gave her an iPod that she can use to text us all night long to make her feel better. Over all that day was good but trying at times.
Day 4 – Him
I had to go in to work today to start my in-processing. Typically, someone who has just come back from a deployment feels sort of out of place, but this time I felt particularly displaced since my entire section had moved while I was gone! I had relatively little issue finding the location, but the new processes therein were a different story. I’m only there long enough to complete due/overdue training as well as making my mandatory post-deployment appointments, but I still felt more out of place than I’ve ever felt with previous deployments. I decided that the best way to tackle this new role/environment was to take things slowly. Only asking questions about that which would affect me now versus trying to solve everything at once. I’ve still got plenty of questions at this present time; however, I decided upon this approach as it would break down an otherwise overwhelming feeling that would eat at me until I felt every question was answered. I pushed through the day and finally made it home to my loving family with whom I can always find solace in during a trying day. Now with the business aspect of the day behind me, my wife and I had plans to go on a date that night. I wish I had poured just as much effort into putting the night together as she had, but I had redeemed myself at the last minute by making a reservation at an upscale waterfront restaurant. This was followed by a bar hop and finally a fudge shop to bring home a few treats. I definitely experienced a gamut of emotions, but I would consider today altogether a win.
Day 5 – Her
Last night while out with hubby, he decided to tell me some of the things that he could not share with me during the deployment. Most of it had me scared but the worst part was him showing me pictures of bullet holes. I had already known about one instance that made it to the news here but I wasn’t aware of the others. Normally he doesn’t tell me anything about the places he has been; giving me the excuse of what if he goes back he wouldn’t want to worry me. I have gotten very used to that, so no point in asking. But this worried me. More than just because of all the dangers but also because it was out of the norm to share. My first question after he told me was are you going to have an appointment to talk to someone about all of this. He more or less laughed it off….The exciting thing that happened today is we booked a family trip. Looking forward to having fun with my family.
Day 5 – Him
I woke up this morning just a little before 5 a.m. to start my routine for work. I’m having to train myself again to start functioning this early in the day and find the motivation to make today a great one. I decided that it would be a good time to count my blessings since I hadn’t done it in a while. I usually teach that for every one negative thought, you should always counter it with three positives. I guess I could consider the time in which I had to get up a negative, but nonetheless I proceeded with the positives. First, I was home! I wasn’t separated from my family somewhere ending in “stan.” Second, traffic was a breeze this morning. Third, I haven’t officially started work yet, just in-processing, so I have very little responsibility and can worry about just myself for the time being until I get back from my reconstitution time off (R&R). All this to say that I had a pretty good day, however, my night turned out to be less than stellar. Our two older kids had Taekwondo, and while the oldest was quite disciplined, the middle decided to act out a bit. It was to be expected, but the same behavior reared back to life during dinner as well, but progressively got worse. Once one child gets a laugh from misbehaving, the dominos start to fall and the others play copy-cat until my wife and I had enough. We generally have well-mannered kids, but I guess the day wore on them as it was starting to wear on us. The night may not have ended on a high note, but at least I can always go back to those blessings to remind myself all that I am grateful for.
The first several days of reintegration following a deployment can provide both joys and challenges for military families. What were your thoughts as you read about this family’s efforts to reconnect and the range of emotions experienced by each family member? How might these insights impact how you as a military family service professional help families prepare for this honeymoon phase? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Watch for Part 2 of 4 of this reintegration blog series, Establishing New Routines, which will be posted in one week.
To learn more about current research related to reintegration, issues military families face during reintegration, as well as how these findings may impact programs and policies check out this archived webinar, “The Experience of Reintegration for Military Families and Implications for DoD” held mid-May.
OneOp Family Transitions Development provides education, resources and networking opportunities for professionals working with military families to build resilience and navigate life cycle transitions. Find out more about OneOp Family Transitions on our website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.