Reintegration – Phase 11 (excerpt from 400 Days)

400 DaysDanette Hayes is the BSF Co-Director for National Guard and Reserve Outreach and the author of 400 Days, a book about her National Guard family’s deployment journey.

Rich and I have immersed ourselves into civilian lives once again. I wish I could say it’s been easy, but the reality is, it has not.  We renewed our wedding vows on August 30, 2008.  Our best man eighteen years ago was Rich’s brother, John, so we found it quite fitting that he officiate our renewal.  It was a casual affair on the deck, surrounded by our family, who each did a reading.  Unlike the church wedding we had before, this was all our doing, words that we chose, readings and music that didn’t have to be approved by the church. It was a true representation of our life together.

Our best friends, Greg and Shari Merritt, assisted John as officiates of the ceremony, and we loved having them stand with us. We’ve all been through this separation, and this almost felt like we all renewed a vow to continue being there for each other.  We bought each of the children an Irish wedding band and exchanged them during the ceremony.  David and Susan read from Lord of the Rings about change. Makayla read from the Velveteen Rabbit about how growing old and being real doesn’t hurt, it just happens. Kelly sang “What a Wonderful World.” She practiced for weeks with our friend Jimmy who played guitar for us and sang Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You,” something that never would’ve been approved in our Catholic ceremony eighteen years ago. This was the most memorable wedding I’ve ever been a part of, and I wish I had videotaped it. Shari and Meredith, being the crazy ladies they are, made us a heart-shaped cake with a Barbie and Ken dressed in Parrothead attire. They even cut Barbie’s hair to resemble my haircut and shaved Ken’s head to reflect Rich’s crew cut. True to form, my crazy ladies brought my favorite tequila, Patrón, and the evening ended on a happy note.

I’ve spoken about ceremony before, the military need to preserve these worthwhile celebrations. Renewing our vows brought closure to the separation the last year brought us and allowed us to renew our commitment to each other and our children for a bright future, no matter what may come. My, how I’ve grown!

I’m still searching for employment, but feel lucky that I can be home during this time of transition. After the welcome home celebrations end and we try to pick up the pieces, it’s then that I see and understand how hard it is to feel good about what he’s done as a soldier. Rich returned to work in August, but there was no one there to welcome him back. He had no office, no phone, no computer to return to—it was as if he had never been there. He had to track down facilities for assistance. He had notified his boss he’d be returning thirty days before his arrival back at the office, yet he wasn’t there to welcome him back.  To the contrary, when he did see Rich, he seemed surprised he had returned to work at all.

I’m dumbfounded that his boss would think he wouldn’t return to his civilian job. Just what do employers think the Guardsmen or Reservists do that enable them to walk away from their futures when they return from war? From the stories I’ve heard at the reintegration meetings, this is common for the Guardsmen.  He’s still struggling to get his employer to honor USERRA. To some, it’s just enough to sign up to be an employer who supports the Guard and Reserve soldiers. It’s an entirely different matter to actually follow through with that commitment.

Let’s face it—life moved on without them. I don’t think Rich ever received an e-mail from anyone at his office, except maybe at the holiday time. It’s not that people don’t mean well. They’re just caught up in their own lives. No one knows what to expect or how to act around someone who’s sacrificing a year of their own life so that others back home can get on with theirs. It shouldn’t be a thankless job.

Rich is one of the lucky ones.  He came home to a family.  I’ve met so many who didn’t have a family to come home to. At the meeting this past weekend, during one point in the schedule, they asked married couples to stay in one room for “dialogue,” and those whose spouses or significant others had left because of the deployment to adjourn into another room.  Almost one-third of the room left.  It left me sad and angry.  The cost to military families is taking its toll, and I search for answers to end this cycle.   Seventy-five percent of the suicides in the military are due to relationship troubles.   It’s so hard to put my fingers around such numbers, but seeing the room split as I did, it’s hard not to recognize how it happens.

I think Rich saw himself in the meetings. They gave a presentation/film on battle fatigue and the symptoms.  I’m grateful he saw himself so that I wouldn’t have to start at ground zero.  Invalidation they call it. “They” meaning psychiatrists and the VA dealing with Post Combat Stress and Battle Fatigue.  It’s a subtle symptom that, left untreated, can lead to alcoholism, drug abuse, withdrawal, seclusion, and ultimately suicide.  The soldiers feel so disconnected from their prior lives as civilians and unappreciated for their commitment that they start to question their own ability to provide a future for themselves or for their families.  We’re learning more and more about post combat stress, but we’re not reacting fast enough as a society. They describe invalidation as mocking, ignoring, judging, or minimizing a soldier’s feelings.  Sounds simple, right?  And it shouldn’t be a big deal, right? Wrong.  Invalidation goes beyond mere rejection by implying not only that our feelings are disapproved of, but that we are fundamentally abnormal. This implies that there is something wrong with us because we aren’t like everyone else; we are strange; we are different; we are weird.  Psychological invalidation is one of the most lethal forms of emotional abuse.  It kills confidence, something sorely needed by returning civilian soldiers.  When we tell a soldier who has just returned from deployment, “Oh, don’t worry, it’s okay, you’ll feel better soon,” we’re minimizing their emotions. After days or even weeks of this minimizing behavior, the soldier eventually becomes more depressed and capable of self-harm.  These situations do not go away on their own.  Soldiers learn to isolate themselves because they’re not “normal” and turn to alcohol or drugs.  I find myself guilty of this same invalidation and quickly redress how I phrase the emotions Rich is going through. After all, who am I to say he’ll feel better soon?  I have no real idea what he’s going through.

The Guardsman or Reservist isn’t benefiting from active duty life, and they are different from their civilian counterparts.  The businessman behind the desk can’t relate to putting his life on the line for his cubicle mate while a soldier spends 24/7 ready to sacrifice his life for his fellow soldier.
The law reads they can take up to 90 days off before returning to work. Generous it sounds, but totally unrealistic.  The Army won’t pay them for 90 days, and I don’t know anyone who’s been deployed for over a year who can financially afford not to return to work within 30 days of return. The business partner can’t relate to the transition issues the civilian soldier has to deal with daily.  The recourse is to isolate themselves because no one knows what to do with the soldier who just returned.  Soldiers pick up on this quite fast, and it feeds the feeling that they are not “normal.”

Of course the VA will say services are available to the Guard and Reserve, and they are.  But at what cost?  What officer is going to risk their military career because of depression? And what becomes of their civilian career if labeled “unfit” for duty?  It’s a risk that too many Guardsmen and Reservists are not willing to take.  So the families try to manage on their own, treading carefully, yet all the while realizing that what they thought would be a return to normal life is starting to look like a bad dream that won’t end.

Free ACT/SAT Study Materials

TestLike most of us who are gearing up for the start of another school year, and also cleaning out all the grime and such that seems to find its way into the house via the mailbox, the sand from the beach, dirt from the garden, and the occasional dust bunny I found a true gem in a magazine I was about to throw away.

Just as I’m thumbing through the EDGE magazine insert of the Army Times piled high in the corner of the office I found this great opportunity I couldn’t wait to share.

For those of you with children in high school, the almighty ACT and SAT has been looming over my teen this summer. We’ve discussed the many opportunities to increase her score with tutoring etc – and lo and behold page six jumped at me with FREE ACT/SAT STUDY MATERIALS to children of military and veteran families.

I stopped everything and immediately flew to the laptop to place our order for our free CD or DVD (both are offered) and order additional study guide enhancements offered at discounted prices.

Since I had already taken a break from the never ending purge of all things dirty and grimy in the house, I couldn’t wait to share this fabulous opportunity with our Blue Star Family members.

If you find yourself in need of ACT/SAT enhancements visit http://www.eknowledge.com/military to order your free study guides for the above tests.

The Power Prep programs come on a single DVD or two CD-ROMs that include 11 hours of classroom video instruction and additional opportunity for interactive learning, according to a news release. The company has already donated free software to more than 95,000 military families.

eKnowledge has partnered with NFL Players to bring this great program to military families. After you sign up for your free copy don’t forget to say THANKS and fill out their survey so they can keep this valuable program moving forward.

HAPPY SCHOOL DAYS to all in the next few weeks.

400 Days by Danette Hayes

400 DaysBlue Star Families’ Director of National Guard/Reserve Outreach, Danette Hayes, has written a book about her National Guard family’s experience with activation and deployment.  We asked Danette to tell us about the publishing experience and how the book came about. You can purchase 400 Days now and 5% of the proceeds will go to support military families.

I was approached by a local newpaper columnist to do an interview shortly before September 11, 2009, based off a letter I sent to the editor. Turns out the letter was too long to publish as a letter but they wanted to do an interview.

The day after the article appeared my blog received thousands of hits. It was then the columnist suggested I turn my blog into a book. I didn’t have a publisher, nor did I have an agent. Publishing has changed so drastically from the days of old when a publisher and agent were needed. Today, Amazon.com offers publishing on demand or (POD). I enlisted the assistance of a qualified and experienced editor, Tammy Barley, who helped me take the blog and weave a personal story through the blog entries so that any reader could find themselves entrenched in my story as if they were also there.

My story isn’t typical but no military families story is typical. The book highlights the everyday life of any family but also shares the personal feeling of loss and separation through deployment. The final chapters deal with reintegration, this “new” normal that’s been coined by professional staff to define what military families are now experiencing. It’s funny but at the same time raw. It doesn’t matter where our soldiers serve, whether it’s Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, Korea or stateside. All deployments bring uncertainty and families are learning how to maneuver this ever changing landscape we now call “new normal.” Not all families can have an adventure like I was offered, but for my husband this was a way for us to deal with our separation, looking forward.

It’s been a nine month process but the CreateSpace website makes it easy and professional. The book cover was illustrated for me by a family artist who was able to take a photo of my husband and his troops as they canvassed the mountains in Kosovo for drugs and human trafickers and draw it for the cover. Because CreateSpace is a division of Amazon.com, the book will also be available through Amazon.com and featured for 30 days.

I was approached by a local newpaper columnist to do an interview
shortly before September 11, 2009 based off a letter I sent to the
editor.  Turns out the letter was too long to publish as a letter but
they wanted to do an interview.

The day after the article appeared my blog received thousands of hits.
It was then the columnist suggested I turn my blog into a book.  I
didn’t have a publisher, nor did I have an agent.  Publishing has
changed so drastically from the days of old when a publisher and agent
were needed.  Today, Amazon.com offers publishing on demand or (POD).
I enlisted the assistance of a qualified and experienced editor, Tammy
Barley,  who helped me take the blog and weave a personal story
through the blog entries so that any reader could find themselves
entrenched in my story as if they were also there.

My story isn’t typical but no military families story is typical.  The
book highlights the everyday life of any family but also shares the
personal feeling of loss and separation through deployment.  The final
chapters deal with reintegration, this “new” normal that’s been coined
by professional staff to define what military families are now
experiencing.  It’s funny but at the same time raw.  It doesn’t matter
where our soldiers serve, whether it’s Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of
Africa, Korea or stateside.  All deployments bring uncertainty and
families are learning how to maneuver this ever changing landscape we
now call “new normal.”  Not all families can have an adventure like I
was offered, but for my husband this was a way for us to deal with our
separation, looking forward.

It’s been a nine month process but the CreateSpace website makes it
easy and professional.  The book cover was illustrated for me by a
family artist who was able to take a photo of my husband and his
troops as they canvassed the mountains in Kosovo for drugs and human
trafickers and draw it for the cover.

Because CreateSpace is a division of Amazon.com, the book will also be
available through Amazon.com and featured for 30 days.

The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program

yellow ribbonThe Yellow Ribbon Reintegration program was established under the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act . The program’s goal is to prepare service members and their families for deployment, sustain the family and service member through deployment and help reintegrate them back into their civilian communities when they return.

Because most civilian soldiers (NG/Reserve) return to their private lives after deployment, it’s essential that the soldiers have an opportunity to reconnect with their fellow comrades and families to talk out their experiences. The Yellow Ribbon program has a 30, 60 and 90 day connect point where soldiers and families are guided through dialogues, counseling sessions and also informational sessions on what to expect, how to handle PCS, and other issues that may come up after deployment.

Since its inception, the “face” of the program has not changed but the outreach is now geographically positioned and not “unit” focused. Due to the fact that soldiers are deploying outside of their regular training units, the program tries to keep the deployed soldiers together as much as possible but if geography prevents a soldier or family from attending, each state or region is prepared to engage that family closer to its home base.

My husband and I participated in our first Yellow Ribbon event last September. It was a weekend where the soldiers after 45 days of downtime were glad to see the people they served with and talk about their deployment, their dwell time and their futures. We were introduced to various vendors; the VA for starters, TriCare and HealthNet also attended to help families understand the TAP program and the benefits available to them now that the “active” period was over. Military Life Counselors were prepared to help couples find their way back or help children disengage from the uncertainty deployment caused for them. Military Chaplains were on hand to walk us through a “counseling” session. It was here that I saw how much couples had suffered. Omnubundsmen were available to educate and discuss USERRA which applies to National Guard and Reservists. There were also vendors available to discuss legal issues, the USO, VFW and American Legions.

The sessions also gave spouses an opportunity to meet the person or persons our soldier worked with over the 400 days. I also heard stories from the “at home” member who showed such courage and weathered life events alone such as laying a parent or child to rest, putting a parent into nursing care or handling the floods of their farmland. These women prevailed and together they brought their soldier home. As sad as it was to see the number of couples who didn’t survive deployment together, it was also humbling and encouraging to hear of the success stories. It was probably the most powerful take away from the weekend event for me. Other than the film on Post Combat Stress it was a necessary weekend.

Yellow Ribbon events are NOT mandatory but they’re highly recommended. For an event in your area please contact your Family Program coordinator or Family Readiness Coordinator for up to date information.

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