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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.

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Books on Bases Event in Wilmington, NC

Books on Bases, Blue Star FamiliesWelcome guest blogger, Gabrielle Lowe.

Last weekend we had the pleasure of being invited to Wilmington’s National Guard base to meet with guard families. I was joined by the Gabriel family and Claire Woodward, our BSF Executive Director. We passed out books from our “Books on Bases, Smiles on Faces” program to all the children in attendance.

We met with the spouses of guard members and told them about Blue Star Families. We put temporary tattoos on the kids, passed out books, and even got to dance to a live bluegrass band during lunch. I almost forgot, we even got to meet with the McGruff crime dog in the flesh …err fur?

While the children were there they also learned about what the Army National Guard is and what their parents do in the guard. There were mini classes given to each age group to explain what different jobs there are and to explain military life. We got the pleasure of meeting each child and give them a book from their age group. We also got a chance to talk to them and tell them a little about us and who we are.

Blue Star Families in conjunction K.I.D.S., United Concordia, and Lifetime Television’s Army Wives gives books to children of military parents. We also provide books to DoD schools, libraries, and public schools that have military children in attendance. We’re always looking for volunteers and we have many events coming soon. We encourage you to go to www.BlueStarFam.org to join us. It’s completely free and a great way to help better the lives of military families.

Cheers,

Gaby

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.

DoD Briefing on National Guard Deployments

BSF Director of Development, Pamela Stokes-Eggleston recently participated in a Department of Defense briefing regarding mobilization of National Guard troops.  Read the excerpt below from the remarks of General Craig McKinley, Chief of the National Guard Bureau for the Air Force:

Q Yes, Pamela Stokes Eggleston with Blue Star Families.

GEN. MCKINLEY: Hello.

Q What specific types of outreach are you focusing on with the military spouses and military families with regard to the current conflicts, the OIF and OEF.

GEN. MCKINLEY: Well, you raise probably the most important issue for me and for senior leadership in the Pentagon, is what do we do with the families, for the families? How do we support a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine, Coast Guardsman or member of the National Guard throughout their entire life, especially if they’re disabled or injured?

We believe that because we’re a state-based organization, that we have the support of the governors, and that our adjutants general and their state headquarters, their joint-force headquarters, have the responsibility to reintegrate Army National Guard and Air National Guard members back into their states after they’ve deployed.

We’ve pushed out a lot of resources. We’ve been very well supported by members on the Hill to have the kinds of reintegration team members, fully funded by Congress and by the Army and the Air Force so that they have that reception committee when they get home, to include psychological resources for people, without fear of having to have attribution, can go to these folks, can get referrals, and we can track these members throughout their career.

We don’t just depend on the VA, even though I know General Shinseki will do a lot to help our wounded warriors. But it’s really about command and leadership that will take these members through their careers and to watch their families. We really believe that our family program coordinators, of which there are full-time members in every one of our organizations, have really taken the mantle and are doing an excellent job with each unit formation, each wing. And they’re watching the families, caring for the families during deployments.

This has become something that is not a by-product anymore. This is not an afterthought. This is thought up right up front, and leadership is strongly advocating for it. And the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration, family support coordinators, psychological counseling — those things are all now built into our budget, into our system, and we care for our airmen and our soldiers from start to finish. We’re actually going to have a conference in July in Dearborn, Michigan, where we’ll have about 2,000 family support coordinators, volunteers and full-time members, who will come. We believe that Dr. Jill Biden will be our keynote speaker. Dr. Biden and Mrs. Obama have pledged their support to military families, and I can’t tell you how much that means to us, to show that support from the White House.

So — essential, critical. It means whether a member will stay or leave the service. You recruit the member. You retain the family. It’s a big deal for us.

So we hope we get it right, and if we don’t have it right, we’re here to learn from other organizations how to make it right.

Q Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thanks for your question. Thank you for being here.

Q Yes, Pamela Stokes Eggleston with Blue Star Families.

GEN. MCKINLEY: Hello.

Q What specific types of outreach are you focusing on with the military spouses and military families with regard to the current conflicts, the OIF and OEF.

GEN. MCKINLEY: Well, you raise probably the most important issue for me and for senior leadership in the Pentagon, is what do we do with the families, for the families? How do we support a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine, Coast Guardsman or member of the National Guard throughout their entire life, especially if they’re disabled or injured?

We believe that because we’re a state-based organization, that we have the support of the governors, and that our adjutants general and their state headquarters, their joint-force headquarters, have the responsibility to reintegrate Army National Guard and Air National Guard members back into their states after they’ve deployed.

We’ve pushed out a lot of resources. We’ve been very well supported by members on the Hill to have the kinds of reintegration team members, fully funded by Congress and by the Army and the Air Force so that they have that reception committee when they get home, to include psychological resources for people, without fear of having to have attribution, can go to these folks, can get referrals, and we can track these members throughout their career.

We don’t just depend on the VA, even though I know General Shinseki will do a lot to help our wounded warriors. But it’s really about command and leadership that will take these members through their careers and to watch their families. We really believe that our family program coordinators, of which there are full-time members in every one of our organizations, have really taken the mantle and are doing an excellent job with each unit formation, each wing. And they’re watching the families, caring for the families during deployments.

This has become something that is not a by-product anymore. This is not an afterthought. This is thought up right up front, and leadership is strongly advocating for it. And the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration, family support coordinators, psychological counseling — those things are all now built into our budget, into our system, and we care for our airmen and our soldiers from start to finish. We’re actually going to have a conference in July in Dearborn, Michigan, where we’ll have about 2,000 family support coordinators, volunteers and full-time members, who will come. We believe that Dr. Jill Biden will be our keynote speaker. Dr. Biden and Mrs. Obama have pledged their support to military families, and I can’t tell you how much that means to us, to show that support from the White House.

So — essential, critical. It means whether a member will stay or leave the service. You recruit the member. You retain the family. It’s a big deal for us.

So we hope we get it right, and if we don’t have it right, we’re here to learn from other organizations how to make it right.

Q Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thanks for your question. Thank you for being here.