What to Expect When Your Soldier Comes Home from Deployment

I live in a military town, and grew up with my father in the Marine Corps. I learned at a young age that separation is a big part of military life. You’re separated from your school and friends when you’re transferred around the country. And you’re separated from your parent or spouse when he/she is deployed overseas. Women of military men (and husbands of military women) must learn to fend for themselves, and be both mother and father to their children. It’s not always an easy life to live.

After your soldier has been deployed for many months, and sometimes over a year, the adjustment period when he returns can be difficult. Although one would assume that things would snap right back to normal, with love and hugs and time being spent together, it doesn’t always go that way. If you’re not military, than you probably don’t realize that the men and women that return from deployments, aren’t immediately given time off. Unbelievably, they typically go back to work the very next day! This can be extremely difficult for the family. However, it is the Military’s approach to slowly bringing the soldier back to a normal way of life.

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When someone is deployed, especially now with the war going on, they are cut off from so many things we consider normal. There are some groups of men and women that are in remote areas that don’t receive mail daily. Luckily, with today’s technology, they are able to access the internet. This has really been helpful in keeping families in touch. But still, anyone stationed overseas will tell you that getting a package from home is like celebrating Christmas. So, if you know of someone that is overseas, it will help to lift their spirits immensely if you take time to send them snacks from home, or luxuries we take for granted like chewing gum, socks, wet wipes, playing cards, books, etc. There is a lot of idle time for our soldiers overseas, and anything that can occupy their time is greatly appreciated.

When the time comes for your soldier to return home, it can be very exciting, but also very stressful. There is never a definite time to expect them when they return home. There is normally a “window” of about a week where they could be returning. So make sure you are prepared and ready to go when you receive the call or email informing you of when they will be arriving.

When the day finally comes, here is what you can expect. Be sure that you bring some kind of sign with the last name of the person to be returning home. When the helicopters fly in (or boats arrive) with all the Marines, Army, etc., men on board, they all look alike! It will be so difficult to spot them. Holding up a sign will make it easier for them to find you in the mass of people that will be there waiting for their loved ones. Everyone will be pushing, and running up to get that first hug and kiss. It’s such an emotional time; people aren’t always ready for the emotion that flows out when they see their loved one for the first time. So, bring tissues!

It may surprise you that after being gone for many months, you don’t just get to collect your loved one and go home. Not in the military! Usually the men and women have to help unload the vessel they arrived in, sort baggage and supplies, and have a final formation before they can return home. This can take literally hours, so if you have children with you, be sure you bring something for them to do. The children are especially anxious during this time.

It’s very possible that the soldier hasn’t had good food in a long time. So, he or she will want to eat!! Be prepared to do a lot of going out and cooking during the first week home. And please remember that this person has been isolated for awhile. If they don’t act like themselves right away, just be patient. They WILL come around. They could be a little impatient with the kids, or even withdrawn. Just allow them to take back the responsibilities they had before deployment, at a pace that they are comfortable with. It may take time, but things will go back to normal.

If you are the spouse of the person returning, you have had a lot of pressure on you too! You’ve dealt with the kids, the house, the bills, and every little thing that went wrong while you were alone. It is normal for you to want to instantly pass off the kids and responsibilities to your spouse. However, that may not be the best idea. Your spouse and the children will need time to become readjusted. Allow the transition to happen slowly. Too much stress could make the transition take even longer. On the flip side of this, you have had a lot of time to form somewhat of a new routine with your spouse not at home. It is very typical for couples to fight upon return. This sounds surprising, I know, but it is a little difficult for the couple to fall back into a smooth routine. Just remember that it will happen. Don’t rush anything.

Most importantly, if after several weeks, you notice that your loved once has not returned to normal, you may want to consider counseling. If the soldier has been on the front lines in battle, or seen fellow soldiers injured or killed, it is imperative that you get him/her help right away. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is very common for soldiers that witnessed these kinds of tragedies. Please take notice to any mood swings, depressions, or nightmares that could be occurring. Knowing that people care, and getting the help that they may need mentally, can make all the difference.