4 Things You Don't Learn from Redeployment Briefings

Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz, chief of the Army Reserve, calls on military spouses to become partners in helping the Army Reserve ensure a smooth reintegration. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Alfonso Flores

Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz, chief of the Army Reserve, calls on military spouses to become partners in helping the Army Reserve ensure a smooth reintegration. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Alfonso Flores

hen a service member returns from deployment, it’s difficult. The same thing happens when a service member leaves the military; aspects in our lives change. Last month, unexpectedly, I had about a week and a half off of work, and spent most of the time at home taking care of things. My wife loves me...she tells me this every day...but about four days into it, she gently asked, “so when are you going back to work?”

We all have our routine, when and how we do things. When that routine gets disrupted, we get disrupted: grumpy, frustrated, short. The same thing happens with our kids during the summer...by August, what parent doesn’t look forward to school starting again? Returning from deployments or leaving the military come with a lot of mixed emotions: joy, anticipation for the future, and yes, even some trepidation. Here are four points that most people don’t consider about returning for deployments that a lot of us know about, but don’t seem to talk about.


  1. Life Doesn’t Stop..For Any Of Us


No matter how much we think it may, or even want it to, life continues when military couples are separated. Parallel and overlapping lives sometimes, but still two distinct lives. The service member may be having an extremely stressful deployment, while the family may be having an extremely stressful time at home. Often, neither wants to “impose” their stress on the other; the service member doesn’t want to frighten or worry the spouse, and the spouse says to themselves, “well, they have enough going on there, I can handle this here.” It’s not that we’re keeping secrets from each other, but rather that we’re not telling each other certain things. It’s a Small difference, but significant...the motivation is different. The challenge is, by not talking, we think we’re protecting the other person (and perhaps ourselves), but we are really hurting both. I remember a piece of advice I received from my father before my first deployment to Iraq: “Tell your wife what’s happening. That’s one place where I went wrong with your mother.”

  1. Time Apart Leads To Reflection

There’s nothing like alone time that leads to some good old-fashioned soul searching. What’s the old saying, “absence makes the heart grow fonder?” This is certainly true, in some cases, but not all of them. One thing I have heard, though, is that time apart from each other can lead to some serious reflection, both on the nature of our relationship and our past behavior. Sometimes this can lead to stronger relationships, and other times, regrettably, it can lead to disruption. Again, the challenge here is to reflect in isolation, and not have a conversation about what awareness occurred while the service member was deployed. I can imagine that there were moments that my wife sat on our porch with a cup of coffee, where she thought about me, and I can guarantee that there were times that I stared out the window of a truck or sitting on the side of a hill in Afghanistan and I thought about her. Many times, we don’t realize that this reflection is occurring. Noticing it, acknowledging it, and talking about it can lead to a more stable relationship. Not doing so can lead to tension.

  1. They Tell You That Change Is Going To Happen...

Any spouse or service member who has sat through the briefings at the end of a deployment has heard it: “Things have changed at home” or “Things have changed with your Soldier.” I’m sure it happened simultaneously. I recall a time when I returned from one of my deployments, after we were given our burger and coke and welcomed home, where we then sat down in a big hanger. The Sergeant Major standing in front tells us, “do you know what the secret of my long marriage is?  My Wife is Always Right.” He went on to try to convince us that simply saying, “yes, dear” was the key to a smooth transition. At the same time, I’m sure my wife was getting a short speech from the commander’s wife at the event center back on post, where everyone was waiting for their soldier. “They’re going to be different than you remember,” they might say, “they probably lost weight, and saw a bunch of stuff that may make them jumpy. Just go easy for a while and everything will work out.” Everyone was trying to say the same thing: life is going to be different, after being apart and coming back together. Things are going to change. That was great...as far this kind of advice goest.

  1. ...But They Don’t Tell You What To Do About It

From personal experience, though, “just agreeing” with your spouse or “going easy” with your service member doesn’t even scratch the surface of the advice needed for a successful reintegration. The service member may say, “when do I get to have someone agree with me?” The spouse may say, “when is someone going to ‘go easy’ on me?” Just being told that change is going to happen, without being given any resources for when the change turns ugly, isn’t helpful. Not being told...to either side...that certain sounds or sights may bother the service member leaves the couple the frustration of having to figure these things out on their own. When we figure it out on our own, and nobody talks about the reality of the change, then we tend to think that it’s just happening to us and no one else. Finding the time to talk...to each other, to others, and to professionals...can make the challenge of re-deployment a heck of a lot easier.

What other things have you learned after deployment that you didn’t get in your re-deployment briefings? I’d love to be able to hear them, so reach out in the comments below or send a message. The more we know, the better we all are.