by Elaine Wilson, AFPS
Oct. 27, 2010
I traveled to my old stomping grounds of Texas recently to speak with a group of Texas Army National Guard soldiers and their families about how they’re dealing with the challenges of reintegration after a yearlong deployment in Iraq, and to learn more about a Defense Department program that’s aiding them.
I joined nearly 1,800 soldiers of the 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and their families in Houston for their unit’s Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program 60-day post-deployment event. This program offers Guard and Reserve members, and their families information and resources to help smooth the process through events held before, during and after deployments.
The event featured topics such as relationships and communication, financial management, stress and anger management, and health and education benefits.
I spoke with several soldiers, both single and married, and their family and friends. As always, I was amazed by the strength and resilience of our military that has weathered nearly a decade of war.
I was grateful that they spoke so candidly to me, offering me a glimpse into some of the challenges they face throughout the deployment cycle.
I learned a lot in just a few days. I expected military couples to vent about their relationship issues, but was somewhat surprised to find that their issues were more about their kids than each other.
One spouse, Michelle Summerlin, told me that her biggest post-deployment challenge involved readjusting to her husband’s stricter ways with their son. In his absence, she had adopted a more flexible style, and his return triggered some parenting arguments that took some time to resolve.
Single soldiers pointed out their challenges with being unmarried and in the National Guard. Upon their return from deployment, soldiers scatter to their respective homes and the single soldiers end up feeling isolated from the support system that had carried them through for the past year.
One soldier, Army Sgt. 1st Class Karen Perry, told me that her live-in boyfriend had broken up with her the day she returned from Iraq. Without the support of her battle buddies around her, she felt completely alone, she told me.
The military is working to combat this isolation through programs like Yellow Ribbon. The program not only offers servicemembers and their families coping and communication skills, but an opportunity to reunite with comrades and create support systems that can help sustain them. Most importantly, Yellow Ribbon gives them resources and information so Guard and Reserve families have avenues of help and support as they navigate their way back into civilian life, most without easy access to the support of an active-duty installation.
For more on the Yellow Ribbon program and the soldiers and families of the 72nd IBCT, visit the American Forces Press Service Web Special Report: DOD Yellow Ribbon Program for Reintegration.