March 18, 2014
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany --- The moment Sgt. Damon McKenzie embraced his wife and four kids after a seven-month deployment, he knew he was home.
"Home is wherever my family is, so home could be anywhere in the world," said McKenzie. "I've got an amazing wife who keeps me grounded and my awesome little kids."
"I'm one of the lucky ones," he added.
McKenzie, along with more than 500 Soldiers from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, have redeployed in the last few months, and more are expected in the coming months.
And while many expressed their gratitude of returning to Germany safely, the term "home" seemed fluid.
Take Cpl. Victoria Birkner, for example.
She deployed with her husband Pfc. Aaron Birkner. They shared a room and hung up photos of family and friends. Over the holidays, a Christmas tree was prominently placed in the middle of the small room.
"We called it our home," Victoria Birkner said. "Essentially, that's what it was while we were there. Especially since we were together."
Soldiers are often associated with being flexible and readily adaptable in high-stress situations, and that's the job they are trained to do, said Capt. Zak Schaeffer, to find their "home" away from home.
"You have a new normal when you're deployed. You make it your home," said Schaeffer. "Home is where you can go, shut the door and find a moment to relax; to focus on things you want to do rather than things you have to do."
Schaeffer said that could be achieved downrange but prefers those moments be with his wife, Caroline.
"When I'm back home with her it feels like I never left," he said. "You get into a rhythm whether you're downrange for months or in the field for weeks, and after it's over, it feels really good to just come home."
Schaeffer, who just finished his second deployment, said returning this time was easier than his first redeployment.
"There is so much support from the Army that classes and programs are built into the reintegration, it's almost seamless at this point," he said.
"Plus, you learn from mistakes of the first redeployment, however minor, and try to improve. This transition was easier because I knew what to expect."
Single Soldier Capt. Scott Schultz agreed.
Also returning from his second deployment, Schultz said that moment of home came when he landed in Germany.
"I love living in Germany so this time it was easy to come home," said Schultz.
He admitted his first redeployment was stressful, and believes the Army recognizes the difficulty that comes with redeployment.
Numerous classes, programs and support are now offered to redeploying Soldiers to ease the transition, including the popular Warrior Adventure Quest, a high-adrenaline program offered through Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation's Outdoor Recreation.
The program tests the limits and abilities of redeploying Soldiers as an alternative form of reintegration by recreating the adrenaline rush often felt downrange through high-adventure sports, such as competitive games of paintball and navigating a 40-foot high ropes course.
Additionally, deployment support program classes, offered through Army Community Service and the Military Family Life Consultants, cover an array of topics on coping with redeployment, including "Reconnecting with Children," "Coping with Transition," and "Principles of a Healthy Marriage."
For Birkner, however, deploying with her husband made redeployment easier.
"He knows exactly what I went through," said Birkner. "I don't have to explain how I'm feeling, he just knows."
Although Birkner and her husband came back to Germany only to live in a hotel rather than a house, for her, it's still home.
"It's the food, German beer, hanging out with friends on the weekends -- it's these simple things that make it a home."