JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - Veterans of deployments to combat zones can attest to the elation and frustrations surrounding reunions with loved ones. Expectations run high among Soldiers and family members who have counted the hours to emotional returns.

With six major subordinate commands returning in the coming months from Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan, officials at Joint Base Lewis-McChord are working to help military members deal with the surprises that can occur during reintegration - surprises that can devolve quickly into problems.

"The reintegration training helps prevent post-traumatic stress, domestic violence, sexual assault, safety (infractions) accidents and suicide," said I Corps Chaplain (Col.) Kenneth Stice. "Sometimes those things are spin-offs from poor reintegration and bad transitions; being gone from loved ones here in the states is a tough transition."

"Module 0" is a JBLM program that centralizes support aimed at getting help to Soldiers and their families as quickly as possible. It also extends outreach to families earlier than ever.

Spouses and family members begin the training early, weeks or even months before the return, to begin to manage expectations and teach them "what normal looks like," Stice said.

Soldiers, likewise, will begin hearing from chaplains well prior to redeployment, that there is help waiting at home. Deployed chaplains conclude by handing out tri-fold cards with emergency-contact numbers for assistance and sending the message that it's OK to ask for it.

With luck, returning Soldiers will notice little change in the program, apart from things running smoothly and help arriving more quickly if necessary.

Module 0 reorganizes the reintegration process, centralizing the staff lead responsibility in the chaplain's office with the intent of getting Soldiers and their families the information, training and the assistance they need to deal with reunion stresses and surprises as quickly as possible.

The chaplain's office becomes a "one-stop shop" for rear detachments making arrangements for their returning military members to get what they need, said Chaplain (Maj.) Roy Myers.

Whereas rear detachments and family readiness groups bore the burden of making all the calls and coordinations among support agencies across the installation for required reintegration briefings and seminars, under Mod 0, they now need only deal with the chaplain's office.

The chaplains work with unit schedules to set up times, places and arrange for free child care for spouses. The program survived recent budget cuts as a combination of mission funds and as part of the Army Family Covenant. Stice said the budget priority of the program reaffirmed the Army's commitment to a holistic approach to Soldier wellness incorporating families and communities.

Though the chaplain makes the arrangements under Mod 0, the rear detachments and FRGs don't sacrifice their freedom to schedule the types of sessions they determine are necessary for their organizations.

"The beauty of centralizing this," Myers said, "is we're able to let the FRGs and rear detachments come back and tell us what they want."

"They pick from a catalog of topics, we coordinate from a list of agencies to present, and we will quickly conduct an Army after-action-review loop to improve it for the next iteration," said Stice. "We're just trying to synchronize, (to get) everybody to pull the rope in the same direction at the same time to support Soldiers, couples and families."

Stice estimated 65 percent of the Mod 0 program remains under the control of FRGs and chains of command. Such autonomy is important: the needs of families of Stryker-battalion Soldiers who have seen heavy action are far different than those of officer-heavy headquarters organizations.

Under the previous system, redeploying military units progressed through numbered modules - required steps on the Deployment Cycle Support check list. "Module 0" refers to the same process starting even earlier, before service members return and reunions take place. The DCS list requires reintegration training, but participation by family members is voluntary.

"It's time well spent," Stice said. A review is also under way, he said, exploring expansion of the Mod 0 concept to units returning to McChord Field, though deployments are handled differently by the Air Force.

Don Kramer is a reporter with Joint Base Lewis-McChord's weekly newspaper, the Northwest Guardian.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16