Going home ... stress': Tools available to alleviate issues
November 27, 2007
CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq - As 1st Cavalry Division Soldiers are finally able to make their way home after 15 long months in Baghdad some their leaders wants to remind them of the stresses that still will exist once they depart the country.
While troops will no longer have to worry about mortar attacks or improvised explosive devices on Texas roadways, some internal strife from being separated from their families and dealing with combat stress can make the transition home a difficult one.
Utilizing available Army programs, paying attention to some issues that may pop up and talking to their leaders can aid in the transition.
Command Sgt. Maj. Philip Johndrow, the top noncommissioned officer of Multi-National Division - Baghdad and the 1st Cavalry Division praised every Soldier for the work they have done and the tasks they have overcome in the past 15 months.
"When you have today's Soldiers come in, it is such a commitment and a self sacrifice," he said. "The battlefield that we are on right now is so complex and the Soldier now is leap years ahead of when I came in. They are just so smart." The responsibily that is given to them as a specialist is the responsibility that I might have had as a staff sergeant. We just put a lot on them."
Those responsibilities add to the stresses that Soldier have to endure. These stresses can add up, becoming an internal struggle.
One of the issues that must be coped with is that they made it back to the United States and some of their comrades did not. Paying your respects to those fallen can be difficult, but it is important, said Johndrow.
"Going to a memorial is the toughest thing you are going to do," the Townsend, Mont., native said. "It is also the most honorable. It is our time to talk about not only how the Soldier lived, but how he touched our lives and be able to express ourselves while letting him know that as we live we will never forget the ultimate sacrifice that they gave to us so we can continue to live as a free nation."
Even Soldiers who survive the violence of combat can struggle, too. Johndrow said that Soldiers who are injured and in the combat support hospital or getting medically evacuated also can have a hard time coping with a type of separation anxiety.
"When I go in and talk to a Soldier he will tell me several things. First of all he will want to know how everyone else is," Johndrow said, a Townsend, Mont., native. "He wants to know his Soldiers or his troopers are doing. Once you tell him that everyone is OK, then he wants to know how quick he can get back out of the hospital and get back into the fight."
However, instead of returning to the fight, Soldiers sometimes they have to be medically evacuated.
"Because he made a commitment to himself and his Soldiers that they came over together and will go back together," Johndrow said. "They feel like they have broken that bond and want to get back. I have even had Soldiers apologize to me (for getting wounded) and it just touches your heart when they talk about that... They will tell you that they will be back and they tell you to tell their Soldiers that they will be back as soon as possible."
On the other side of the spectrum, Soldiers may feel like they are invincible when they return home after surviving 15 months of combat.
"Sometimes Soldiers who survive combat feel empowered to do crazy things... like getting in their vehicle and going 150 mph down the interstate while they are drinking, or getting on a motorcycle and pop a wheelie while they are going 70 mph, or drinking to excess," said Chap. (Lt. Col.) Stephen Walsh, MND-B chaplain. "I have seen many Soldiers hurt themselves when we get back either through accidents or mismanagement of their emotions, which leads to fights, which leads to them getting their nose broken or in some cases seriously hurt."
There can also be problems within families, which usually are associated with unrealistic expectations, said Walsh, a Copperas Cove, Texas native.
"I think one of the difficulties, that men have, in particular, is that they try to reassert their authority, before they reestablish their relationships," Walsh said. "That is a very foolish thing to do because there can be resentments to develop based on changes in life that have occurred"
Walsh then quoted the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, saying, "'You cannot step into the same river twice.'
"What he meant by that is that the waters are continually flowing in a river. Now, the bed of a river might not change but the water within it does," he said. "I think that Soldiers forget that the water has changed since they have been away. So they come back home thinking that everything is as they left it the river is still there, and it is, but things have changed in that river. If they're a married person, their wife or husband has grown during the time that they have been away. If they have children, not only have they grown physically, but they have grown emotionally, they've grown spiritually and they have gone on without their mother or father."
Walsh said adapting to inevitable changes is an important part of the transition from Iraq to the home front.
"I think the biggest pitfall is that Soldiers fail to realize that this has happens. So when they get back Soldiers want everything to be the same," he said. "They want the same water in the river they left 15 months earlier. Not only is it impossible but it is unhealthy to try and make things the way they were."
The trick, the chaplain said, is to ease back into "the water."
"What I see Soldiers doing is they don't test the water, they want to jump into the water and they want to splash around and get everything disturbed," he said. "What they want to do is get into the water and float down stream a little bit. Just relax. The river might be headed in a slightly different direction than it was when they left. So, I encourage them to take their time, acclimate themselves to the water, step in gently, relax and float with the current and it could take months. There is no rush."
The Army has tools to help out Soldiers struggling though the transition from combat to family life. Almost as soon as they arrive in Texas, they will be required to attend reunion and reintegration training.
"Back in the day when, I went out to my first encounter at the Panama invasion we just got on an airplane flew down, did our mission, flew back and were back at work about four days later without any kind of thought to dealing with any of the emotional changes that took place," Walsh said. "Reintegration training is a very smart approach to bring our Soldiers back into the normalcy of their lives that they left as well as sensitize them to the changes that have gone on in their in their family, as well as just in life in general."
The chaplaincy also has an initiative called "Strong Bonds" to assist in rebuilding their family life.
"Strong Bonds empowers Soldiers and their loved ones with relationship building skills and connects them to community health, supply and support resources," Walsh said. "It is sort of a holistic, preventative program committed to the restoration and preservation of Army families."
This chaplain's corps initiative that has been in place since 1997 and is not only for married couples.
"Strong Bonds has become a part of our family team building and our single Soldier care," Walsh said. "When we go home from here, the division will be offering retreats and programs to all of our Soldiers through their brigades."
Soldiers can also get assistance through online resources.
"Army One Source is probably one of the easiest and best ways for Soldiers and their families to receive care online," Walsh said. "They can get answers about relocation, money matters, college and career questions. They can also discover resources for things like crisis and violence counseling, legal matters, addiction and recovery. It is a fabulous source that any spouse or family member can just go online and find care and treatment."
Johndrow reminds Soldiers to take care of their families, and their family readiness groups, using the available tools or whether during or after a deployment.
"They are our pillar of stability," he said. "They keep the home fires burning and most of all, they support that Soldier who is in the fight and forward."