By Chaplain (Capt.) Jesse R. King, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii, Deputy North Community ChaplainDecember 22, 2009
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii -- I'll never forget one humiliating and frightening experience I had when I returned from Iraq. My daughter, Olivia, my first and only child at the time, was 3. I hadn't seen her since my "environmental leave" period ended three months earlier, and that seemed like a long time ago. I wanted to spend some quality time with her, so I took her shopping with me at the furniture store.
This turned out to be a bad idea.
Looking back on the deployment, I do remember that my wife, Brenda, tried to tell me how mischievous my darling Olivia could be.
Brenda told me that Olivia pushed herself over backward in her high chair and landed on her head. She told me that Olivia couldn't be trusted in the grocery store because she would pull stuff off the shelves, or lay in the aisle and scream, or stand up in the shopping cart. Every week I was deployed, Brenda had some complaint about how naughty Olivia was.
I told her something like, "Olivia is just acting that way because I am deployed. I am not there to be the tough disciplinarian she needs."
My naivetAfA ended very abruptly as we walked into the store. Olivia confidently held my hand. She was such a sweet little girl. She was behaving perfectly. We looked at the furniture section first, in order to find something nice for her mother - OK, I was actually looking for a nice lounge chair to bring home to put in my "man room."
Olivia was busy hopping around on the bunk beds. She obeyed dutifully when I told her to stay off the ladder.
The problems started when I took my eyes off Olivia. A few seconds later, I realized it was a bad idea not to have positive control of my child. I whirled around and she was gone.
I restrained my initial panic.
Actually, I was dumbstruck by how quickly I lost control of the situation. I looked around the immediate area.
How far could two 12-inch legs travel in 10 seconds' She was nowhere to be seen.
Now I panicked. I just started shouting her name and running around like a mad man.
Brenda's words flooded my mind, "Don't let her out of your sight. Hold her hand. Strap her down to the cart if possible. If the strap is broke find another cart.
"Take the juice box; it might keep her occupied for a few seconds. Here are the gummy bears. Give them to her one at a time. Oh, good luck, darling," Brenda had said.
Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of Olivia out of the corner of my eye. I shouted her name, and to my dismay, she just ignored me, her own father.
She was heading for the front door and she pushed it open like it was nothing. She disappeared through the door, and I sprinted past a young lady with two kids.
She scolded me with the most terrifying mommy voice I've ever heard, "You should have strapped her down!"
It seemed like forever before I burst through the door and onto the sidewalk. Another man was already holding Olivia's hand.
When he heard me shout he turned around and started lecturing me about being a good dad. I was humiliated. I picked Olivia up and hurried back in the store trying to pretend nothing happened.
The man came in behind me, still scolding me and telling me that he was going to report me to the military police. After a five-minute lecture, he finally went away, and I went home with a feeling that I was a failure as a father.
I had been home less than two weeks, and I nearly lost my own child.
I tell this story because it illustrates that everyone must readjust to life following a deployment. Each Soldier, spouse, child and friend who has been separated must go through a period of time called reunion.
The initial period of joy is often followed by some problems that must be solved. In my case, I had to learn how to be a parent.
Reunion is different for everyone. Some reunions go smoothly, while others do not. Single Soldiers also experience reunion-related issues. Sometimes, family members and friends just don't understand what we have been through.
Help is available for every Soldier and family member who believes that the reunion is not going well.
Soldiers receive reunion briefings from their unit chaplains prior to returning home. Chaplains teach the knowledge and skills needed in order to successfully reunite with family members.
Upon return, every Soldier is greeted by a chaplain, who provides an opportunity for pastoral counseling and information concerning religious services and education.
Family Life Chaplains provide special retreats called Strong Bonds, where Soldiers and family members receive relationship training.
The chapel is also a great source of help. Services are provided for a broad range of religious beliefs, and chaplains offer confidential pastoral counseling.
I have experienced an adjustment period every time I return from a deployment. It isn't easy to be a husband, father and friend after having been immersed in a combat environment.
It is also difficult for me to ask for help. However, when I have asked for help, I have always found people willing to give it.
In Matthew 7:7-8, Jesus said, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened."
Looking for Religious Support'
With 11 chapels on two islands, the Religious Support Office (RSO) is here to provide religious services for you and your family. Worship services, educational opportunities and pastoral care are available at chapels, religious education centers and chaplain family life centers located on all principal Army posts on Oahu and the Big Island.
For more information on RSO services or for a full schedule of worship services and educational programs, visit the RSO Web site at www.garrison.hawaii.army.mil and click on "Religious Support Office"Aca,!E+under the "Directorates & Support Staff" menu on the left.
(EditorAca,!a,,cs Note: This article ran in the Hawaii Army WeeklyAca,!a,,cs redeployment insert, which was published Nov. 20. To see the entire insert, click here. The insert starts on page 14.)