By Bill Mossman, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Public AffairsDecember 22, 2009
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - Pfc. Jared Coplin knows firsthand how the battles on foreign soil can sometimes pale in comparison to the clashes at home.
A Soldier with the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Coplin was in Iraq for several weeks, earlier this year, when he received a distressing call from his wife, Jessica, back home in Hawaii.
Their 6-year-old son, Robert, had been lashing out at his mother in anger, striking her with his fists and, on one occasion, even hurling a chair in her direction.
Signs of the child's troubling behavior first appeared while Coplin was going through basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and later, while he was stationed at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., for advanced individual training. But the temper tantrums had finally bubbled over during Coplin's deployment, escalating into full-blown violent outbursts.
"It was really hard for me to hear all of this over the phone and not be able to do anything about it," Coplin recalled. "I would try to talk to him and ask him to go easy on Mom, but it didn't really work."
The root of the problem, according to Jessica, was young Robert's inability to deal with his father being gone.
"Those times I could get Robert to calm down, he would just cry and say how much he missed his daddy," she said.
Coplin finally returned to the islands in the fall. Since then, things have been relatively calm around the family's home.
"Now, Robert's very well behaved," the Soldier said. "He's done a complete 180-degree turn."
The Coplin's experience is not an isolated incident within the Army, as children are often hit the hardest by a parent's deployment. With immature coping skills, youngsters will likely react to mom or dad's absence in a number of ways, including, at times, in violent fashion.
"For some, they'll act as if their parent was never gone," explained Gina Peirce, a senior prevention specialist with Army Community Service's (ACS) Family Advocacy Program (FAP). "For others, they may be distant and resistant, even angry that their parent isn't there."
To help strengthen spouses and children during all phases of a Soldier's deployment and mobilization, ACS provides a variety of intervention and education programs, as well as support services, throughout the year.
Within the Family Strong series, which ACS helps sponsor, classes and workshops are requested and coordinated through a unit's family readiness support assistant (FRSA) for the rear detachment and family readiness groups (FRGs).
The classes are never mandatory, Peirce stated, although participation is encouraged, whenever possible.
Some courses, like the reintegration readiness class, recently hosted by the 45th Sustainment Brigade, teach spouses and children about what to expect when their Soldier returns home.
Other classes, like Super Kids, build children's self-esteem by patting them on the back for their demonstrated resiliency during dad's or mom's time downrange.
Yet other courses help prepare family members for redeployment, assist couples in improving their lines of communication, or even instructs husbands and wives on how to manage their stress levels through the application of proper relaxation techniques.
Peirce usually works closely with couples in her classes, covering the gamut of emotions they'll likely experience as a Soldier readies for deployment. Often, she'll counsel spouses left at home to accept the circumstances and learn how to thrive in the absence of their loved one.
"Even though they've lost something, they actually have opportunities to gain a lot," Peirce said. "For some spouses, they'll start school or get a job, or start new hobbies. At times, they'll even practice better self-care."
In gaining their independence and improved sense of self-worth, many spouses will later admit to feelings of guilt when it's time to reunite with their husband or wife. Those feelings are natural, Peirce said, and are the result of the expected loss of independence and survival skills gained during the couple's separation period.
The key for these spouses, she added, is to learn to manage their expectations.
"You have to really focus on the good things that are about to change," Peirce said. "In giving up some things, you'll have to figure out what you can maintain while your Soldier is here - things that you may have started when he or she was gone."
For additional support and information on these courses, contact your FRG or FRSA, or call ACS at 808-655-4ACS (4227).
(Editor's Note: This article ran in the Hawaii Army Weekly's redeployment insert, which was published Nov. 20. To see the entire insert, click here. The insert starts on page 14.)