By Bilyana AtovaJuly 30, 2007
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany - For Soldiers and Family members, a deployment begins long before actual departure.
From the time Soldiers receive a warning order to the day their unit takes flight, the overall experience is considered a pre-deployment period and is laden with an endless amount of to-do's and stress.
During pre-deployment, Family members and Soldiers experience a range of difficult emotions, which, military research shows, usually starts with shock and anxiousness that accompany deployment notification, followed by some form of grief, denial and sadness - and oftentimes anger, distancing and resentment.
Feelings of loneliness, guilt, and abandonment can also play a role as departure approaches.
Navy Capt. Daphne Brown, a clinical psychologist at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, said while the degree of emotion and how it is handled varies from person to person, "not everybody is going to experience (every emotion) or in that order."
One unconscious tactic that Families face is emotional distancing, Brown said. This is when Soldiers overwhelmingly busy themselves with work or relationships outside of the home prior to deployment.
"The Soldier is preparing to go, so he is pulling back from the Family," Brown said. "He has to invest in the mission."
Brown notes, however, that Family members also emotionally distance themselves prior to deployments.
"But the spouse does it from a fear that something will happen," she said.
Additionally, there can be increased tension between Soldiers and spouses during the pre-deployment phase.
"The spouses are going through a lot of stress, so fights are normal," said Vicky Moore, of Grafenwoehr's Social Work Services Family Advocacy Program. "The little fighting is very normal - and unintentionally started - as long it does not intensify."
However, it is important that arguments be kept as small as possible, Moore said, especially when one recognizes that it is a "deployment fight" resulting from the stress of an impending separation.
"It is important for the Family to recognize what they are going through, so they can sit down as a Family, and how to cope with it."
Besides recognizing deployment fights, Moore said Family members need to be more understanding toward one another at this time. Knowing what to expect (increased stress and arguments) can go a long way in helping Families overcome problems.
Other common symptoms of pre-deployment stress include shortened tempers, difficulty sleeping and trouble concentrating, according to Lt. Col. Telita Crosland, the Grafenwoehr Health Clinic commander.
Crosland said these symptoms are not unique to the Soldier or the individual Family member, as both often share similar stressors and symptoms.
To help reduce stress, Crosland said all involved should first "recognize that it is stress and to some extent normal."
"Once you do that," she added, "you should talk honestly about what you feel and how you feel."
And remember, she added, that everyone is going through the same emotions: "No one is alone."
"Many people feel like it is just them (going through it); it is not, we just cope differently," Crosland said.
Most experts agree that one of the best ways to deal with pre-stress deployment is with open, honest communication between all involved.
"It is essential for the Family to communicate, to talk openly about their fears and concerns," Moore explained.
It is strongly recommended that before a Soldier leaves, the Family should open up about separation worries, she added. "This discussion should include the whole Family, allowing spouses and children to better understand what is expected and to develop solutions for identified problems."
The other half of it, Brown said, is planning.
"Plan how you are going to handle Family emergencies, how you are going to cope (with various scenarios during the deployment), and plan ahead."
Moore agreed, explaining that some stress levels can be reduced simply by eliminating the stress of not knowing how emergencies will be handled during the deployment.
"It is also important for Soldiers to feel that everything is going to be taken care of (back home)," Moore pointed out.
"It is good for spouses to prepare (for Family matters) so Soldiers do not have to worry about them," agreed Simone Hartley, of U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr's Army Community Service Family Advocacy Program.
She also explained the importance of spouses sharing personal matters with other loved ones.
How much stress Family members undergo depends greatly on how well they are able to communicate during the pre-deployment. And while communication is key, communicating in a "healthy" way is just as important, Hartley said.
She suggested Family members use "I" statements - such as "I feel that..." - to express their emotions without blaming or accusing others. This removes the "attack" element during communication.
Deployment specialists also recommend Soldiers reassure Family members that they will be missed. While it may seem obvious to let a spouse or child know they will be missed,
Brown said it is crucial to reinforce such emotions.
"Both sides should reassure each other that they will work it through, they will stay committed (to the relationship and Family during deployment)," she said.
Moore said Families undergoing an initial deployment should link up with more seasoned military Families.
"It is very helpful for people to talk with someone who has been through it, who can give them advice," she said.
And when a deployment ends, the importance of maintaining emotional wellbeing and reducing stress continues.
"Communication with friends and other spouses is significant to reducing stress," said Moore, who suggested Family Readiness Groups as a great source of support. "It is very important for spouses to have a close friendship, somebody they can talk with."
She said for those who are hesitant in sharing their feelings, there are other Families likely experiencing similar emotions.
Crosland advised Families to take advantage of community resources that are helpful before, during and after a deployment.
She said specialized counselors are available twice weekly at Grafenwoehr's Health Clinic.
Hartley also noted that ACS is tailoring their couples communication class for deployments, and suggested that Families attend the course, which helps them to communicate effectively over long distances.
(Bilyana Atova is a member of the USAG Grafenwoehr Public Affairs Office)