By Karl Weisel (USAG Wiesbaden)November 22, 2011
WIESBADEN, Germany - Stress, family separation and fear of the unknown are givens during any military deployment.
But after a decade of continuous conflict, Soldier and family readiness leaders have learned a host of valuable lessons for confronting and coping with these challenges.
"What do you do to stay sane during a deployment?" said Lt. Col. Chad Gooderham, Wiesbaden Health Clinic deputy commander, during a special military orientation for local Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe teachers at the Wiesbaden Entertainment Center Nov. 8.
For service members like himself, who deployed to austere conditions in Afghanistan, staying healthy, both physically and mentally, meant strengthening one's resiliency -- working out every day, enjoying activities with fellow Soldiers such as foosball and staying focused on the mission.
Seeing the deployment experience from both sides, gaining insight into the latest efforts to transform the garrison to better meet future Soldier and family needs, and getting a better idea of how service members prepare for a deployment were all part of this year's teachers orientation.
Encouraging teachers to "really empathize with the students' situation," Lt. Col. Lane Turner, chief of U.S. Army Europe's Forward Relocation Task Force, said teachers play an invaluable role in helping students cope with having a father or mother (or both) deployed. "Don't treat students differently, but do ask … relate to them. Listen to the parent. Make sure the connection between the parent, student and teacher is open. Stay informed about the unit. … Find ways to connect with the deployed parent.
"There are tons of different programs out there to enable families to be self-sufficient," Turner said, ranging from the actual and virtual Family Readiness Groups to community services and programs, but ensuring that Soldiers and families are connected to their unit is critical. "Part of the uncertainty is, 'what's going on with my spouse's unit?'"
Teachers and schools can help underscore that connectivity by sending care packages and videos, staying in touch with the rear detachment, holding deployed parent open houses and having students work on relevant projects that might be related to the deployment -- such as studying the culture and geography of Afghanistan.
"Communicate, communicate, communicate," was how Turner summed up his advice for everyone involved in the deployment process.
Although no decision has been made at this time, V Corps Soldiers have been training for a possible deployment in 2012.
Col. Tom Closs, V Corps' chief of operations, G3, said DoDDS students are fortunate to have a strong support network of like-minded friends and adult mentors. "In Europe there's a real feeling of camaraderie. You feel like you're part of the team from the start," Closs said.
Closs, who filled the teachers in on the history of V Corps and its recent transition from Heidelberg to Wiesbaden, said, "We're proud to be back in Hessen after being away for 17 years."
The Community-School Partnership mascot, Bob the Bobcat -- a stuffed animal that has seen its share of deployments with 1st Armored Division and other units -- was on hand to welcome V Corps to Wiesbaden. During a short break in the briefings, Turner, who served with 1st AD during the division's deployment to Iraq in 2009, handed Bob over to Closs to serve with V Corps in the future.
"We have good custody of Bob and will train him up right," Closs said.
Following the formal session of the orientation, DoDDS teachers and administrators were invited upstairs in the Wiesbaden Entertainment Center to examine military gear provided by the Central Issue Facility and try their hands at firing a pistol using the Wiesbaden Training Support Center's Laser Marksmanship Training System.
"My dad was in the military," said Hainerberg Elementary School speech language pathologist Florette Baldwin, after scoring several hits on the LMTS.
"This (the orientation) was very informative," Baldwin said, adding, "Now I can relate better when I see people on the news."
"I really loved the personal aspects of their stories," said Carolyn Dolit, a second-grade teacher at Hainerberg Elementary School. Learning about how parents live while serving in locations such as Afghanistan and Iraq helps her better understand what her students are experiencing, she said.
With many new students in the classroom this year, Dolit said, teachers are very aware and ready to do anything they can to help if families are separated and parents do indeed deploy during the school year.
Dolit said she appreciated the suggestion to focus students on studying about related subjects during the year. "We do a session in second grade on continents and that would be a good idea to study Afghanistan."
"The teachers orientation serves a dual purpose," said Peter Witmer, USAG Wiesbaden's school liaison officer. "It helps to maintain communication with the teachers. And in a military community it amounts to professional development and a way to really stay connected with the people they serve."