Archive for Sunday, June 15, 2003

Military families adjust to reunion

Return from deployment can cause stress at home

June 15, 2003

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— When her husband was deployed overseas, Janet McCormack rearranged her schedule so she could take care of the cars and the lawn, get the kids to school and dance rehearsals and manage a birthday party.

Then, Army Staff Sgt. Jimmie McCormack came home from three months in South Korea, and they had to face facts: They had adjusted to being apart, and had to readjust to being together.

Janet, who had temporarily been a single parent of 12-year-old Keisha and 3-year-old Kristina, once again had her husband around. Jimmie had to resume his roles as husband and father.

"I'm like, 'OK, the grass needs mowing Sunday because that's my schedule.' He had to get back on chores," said Janet McCormack, who also runs a licensed day-care center.

So far, Jimmie McCormack said, they've been "working it out pretty good" since he arrived back in Kansas on May 29.

But the change isn't always so smooth for returning soldiers and their families.

In an extreme case, four soldiers' wives were killed within a six-week span last summer at Fort Bragg, N.C.

For mild and serious cases alike, the Army has counseling available for families trying to make life normal again.

"If a person's gone for four months, obviously there's been some changes," Army chaplain Maj. Tom Shepard said. "Things are dynamic and changing, and so you deal with it and you adjust to it."

Pearl Speer, community service director at the Family Center at Fort Riley, said the "honeymoon" of a soldier returning home might last only a few days.

"We do suggest that for the first few days they take it easy," Speer said. "Don't immediately hand them their honey-do list and say, 'You've been gone for four months, all this stuff needs to be done.'

"You kind of cool it for a while and let them come back into the familiar situation slowly."

Speer said soldiers and their spouses often spar about the importance of their respective activities during the time apart.

The soldier often was doing a life-threatening job for several months while the spouse was alone handling the household.

"What I tell the families is, be careful about the who-had-it-worse circle because it is a spiral to nowhere," Speer said. "About the time they decide 'You had it easy -- listen to what I had to do,' then nobody listens at all. You try to advise them to avoid that.

"You can share your experiences without comparing them."

Shepard said the stress of deploying and reuniting could lead to severe problems in relationships and, occasionally, divorce.

"If they had relationship problems when they left, they're probably still going to be having relationship problems when they return," Shepard said. "Hopefully, deployments will draw people closer together rather than forcing them further apart. But we're here to help deal with those types of stressors."

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