HOW TO DEAL |
October 29, 2008
HOW TO DEAL WITH A RETURNING SOLDIER
Name: Alex Horton
Posting date: 10/29/08
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Frisco, Texas
Milblog: Army of Dude
I received a bit of feedback from my post about the feelings of coming home from a deployment, and a couple of emails from women who have a romantic link to a deployed soldier asked for advice on the flip side of that coin -- how to deal with a returning soldier. I've never set foot in an FRG* meeting, so I'm not familiar with the concerns and worries of wives and girlfriends of a deployed soldier, but I hope my comments below benefit the kind women who inquired, and those out there that have unanswered questions gnawing away at them.
How often do soldiers want to receive letters (especially if you have rare access to internet/phone)?
The answer is simple: all the time, especially if contact by phone and internet is limited. Forget mp3 players, DVDs and X Box 360s -- letters from home, and especially from a woman, provide the ultimate comfort and peace of mind to a soldier in a war zone. No matter how long a deployment feels, they're ultimately finite. The link back home must remain strong to keep a soldier's head level, and writing letters to them is instrumental. When a young lady named Lauren was writing to me, I treasured every letter sent, reading them over and over. They came with me everywhere. As long as there has been war, there have been letters sent from home to the men fighting, as a delicate reminder of what was left behind.
Ideally, what do you want to hear from your friends?
This is a tough one. All my loser friends from home couldn't be relied upon to send an occasional e-mail while I was deployed. My only friends were to the left and right of me in Iraq. But if you're a better friend than what I had, let them know what you have planned for their return. If it's a party, a get-together with other friends, a getaway to a favorite spot, whatever. It provides something to look forward to, a familiar setting for a place that will seem a world of difference when the soldier returns. A year, fifteen months, however long the deployment is -- a lot has changed in society. Familiarity is key to reintegration. When I left, the coolest thing cell phones did was flip open. When I came back, phones had keyboards. It was incredible, strange and confusing all at the same time.
Be sure to keep them up to date with news.Toward the end of my deployment, we spent anywhere from 3-10 days in the urban wilderness of Baqubah.When we came back to the base, sweaty, filthy and exhausted, the only news we caught was at the dining facility, which was permanently set on Fox News. I could only rely on Bill O'Reilly and Fox & Friends for news, which is like relying on a prostitute to give you safe-sex tips. Let them know what's going on in the world using whatever means you like -- phone, emails or letters.
What do you NOT want to hear from your friends?
Don't ask obtuse questions like "How hot is it?" and "Did you kill anybody?" It's offensive and flippant. Let them know how things are going in your life, but don't approach it as something they're "missing." They know. Don't press the issue.
What can a friend do to bring her soldier out of his darkness, besides consistent messages of support and willingness to listen or just sit with him?
Let him decide when to open up. It's not something to coerce out of him. He knows you'll listen intently with empathy and support. That's not the issue. The issue is him being comfortable enough with what he has seen and done to talk about it openly. It takes time, and unfortunately everyone is different regarding this issue. War does not leave anyone untouched, physically or mentally. Something about him will change. Your best bet is to recognize that and do your best to understand why the change happened. It could take six months or six years for him to come out of his shell. Be patient.
Is him wanting to be alone to decompress and adjust normal for someone coming home from war, even when you have loved ones who want to be with you?
This is a position of extremes. A soldier will either want to be surrounded by loved ones immediately, or he'll want to be alone to sort out his feelings. Everyone is different, so there's no real solution to this if he wants to do something contrary to your wishes. He knows what's best for him to do, so go along with it. Just be sure he doesn't get on that slippery slope of alcohol abuse. It happens like clockwork to returning units, and the first line of defense is other soldiers and loved ones. Keep an eye on him but don't be intrusive.
Hopefully this provides at least a shred of insight for those looking for answers during trying times. If you want answers to your own questions, either leave a comment or email me at hortonhearsit at hotmail dot com.
* FRG: Family Readiness Group