MS. REBECCA SHEIR
There's a particular warmth many troop deployed overseas often long for, for months or years at a time. The warmth of family. But coming home to one's family brings its own challenges as you reunite with spouses and children who have developed new routines without you. As waves of service members return from Iraq, Jessica Gould speaks with a Marine and his family about strategies for overcoming the challenges of homecoming.
MS. JESSICA GOULD
As it is for any family, dinner with the Pates is a carefully choreographed dance, everyone has a role. Elizabeth Pate and her son Jonah make the salad.
MS. ELIZABETH PATE
A little wet. Feel it.
Brian Pate and his daughter, Carolyn, set the table.
MR. BRIAN PATE
You got your placemat, sweetie?
But there was a time when this culinary core was missing a member. In 2009, Brian, a major with the Marines deployed to Iraq. He spent 15 months away from his family. Carolyn wasn't born yet and Jonah was just a toddler.
Every night we were watching the border of Syria looking for smugglers coming over so, you know, you're very focused on insuring that you can do that job and do it safely and get your guys back home. But in the back of your mind, yes, you're always thinking about your family.
Brian wasn't just thinking about his family. He talked about Jonah all the time.
One thing I did a lot was show the picture of my son to the different sheiks and muktars and Iraqi officials that I was meeting with. It was helpful because his name is Jonah, which is a biblical name and translates into Arabic as Eunice, which is a fairly common name over there and so by the end of it they were calling me Abu Eunice, father of Jonah.
So coming home to Jonah was one of the happiest moments of Brian's life.
It was awesome. It was a great feeling. You know, he asked, like, are you staying? And you'd say, yes.
But Brian, who set the schedule for an entire unit overseas, didn't know the routine back at home.
What is it like to get up in the morning and get dressed and go to the learning group? So it really is like mundane, domestic kind of things that you're kind of observing to see how they go and figuring out what role to play.
He even had to tweak the way he talked.
You have to transition from dealing with 20 year-old Marines to being able to speak to a three year-old and it's a very different mode of communications and it takes some time to snap out of that.
Anita Chandra, a researcher with the RAND Corporation has studied the effects of deployment on military families and she says re-integration can be an especially complicated time for service members and their loved ones.
MS. ANITA CHANDRA
While the re-integration is a joyous period and everybody's happy to have that service member parent home, it can be a struggle to re-establish routines particularly if those home routines have changed in the absence of the service member.
Because of these challenges the Department of Defense has developed programs to help service members reconnect with their families and many non-profits are also pitching in. Dorinda Williams is a social worker with the Children's Advocacy Group 0-3. A few years ago, she wrote a picture book to help the children of service members prepare for their return.
MS. DORINDA WILLIAMS
"Hurray, hurray, it's time to play with your special someone who's been away. Can you show them your toys, sing songs, hold their hand? If you're not feeling ready then they'll understand. You can just take your time with this person who has come home at last and really loves you."
Williams says the goal of her book, "Home Again," is to encourage families to be flexible with their expectations.
You've had a lot of months to think about this event and I'm sure, you know, it becomes perfect in your head, that wonderful reunion where your child, for example, is going to come running into your arms.
But sometimes the child runs away from you instead.
That child's response is perfectly normal, given the circumstances and it's not a reflection on their relationship and it's not indicative of how they're going to be able to reconnect.
That's why Williams says it's best to keep an open mind and keep talking. So every night as they sit down to dinner, the Pates say how grateful they are.
Say grace (unintelligible) .
Thank you for the dinner, amen.
And they celebrate their time together.
I'm Jessica Gould.
If you or a spouse has served overseas in the military, what was your re-integration process like? We want to hear your story and your strategies for readjusting to civilian life. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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