Reintegration is a process most military families struggle with. It predominantly impacts the citizen soldier and their families, because unlike active duty service members, our National Guardsmen and Reservists are returning from deployment or weeks long trainings and reintegrating back into their civilian roles and employment. The longer the war, the more time away from their civilian roles to honor extended trainings for impending deployments or to support those getting ready to deploy. There are schools they must attend, additional meetings and what was once a weekend a month and two weeks in the summer is now multiplied by additional trainings and meetings.
After a year long deployment the service member will return to work within 30 days of their deployment return. While most Americans will see the “romantic” side of homecomings, and the many wonderful emotions that come with seeing our soldiers back on home territory, what most don’t see is the struggle that begins after the celebrations end, about day 60 and lasts until they’ve securely reintegrated back into society. The road is long, difficult and lonely.
When a National Guardsman or Reservist returns to work, there’s a lot of wonder associated with their stories from co-workers, but for the citizen soldier there’s fear, insecurity and a lot of invalidation that occurs. Fear that they won’t have their job anymore, fear their time won’t be bridged and fear that their salary will be kept hostage due to their time away. What employers need to understand is they can truly support their service member by assuring them they have the same or comparable job to return to; stay in touch with them while deployed and when they return home. Invite their families to company picnics and events to keep them “part of the family.” Letter and email campaigns to keep the citizen soldier involved in work events should also include family members. Remind your HR staff that any salary increases that should’ve been applied are implemented within the year a service member returns to the job; but most importantly provide assurance that their employer understands the commitment a service member makes and meets that commitment with their own as employers.
Invalidation occurs for the service member who is still dealing with the depression that often occurs when returning. It’s a struggle to make one whole while weaning themselves from their military role into their civilian role. They may be coming home to a new role in their family, dysfunctional relationships and financial hardships that occur more likely for guardsmen and reservists whose military pay does not equal their civilian pay. Co-workers will provide the occasional “it’ll be okay in time” comments when they see the struggle but unfortunately this lends itself to increased invalidation and insecurity. The service member begins to question their own mental well being if “they in fact” don’t get better in time. Invalidation is defined as rejecting one’s emotions as fundamentally abnormal. Alcoholism, drug use and lack of sleep continue the cycle of invalidation and depression.
What can we do as a society to help our citizen soldiers reintegrate and find peace? Education is key to understanding the soldiers’ way back into civilian life. First and foremost employers need to educate themselves with The Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) and USERRA the laws that protect our citizen soldiers. Communities and neighbors can learn about PTSD, depression and how to help through organizations such as Wounded Warrior, Red Cross, or the Veterans Administration.
The employment relationship is the one relationship that can truly impact a soldier’s return to peace. Let’s do our part to make that a positive impact on the road back to peace.