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A leave is not a vacation

Many of the troops deployed to Afghanistan being covered by the Buffalo News will soon be sent home for a brief leave, marking the midpoint of their deployment.  While it might seem like it, this is not a vacation in the sense one might expect.  Our FRG (family readiness group) recently held a meeting to prepare us home-bound spouses for what to expect and how to deal with our returning soldiers. 

They said we can expect our spouses will come home exhausted not only from their mission but  their journey home across eight time zones and countless delays waiting for flights out of theater.

They will also bring with them a necessary stress level developed to combat the emotional challenges of their lives under the extreme conditions of actual combat as well as mission support, where a single mistake or oversight can result in a casualty.  This heightened level of stress, they told us, isn't something controlled by an on-off switch. Rather, it develops over time and can take a longer period to recede.

While it's tempting to plan large celebrations with family and friends, some of our soldiers may not be prepared or eager to attend such events, while others might respond just fine.  We were advised to plan on letting our soldiers get lots of rest for at least a couple of days, and then let them seek out a level of stimulation they're comfortable with.  Our soldiers will not allow themselves to fully decompress, knowing they have to return for the second half of their deployment.

We were also told that our soldiers in some cases may be irritable, detached or short tempered, and that this is normal.  Giving our soldiers lots of space and freedom to do whatever fits their disposition while encouraging but not demanding communication is the recipe for a successful leave.

We military spouses intuitively suspect our soldiers won't be themselves when they come home.  Still, it was really helpful hearing the counselors from the military validate that perspective based on their experiences and offering some strategies to effectively cope. 

From her e-mails I can tell you Judy is REALLY looking forward to coming home for half-time.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I really have no idea who this woman will be when she shows up at the airport, but we will love and support her no matter who she is.

-- Phil Basinski, on the home front

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