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Mission Family: Returning troops need to seek next challenge

Nov. 21, 2013 - 01:51PM   |  
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With operations in Afghanistan winding down, many troops will be spending more time at home — which is, without question, a good thing.

But there’s been a lot of discussion about how families will adjust to this increased togetherness. For too many, a “normal” lifestyle has become long wartime deployments punctuated by short homefront reunions — with troops spending much of that time training and preparing for the next deployment.

Moreover, some troops face physical and emotional issues from combat service.

This cycle often suppresses family friction, with everyone focused on trying to make sure the service member is prepared for the next deployment.

But once normal life resumes, that friction may easily boil to the surface.

During a recent forum at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual meeting, Army Secretary John McHugh made an interesting point: As the military brings home its combat troops, it must provide some kind of excitement, some kind of challenge.

In his visits to Iraq and Afghanistan, McHugh said he has been struck by how young troops obviously thrive on their responsibilities during combat operations, and are justifiably proud of their work.

Now, as they return to garrison life, the military must ensure resources remain sufficient to provide stimulating training, education and opportunities to substitute for the excitement troops had experienced in the war zones since 9/11, he said.

Others agree. “I think spouses are aware that soldiers are facing an internal challenge in finding meaning in the garrison army they’ve returned to,” said Patty Barron, director of AUSA family readiness.

She noted that training keeps troops motivated, but budget cuts have reduced funds for training. “This feeling of frustration definitely gets taken home to the family environment [and] vented to spouses and friends.”

In addition to work- and mission-related training, there are other ways to stay stimulated. Some base morale, welfare and recreation offices offer high-adventure programs such as rock climbing, caving, paintball and more, all of which can burn off stress. And plenty of enjoyable base activities focus simply on families having fun together.

Families may need refreshers on communication and how to renegotiate family roles, said Kathy Moakler of the National Military Family Association. Resources, including counselors on installations or through militaryonesource.com, are available to help with those issues.

“Let’s be grateful our young men and women who have been deployed are finally going to be able to come home ... and we’ll be able to reset the Army and our families in preparation for what’s next,” Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler said at the AUSA forum.

Because as we all know, there will most certainly be a “what’s next.”

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