Coming Home: Service members adjust to life after deployment

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. —  Due to a high-tempo work environment, service members face many emotional challenges while deployed. Unfortunately, many of those challenges can linger after returning home.

Marines and sailors with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, who returned from Western Pacific 12-2 deployment last month, who are working to transition to their home life, can use their experiences to strengthen family bonds and advance personal growth.

“Marines and sailors go through a wide range of emotions ranging from excitement to frustration when returning from a deployment,” said Lt. Cmdr. David Dinkins, chaplain, Command Element, 15th MEU. “It’s important to understand that these emotions are common and are to be expected.”

Dinkins emphasized that reintegration with loved ones takes time and cannot be rushed.

“During your deployment everyone has changed,” said Dinkins, who has dealt with these issues after three deployments. “With the amount of time you spend on work-ups and deployed, you may have been gone up to 14 months. In that time your spouse has had to take on new roles and close friends have changed.”

Common challenges that service members face associated with these changes are communicating, balancing new friends, sharing and negotiating control and responsibilities and feeling emotionally connected.

“As Marines, we’re trained to take control in almost everything we do,” said Sgt. Sigilfredo Garcia, small-arms technician, Command Element, 15th MEU. “It can be easy for Marines to feel like they need to do that coming home after a deployment, but it can put a lot of stress on the family.”

Overcoming these challenges is a team effort. Finding different ways to communicate such as writing notes, sharing common interests and listening to each other are ways to break through some of the barriers, added Dinkins, Fort Worth, Texas native. The more a service member practices communicating with friends and family, the more connected they’ll feel.

Emotions and feelings are dynamic. Balancing these emotions between a service member and their family can be difficult.

“It’s emotionally tough on everyone involved,” said Garcia, a 25-year-old from Michoacán, Mexico. “But it’s a little tougher on your family. They’ve had to live without you for a long time. They have their routine and it almost feels as if you’re intruding in on their life.”

To get past this feeling, Garcia said that he had to be patient and take the time to adjust to his wife and daughter’s new routines.

“One of the biggest mistakes you can do is rush to solve some of these challenges,” Dinkins said. “Take it slow. Take the time to get to know how your spouse or your children have changed. Your relationship will be stronger for it.”

Service members and their families can also educate themselves on reintegration after deployment through resources such as a family readiness officer ornavy chaplain.

Signs and symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can cause many symptoms. These symptoms can be grouped into three categories:

1. Re-experiencing symptoms

•Flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating

•Bad dreams

•Frightening thoughts.

Re-experiencing symptoms may cause problems in a person’s everyday routine. They can start from the person’s own thoughts and feelings. Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event can also trigger re-experiencing.


2. Avoidance symptoms

•Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience

•Feeling emotionally numb

•Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry

•Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past

•Having trouble remembering the dangerous event.

Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms. These symptoms may cause a person to change his or her personal routine. For example, after a bad car accident, a person who usually drives may avoid driving or riding in a car.


3. Hyperarousal symptoms

•Being easily startled

•Feeling tense or “on edge”

•Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts.

Hyperarousal symptoms are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic event. They can make the person feel stressed and angry. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.

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