It’s two in the morning and you’re on a flight home. You’ve been overseas for eight months, and were unsure if you would ever actually see it again. The feeling that overcomes you isn’t what you would expect it to be though. Happiness…Joy…excitement. These are the typical emotions that you would expect to feel when returning back to the place that was once your place of comfort. Home.
For many veterans there is an abrupt end to the extended duration of time spent on deployment. Organized duties and missions completed with a cohesive unit suddenly come to a screeching halt, and you are thrust back into civilian life once again. Airmen bring back their military issued rucksack full of gear which has seen months and miles of resolute but lonely duty, but they also bring back their mental baggage full of tough experiences and painful moments locked deep in a vault that was created to harden the mind to perform their duty. Straddling the line between military life and civilian life while trying to exist part-time in both worlds is the challenge.
Last month The American Red Cross – Central California Region held a workshop in collaboration with the Department of Defense called the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program. The event hosted the men and women of the California Air National Guard’s 144th Fighter Wing based in Fresno, California. The event provided marriage counseling, Veterans affairs information on education and training benefits, domestic violence and suicide awareness and prevention. It also provided vital information regarding depression, brain injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorders.
The Red Cross augmented the schedule with a mid-day “Reconnection Workshop” where the nearly 250 attendees were put into groups of 20 led by an American Red Cross mental health professional who helped guide them through a carefully targeted training module. The module titled “Communicating Clearly” gave the participants a fresh perspective on how to enhance their communication skills, and be more successful in their relations at both home and work. The implementation of these “Reconnection” workshops is a key aspect in helping to reconnect our service members with family and successfully re-engage them to civilian life.
As a special addition to the day’s schedule, the Red Cross also provided a companion skill building activity for the children of the attending Service members. While their parents were learning valuable communication skills in the “Reconnection Workshop”, the children were engaged in the interactive “Pillowcase Project”. The Red Cross emergency preparedness program helps to educate and increase awareness regarding natural hazards. The “Pillowcase Project”, sponsored by Disney, is an interactive activity where each child received a pre-printed pillowcase with Disney characters that they get to decorate and take home to use as their personal preparedness kit.
At the end of the day families left for home better outfitted to deal effectively with the special challenges a military family faces that are often impacted greater by a tough deployment. Deployment can be hard not only on the deployed, but the family that they leave behind.
It’s eight in the morning and your flight has landed. You’ve retrieved your luggage from the baggage claim, and as you start to walk towards the entrance you hear someone shout your name. You turn to see the bright shining faces of your loved ones, and that is when you remember. This is HOME.
-Ryan Henry Jackson Communications Coordinator