Chaplains discuss reintegration before soldiers head home

40th Combat Aviation Brigade
Story by Spc. Matthew Wright

Date: 09.01.2011
Posted: 09.27.2011 10:18
News ID: 77636
Chaplains discuss reintegration before soldiers head home

CAMP TAJI, Iraq – Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Pierre Saint-Fleur, of the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade, hosted an all-day chaplains’ seminar at the Tigris River Chapel earlier this month to discuss techniques for supporting soldier reintegration following deployment to Iraq for Operation New Dawn.

The attending chaplains were from different units that are scattered throughout Iraq, as well from 40th CAB units at Camp Taji. Among the attendees were United States Forces-Iraq Chaplain (Col.) Chester Egert and Chaplain (Lt. Col) Scott Hammond from United States Division-Center.

The chaplains provide religious services for their soldiers, counseling and other spiritual and emotional support. In theater, they are the key support for the troops in times of need, and help them cope with the environment and the pressures of being in a war zone.

The seminar focused on how to prepare soldiers and their families for resuming life when they arrive back at their homes. Participants discussed programs to help the soldiers reintegrate back into their civilian lives as well as help their families adjust to their return.

Chaplain (Capt.) Andrew Parker, from the 1st General Support Aviation Battalion, 171st Aviation Regiment, and a Jacksonville, Fla., native, briefed the group on the merits of a reintegration program for soldiers and what problems could be expected for soldiers returning from a yearlong deployment.

“The big thing about reintegration is expectations,” Parker said. “In our minds, we take a snapshot of what it was like when we left and we are anticipating it to be like that when we get back.”

Parker continued by discussing the problems soldiers may experience once they get home and after all the celebrations and the “Hollywood scenes” have ended.

He talked about three areas of concern that soldiers have to cope with: family, friends and work.

“First thing, with the family…I encourage soldiers to ease back into it slowly,” he said.

The families, Parker said, have learned to pay bills, take the kids to school and learned to live without their soldier, and it takes time for the families to adjust to their soldier’s return.

He suggested the soldiers take a few months to slowly pick up where they left off.

Parker suggested soldiers resume communication with their children to let them know that things are different, but gradually ease back into the parental role. If a soldier were to jump in and take the reigns as if he or she never left it could cause additional stress on the family.

“Having time to reconnect with each of them individually, over the course of time—that’s a helpful way to reacclimate with each one of your children,” Parker said. “And it is certainly true as well for your spouse.”

He recommended the same thing regarding friends; to slowly reintegrate with friends and to gradually reestablish communications with them. Those friends, like family, had to continue on for a year without the soldier.

The chaplains next discussed problems that could arise with the soldiers returning to their civilian jobs. They discussed ways the soldiers could ease back into the work routine because the change from military to civilian employment could be a shock to the soldiers.

The chaplains discussed how an after-action review of the deployment could be helpful for the soldiers’ readjustment to civilian life. They felt that if the soldiers evaluated their time overseas, reviewed the positives and negatives of the deployment, after a few months of being back home, it would help them to gain perspective on their reintegration.

Hammond provided additional thoughts on the reintegration course that Parker had briefed earlier and how it could be presented to the soldiers, explaining that the course should be given to small groups to make it more personal.

“I just bring people into my office, even if they outrank me, because they don’t feel intimidated,” Hammond said.

Reconnecting with families and friends, work, churches and communities could be a challenging experience. With the deployment to Iraq winding down for most of soldiers here, the chaplains said they want to make sure that reintegration back into the civilian world is as smooth as possible.

Chaplain Saint-Fleur summarized what was covered during the chaplains’ seminar: “The participating chaplains and assistants reflected how to best provide support to soldiers and their families after the excitement of the welcome home ceremonies fade away, the flags are put away, the bands stop playing and the news media moves on to other stories.”