Sunday, April 22, 2012


*Note: this is by far our longest post yet, but after reading and rereading it, there was nothing I really felt like I could cut out.  In one big giant nutshell, this was our reintegration.

Today was our last FRG meeting until the big homecoming (my last as an FRG leader, too), so naturally an appropriate topic was reintegration.  The assumption is that we've been missing these people so much...anxiously waiting for the day they come home...then they get here, we breathe a sigh of relief and the fun begins!  While all of that is true, it's not all fun and it doesn't end there.  In many ways, the hard work is just beginning.  Many years ago, I heard Chaplain Morris tell this analogy.  Aside from the stroganoff story (we'll get there, keep reading), it's my favorite reintegration story.  A deployment is like this: you and your partner are paddling along in a canoe together.  Everything is going just fine, you're moving in the right direction, you've got a system figured out to get from A to B together, all is well.  Then, the Uncle Sam comes and plucks your soldier right out of your canoe.  There's some brief panic about what just happened, but it's not long before you figure out a new system and get going in the right direction again.  Phew.  Then, when the deployment ends, your soldier is just plopped right back into the canoe.  One of two things, or a combination, can happen.  He (or she) might say "give me a paddle, I'm back!" or (s)he may just want to relax a bit because that deployment was exhausting.  Either way, you've done a darn good job of moving this canoe right along on your own for the last year and you're not about to let some freeloader coast along with you, but you may not be too inclined to just hand over a paddle, either.  Ultimately, you'll have to surrender a paddle and figure this all out together, but it's a scary thought at first.  Ah, reintegration.  Please keep in mind everyone's experience is different, and each deployment is different, but the months following that magical homecoming were not at all the fairytale I had imagined.  It went a little something like this...

Trevor got home mid-July 2008.  Prior to leaving, we had been dating for a year and I wouldn't even discuss living together yet.  Although deployments are difficult, we grew a lot as a couple over that time (see Wouldn't Change a Thing post).  So by the time he proposed on his leave, I was ready to say yes, and by the time he got home in July, we were ready to live together.  I went from having my own one-bedroom apartment to sharing a two-bedroom apartment with my new fiance and our friend Matt, who had also just gotten back from Kosovo.  Once Trevor was home, we all took a few days to move some stuff into our new apartment.  Then Trevor and I took a road trip with no destination.  We wound up going to St. Louis, Louisville, Indianapolis, Chicago, and a few other random stops along the way.  It was so much fun!  Here is where our reintegration lessons begin.

#1: The relationships you and your soldier built with other people during the deployment are a big part of what got each of you through that deployment.  Acknowledge and respect that.
Mid-way through our road trip, Trevor was checking his Facebook on his new Blackberry, no big deal.  He had gotten a message from his friend Nate, a friend from the deployment, about scheduling our visit.  We had already discussed going to visit Nate and his fiancee Nichole (now married) sometime now that everyone was home.  Still, no big deal.  They exchanged numbers and one of them called the other, they started talking, then threw around some dates for our get together.  So, I'm driving and Trevor is scheduling plans-four years later I can safely say this is the opposite of how it should have been.  They got disconnected and I don't even remember the details but it was frustrating for Trevor because he was trying to make these plans.  It was frustrating for me because I was trying to spend time with the fiance I just got back while he was trying to make plans with someone with whom he just spent a year.  Looking back, I completely understand what Trevor was doing, but in the moment I was not a happy camper.  He was trying to get Nate back on the phone, I was trying to get him to just be on this trip with me and take a break from the deployment and all those people.  What actually ended up happening was a long hour or two of silence in the car not even a week after Trevor had been home.

#2: Things aren't going to be exactly how they were prior to the deployment, they just aren't.  We've been hearing the term "new normal" for months because that's exactly what it's going to be, new, not "back to normal."
This is our favorite reintegration story to tell, so many of you have already heard this one.  After the road trip, it was time to get back to reality.  (PS-the road trip really was awesome except for that one little instance.)  One of our favorite meals to make (and eat) is Trevor's version of beef stroganoff.  We got all the ingredients no problem, but cooking was another story.  First we argued about how much ground beef to use: "One pound right?"..."No, we always used two pounds so we would have leftovers"..."No, we only used one pound"..."Two" get the point.  However many pounds we decided to make, we now needed to put it in a pan and cook it.  One of us got out a pan... "We didn't use that pan.  It's not big enough once we need to add the sauce"..."Then we'll put it in a bigger pan"..."No, we always used the bigger pan from the beginning so we have less dishes"..."No, we used this pan, trust me"..."I'm cooking it in this pan."  I know you're all thinking this is the most ridiculous argument anyone could have, especially for two people who really don't argue.  You're right.  We had gotten all kinds of information about "new normal" this and "try not to have any expectations" that, but we were still trying to do things exactly the same way we had over a year ago.  I think Trevor was upset that I had changed over the last year (this instance and other little things), but he didn't realize that he had changed, too.  And vice versa.  And at the end of the day, it didn't matter at all which pan we used, just pick one and cook so we can eat, but we were just so stuck on how we "used to do it." 

#3: Communication will solve a lot of problems. (And a reminder of #1 about relationships)
I have a feeling all of the people involved in this story will end up reading this, so I first want to say this one was never ever anything personal about any of you, I promise.  After our road trip, and after we got some furniture in our apartment, it came up that I hadn't seen Band of Brothers so we decided to watch it.  I had developed friendships with many of Trevor's medics, so inviting them over to watch with us sounded great.  We'd watch an hour or two of it a night and they'd come back the next night for more.  To my own surprise, it wouldn't take me long to become frustrated with this arrangement.  I had just gone a year without Trevor and he had just gone a year with all these guys.  I couldn't for the life of me figure out why he wanted his deployment friends at our apartment to watch a deployment movie every night for weeks.  Weren't these people sick of each other by now?!  So what did I do about it?  Nothing.  He'd tell me when they were coming and I'd just get crabby, but I didn't say anything, not until we were almost through the series.  Trevor didn't realize my frustration-he thought we were all enjoying this because I liked all these guys (I did and I do) and I wanted to see Band of Brothers (I did) and I never told him otherwise.

#4: It's hard to realize after a deployment that you get to keep your soldier, that they're not going to leave again right now.  Give each other some space.  And again, communicate.
After a deployment, they get right back into drill weekends.  The first couple are more like workshops where family members can go along and they talk about this whole process.  Very helpful information, but it's still up to us to apply it to our own lives.  After those, they were back on a regular drill schedule.  I love when Trevor's fellow soldiers come stay with us on drill weekends.  One drill weekend in particular, our pal Mike came to stay with us.  He actually doesn't have anything to do with the story itself, but I know he'll remember it well once he reads this, if he doesn't get bored by this point.  Trevor was playing PlayStation, had been for a while, and I wanted him to be done.  (side note: Trevor had a very chaotic, busy deployment with not much time for himself, so when he got home he wanted to do some "me-time" things like play video games.  Understandable, but he was playing a lot more than what I was used to for him-again, back to #2 and the expectations)  What I really wanted was probably just for all of us to hang out.  Anyway, I think I just asked Trevor to stop playing-probably something like "Did you...plan to play video games all night...?" as I walked in front of the screen-could have been a little nicer and a little clearer about what I wanted (again with #3 and communication).  That turned into an argument about how much time is okay to play video games, "it's my living room, too," "I just want to spend time with you-I missed you for the last year," etc.  Meanwhile, poor Mike was likely horribly uncomfortable with where this argument had gone, so he just started cleaning our kitchen.  We did resolve the issue, probably a little thanks to Mike's cleaning.  We realized what he was doing and kept the argument going just a little longer while Mike cleaned.  A little shady, yes, but it got us back on the same team!  (Another important lesson in itself: always remember you two are on the same team, bottom line.  You're in this together, you're not out to get each other, even if you're arguing, you're on the same team.)  On a similar note, we also struggled with how to spend free time.  I turned 21 during the deployment and had gotten much of my nights at the bar out of my system by the time Trevor was back.  That and I wasn't quite ready to share him right away.  Trevor, on the other hand, had spent a year without civilian friends, civilian clothes, beer, and fun (mandatory fun doesn't count).  He had gotten close to many of his military friends, but hadn't had the chance to just go have a beer with them.  So it seemed like he couldn't go out with friends enough.  Unfortunately, there wasn't just one argument for this one, it was an ongoing issue.

I'm not the clingy, whiny type at all, but I mostly wanted to know that Trevor wanted to spend time with me.  Matt, our roommate at the time, remembers us arguing about this very concept.  We even wound up trying to schedule one night a week as date night and probably had some rules about cell phone use or something to try to get the quality of time I wanted-even that turned out to be too difficult because of our hectic schedules.  Plus, I think I overdid it by trying to make it too structured.  Years later, we went to an Army-sponsored marriage retreat, Strong Bonds, and learned a lot!  I strongly encourage any eligible couple to attend.  Reintegration issues aside, Trevor and I don't fight, we disagree sometimes, but we truly don't fight.  Any disagreement is always resolved through respectful, calm communication, but we still took away a lot of valuable information from Strong Bonds.  One of the topics there was the Five Love Languages, a topic we had already touched on a little bit through talking to my uncle Eric, a pastor.  The point I'm trying to make is that my "love language" for receiving love is time.  I needed Trevor to spend time with me, set aside time for just me, to feel that he loved me and had missed me.  That's great and dandy now that we understand the idea of the love languages, but we were really struggling with it before the concept was introduced to us.  That, and of course hindsight is 20/20.  I can look back at all these instances (and these are just the big ones that really stand out) and make sense of them now, we both can.  These kinds of things went on for 6 months, and after that it was just like something clicked and we were good again.  To make matters worse, we were going through this difficult time when we expected this to be the best time we had had together yet, and so did everyone else.  We made it through a deployment, just moved in together, were planning a wedding, things should be great, right?  Everyone we saw would say things like "Isn't it wonderful to have him home again?" and "I bet you're just loving every second!"  But we weren't.  It's hard to explain.  I truly was thrilled to have him home, but there were days I wasn't sure where our relationship was headed.  I just knew where I wanted it to go and I was willing to do anything to make that happen.  So, here we are, just a short time away from homecoming again, getting our heads in the game for round 2.  We've come a long way since then, been through a lot together, and I know we can do it again.  We're happier now than we've ever been, and know that we can and will get through difficult times together.  To those of you still reading all this (it's long, I know!), hopefully these stories either provide some insight or, better yet, help you in your own situations.  I'm fully prepared that there will be both repeat and new lessons in the upcoming months, but I'm also fully prepared to tackle them head on.  Bring it!



Just as Ali pointed out communication is a very important aspect of reintegration.  All of what she pointed out was true from both sides.  I will elaborate on my perspective of some of these points in the following passages:

Communication:  There were many instances where communication was poor between us.  It took time to relearn how to communicate on a daily basis with each other.  It is one thing to communicate through emails and a Skype conversation every once in a while, but it is something completely different to live with each other and have to agree on what to eat, where to go, when to do what, who is doing which chores, etc.  When either one of us was irritated, at first, we internalized it and rarely communicated our feelings to the other.  It was as if we were so happy to finally be together again that we didn’t want to bring up petty issues when we would have been better served had we just spoke up whenever the issues came up.  This would have saved us months of stress and guessing-games.  Yes, feelings may be hurt right away, but it is easier to deal with mole-hill or two right away than a mountain range a couple months down the road.

Relationships:  I have been trying to figure this one out myself for about a decade.  I cannot effectively explain why I insist on hanging out with my deployment friends.  The best answers I can come up with are- 1)  We feel comfortable hanging out with people we have worked with and talked to for the past year.  They know what we are going through and we support each other.  It is hard to completely separate from them and jump right into your civilian friends simply because they don’t fully understand your situation and cannot relate.  2) There is a level of comfort in hanging out with them.  Everything is simple.  They know everything that has happened over the past year, so there is no need to explain things…you can simply just be with them.

New Normal:  This was something that took a bit of getting to understand.  When I got home I felt as if I was exactly the same person while Ali changed so much while I was gone.  To me, almost everything was changed with her and I thought nothing had changed with me.  I felt as if my life was put on pause while I was deployed and hers kept on going.  This whole time she was moving on with her life while mine stayed where it was when I left.  This was a source of conflict between us.  Simple things that you remember and deal with daily, weekly, or monthly all had to be relearned by me.  Things that everyone deals with in civilian life that is just an everyday part of life is not so while deployed.  I had to relearn to make a choice for what to get at the grocery store, what to wear to whatever event, maybe actually “do” my hair?, etc.  I forget people’s birthdays, routes to get to certain places, teach myself how to bowl, golf and play softball, etc.  There are just so many things with which to become reacquainted.

Not deploying:  As Ali pointed out trying to get used to not being deployed takes some getting used to.  This will inevitably be a challenge for us when I get home.  I have been preparing for this deployment or actually deployed for a few years now.  This is a very different mindset than what is normal.  Everything was centered on this deployment, every decision big or small.  Now,  we will be living and preparing for our future.  Yes, the military will always be a factor, but nothing nearly as large as this past deployment.

Although our past experience with reintegration was very challenging, I feel like we are better prepared for this reintegration and I am looking forward to it!  No, I’m not looking forward to the challenges necessarily, but to actually be home with my family.  I just know that this relationship is well worth the effort of doing it right!


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