My husband and I have learned a lot about the differences of being in the service as an Active Duty Soldier, and being in the service as a Reservist. Aside from the schedule being quite different (instead of your Monday-Friday routine where being a soldier is your full-time job, you report to your Duty Station for one weekend a month as a Reservist, with one extended training each year), the entire state of mind is different.
We’ve also learned that Active Duty deployments, and deploying as a Reservist, are quite different in terms of transition.
As an Active Duty Soldier, my husband’s unit was given 1 month of Leave upon returning from Deployment. At the end of leave, the routine of reporting to Post for work resumed. The transition of being in a Deployed state of mind to returning to life state-side, was more subtle, since everyone lives within a reasonable distance from Post, and therefore from each other, and they were reminded that they are still Soldiers, within a month.
As a Reservist, however, we are learning that the transition is much more abrupt. Reservists, from my experience, are likely to not only live in different towns, but different counties, and even states from another. After the Homecoming Ceremony, which we sat anxiously and impatiently through until the Soldiers were released, everyone scattered to their families and back home. The soldiers had a little over 3 months “off” before they returned to their monthly drill weekend duties.
Because the Reserves aren’t generally a full-time job for Soldiers, once home from deployment, soldiers are thrown immediately back into their civilian lives, taking whatever time their employers granted before returning to work. But, for the most part, the Military is not an everyday aspect of these soldiers lives…it was something that they did one weekend a month, 2 or 3 weeks a year, that they suddenly went to Soldiering daily for months, and now, you don’t have to Soldier any more, with little time for that part of yourself to turn off. There’s no gradual transition like there was as an Active Duty soldier.
I find this to be problematic. As a Soldier who was deployed, you go from never being alone, to being a Soldier mentally day-in and day-out for the better part of a year or more. All of a sudden, you’re thrown back into your Civilian Life. You find that the civilian friends that you had before deployment have changed, that you have changed, and they don’t understand you any more. You’ve experienced something that you can’t quite explain to someone who hasn’t lived it. You may have experienced something that you don’t want to have to explain to anyone, something that you don’t want to have to relive. Something that you might be ashamed to admit to your non-military friends, because they wouldn’t understand.
I recall the sick interest that people have when speaking to a Veteran, and wanting to know if they’ve killed someone. I can’t think of anyone I know who has, who is also proud of having done so.
I digress. Life is different when you return from a deployment; and even though you can go into a deployment knowing this will happen, no one can adequately prepare for just how those you leave back home change. Or, how your soldier will have changed when he or she returns home.
And I have my own reservations for how long the Soldiers were on “leave” before returning back to their drill duties. I cannot speak for all soldiers, but I know that my husband was in communication with his chain of command and some of the soldiers that he deployed with between Homecoming and Drill. I do not know if all soldiers were kept in communication with or not. But the abruptness of everything has taught me that next time, my husband and I are coordinating at least monthly social events for as many soldiers as we can gather.
Think about it – you’re never alone for months, and all of a sudden you’re not constantly surrounded by a group of your peers. That would make anyone lonely after an extended period of time. So, to make the transition a bit easier, I recommend to anyone who is in the service to stay as connected as possible between deployment and resuming your Military duties.
As civilians, we can come up with scenarios that we can understand as being similar to empathize, but honestly, there’s nothing like it unless you’ve lived it. Stay connected with your civilian friends, as they will keep you connected to your non-military life, but also make it an effort to stay connected with your military friends, as they are essentially a part of your family, and they will keep you grounded. Regardless of your current status with the service, do not let yourself become disconnected from your peers; and don’t let your peers become disconnected from you.