Long Term Deployments: Airmen Under Stress, Families in Crisis
Dr. John Moore, American Military University
Moderator: Welcome to the seminar titled "Long Term Deployments: Airmen Under Stress, Families in Crisis."
Our speaker this afternoon is Professor John Moore, Chief Counseling Officer and Licensed Psychotherapist for the Second Story Counseling in Chicago. He is also a Professor of Psychology and Health Sciences at American Military University. A more detailed biography is in your program.
Ladies and gentlemen, Professor John Moore.
Dr. Moore: Thank you. Itís certainly an honor to be here with all of you today. I tried to introduce myself. If I missed people, I apologize for that.
Just a little bit about me, aside from being the shortest person in the room. [Laughter]. You know, when people hear psychotherapist, particularly at least in my experience sometimes with the military, I become as popular as a porcupine in a balloon factory. I prefer counselor. Itís less loaded. [Laughter].
Has anyone here been to Chicago? Is anybody here from Chicago? [Applause]. I always tell people this. There are really two parts of Chicago. Thereís a north side and a south side. I was in San Diego a couple of years ago and I had a Cubs shirt on. A guy from the south side said hey, are you from the north side? I said yeah. He never talked to me again. That was it.
One of the things that I want to do before we begin this is just sort of ask some questions. What are you hoping to get out of this workshop? What are some things youíd like addressed? Whatever that might be, weíll try to answer that. Are there any particular topics or issues that you would like to be discussed or explored?
Question/Comment: [Inaudible] on the ground versus the 12 months that the Army is doing, which direction [inaudible].
Question/Comment: I work with military families, I just want to know how to help the family best while theyíre in place while the military member is deployed.
Question/Comment: Iím trying to help some of the younger Airmen that just got married and deploy and are having issues when they come back. [Inaudible].
Dr. Moore: Any other questions?
Question/Comment: [Inaudible], expectations.
Question/Comment: It was kind of along the same lines as [inaudible] comparing the shorter duration versus the longer duration of the Air Force/Army, and assimilation. The Air Force doesnít have a lot of assimilation back time where the Army I think has [inaudible] program [inaudible]. If you see things different from one versus the other.
Question/Comment: As a spouse I think a lot of the programs are geared towards [inaudible]. I have [inaudible].
Dr. Moore: So for teens, older teens and so forth.
A couple of things here, and youíll hear me refer to it as AMU for American Military University. Itís an on-line university. We have about 80,000 students worldwide, most of them are deployed. They want to work on their degree programs at the same time while working. You can find out about AMU on the internet at APUS.edu.
Hereís one common link that goes on with all kinds of deployments, and it can be short or long. That is there comes a point in time where chaos happens because a loved one is deployed, a family member or family members are left behind. Sometimes people are hurting. It causes chaos for financial reasons, emotional reasons, dare I say questions about fidelity that could come up, but thereís good news in that because chaos is the point in time when change is most likely. The reason for that is we donít want to be in chaos any more. So my hope here is to try and talk a little bit about having a plan both before the deployment and then afterwards, that reintegration. So the front end and the back end of that.
There can be successful deployments, both short and long term. There is a difference between Army and Air Force, and I understand that, and I definitely want to try and address some of that.
Weíre going to identify the key stressors for Airmen and affected love ones, recognize how deployment impacts relationships with spouses and significant others, examine the impact on children in the family, explore healthy ways of coping with stress, identify the signs of PTSD, and determine a path to recovery about that.
Thatís just a little bit towards what weíre talking about here.
Thatís the deployment wheel of stress. I created that to kind of just talk a little bit about what folks go through.
The first part of that is to talk a little bit about, I think, in terms of the person left behind. Weíre going to look at the person deployed, but just the person left behind. Theyíre worried about the person thatís left. Routines are disrupted with family and children. There are new family rules that are adopted Ė suddenly mom becomes dad, or vice versa. That happens. Then also extra responsibilities. Dad used to take out the trash and wash the car. Well, not any more. Or mom used to do the grocery shopping or what have you. Not any more. Just looking at that deployment wheel of stress youíve got one person now, one of a spouse or significant other that is now acting in the role of both parents.
Just looking at that kind of wheel, are there other responsibilities, financial, that you can think of? What else do you think goes on with the spouse thatís left behind?
Dr. Moore: So that presence is no longer there. Just knowing the person is with you.
Question/Comment: Financial [inaudible]. [Inaudible] in charge of [inaudible].
Dr. Moore: And sometimes thereís a change in income. Well not sometimes, there is a change in income, right? That happens. So now a paycheck really has to go far, where before it was being stretched, now it really gets stretched, so you have that piece that goes into it.
One way in the beginning to lessen or minimize, and itís not going to deplete or somehow stop those problems from taking effect, is to have a plan before the deployment.
In a perfect world we would know just when someoneís going to get deployed, right? Wouldnít that be just fabulous? I know that in two months and two hours and two days Iím deployed. It doesnít work like that. Itís usually TDY, youíre gone, and you get very little notice with that.
So in advance, even if you donít think youíll ever get deployed, if youíre in an administrative role or have never been deployed, I canít emphasize this enough. Particularly with troop movements, Airmen being moved around, thereís just so much happening, itís important to have a deployment plan with your family. Again, even if you don't think it will ever happen.
One of those pieces is to have an idea of healthy communication. To be able to feel comfortable sitting down with your spouse, other family members, and saying you know, it could happen, it might happen, but we need to have a plan so that people know what the roles are when someone is deployed. The role for the deployed person, and there is one; and the one for the person left behind.
The other part of that which weíre going to talk about is setting up a routine in that plan. There needs to be a routine when you are deployed and the family is left behind so that things donít go into chaos again. There are going to be additional responsibilities that have to be picked up and the idea of just setting up some standards for different people can be very helpful.
What weíre really talking about is a family in crisis without a plan, particularly if deployments happen multiple times.
I had one Airman tell me I got deployed once. I didnít think it would happen again. Well, it was his third deployment.
So the family in crisis affects the service member, the loved ones and the children, so every one is involved in that and each of those represents that crisis point without a plan. Weíre talking about prevention plan, healthy communication, establishing a routine, and then reassessing that.
The first part of that is to anticipate ahead of time that the deployment will happen. Brainstorm as to what modes of communication might be available. What do I mean by that?
It can go anywhere from very expensive text messages, to e-mail, to snail mail. Letís also be real here. Sometimes weíre not going to have the ability to get in front of a computer. If youíre deployed, wherever that might be, and thereís no technology available to you, or for security reasons you canít get to it, there needs to be a plan even with that. One thing might be before leaving is to feel comfortable saying you know, I donít know where Iím going. Or I think where Iím going there may not be the ability for me to communicate with you right away. Thatís really important, just to alleviate stress for the person left behind. Then develop the other plans that are part of that. If itís text messaging, or telephoneís great of course, or snail mail. Whatever it might be, but as long as thereís some type of bond of communication, that thereís a promise between both people or all members of the family to somehow stay in touch.
The other piece of this is to let Airmen make first contact and report best times for communications. I donít know if this has ever happened but Iíve seen it happen, where someoneís deployed and a spouse, and understandably so, is anxious, upset, sad, crying, and is starting to call up the base to find out where this personís been deployed, how to get a hold of them, what telephone number do I call, and can I have Ė You know, escalate this up to the President. We have seen this, right? And you know what? Itís so human. Itís so human and understandable because that person at that moment in time has been ripped away, and we heard a little bit about loneliness. Who wouldnít feel vulnerable?
So be able to say okay, Iím the one being deployed, Iím going to be the one to make first contact. Trust me to do that. Iíll share with you what I can and what I canít, I canít. But at least that piece is in place.
Once that happens, depending on the situation and where the person has been deployed, thatís the time to set up a time and date for each communication session, and if at all possible stick to it. I know that can be very amorphous, that doesnít always happen, but at least thereís a plan there. So we know that on Friday at 3:00 oíclock every time Iím going to try in some way to communicate, whatever that might be. Realize that schedules change for both parties and flexibility is a must.
As a side note here, in 2003 I went to the Provost at American Military and I said I want to teach a class on Love 101. He said youíre about out of your mind. Nobody in the service is going to want to join that thing at all, or youíre just going to get a few enrollments. Itís the most popular class at the school, and we have to turn students away because in those classes we talk about long term deployments, long distance relationships. What you see are spouses, someone who is deployed and someone who is still here, in the class together because itís a way for them to communicate. An on-line discussion board. So sometimes we have to edit and take things out of those postings - [Laughter] Ė but thatís there. Thatís a very clever way of doing it. The other idea is it gives people a chance to talk about whatís going on with them. Are other people going through the same experience?
Step two here, what weíre talking about is healthy communication. Share important information thatís relevant to the family unit.
If youíve only got a few minutes on the phone nobody cares about Aunt Gertrudeís hemorrhoids. Just being honest here, you've got to really think like that because time is of the essence. Express what each person needs. What you need as a deployed person, but also as a family member left behind, what are your needs? Not just financial, but emotional. What do you need? What do you need to hear from that person?
Tell the truth about problems that have occurred with children and donít sugar coat the problem. The reason I say that is because eventually the personís going to come back and if they donít know that a real problemís happened, thatís going to cause some issues. If someoneís having a hard time in school, donít say oh, everythingís fine and dandy, because itís not. And whoís going to be upset when they come back? Itís that sharing, the communication. If the carís broke down, be honest about it, say it. If money is an issue, say it. Share it.
Avoid falling into the trap of becoming glued to the TV. Let me explain what I mean by that.
I know there was a workshop earlier about the war with the media and the war in Iraq I saw something listed on that. You could turn on the TV any day of the week and get really depressed looking at the TV. As a therapist, I kind of like that because people call me up for counseling. [Laughter]. But the truth is, we need to be really careful what we watch on TV because if youíre someone left behind and youíre seeing all this chaos and craziness happening, what do you thinkís going to happen to your anxiety level? What do you think? Itís going to shoot through the roof. And thatís going to happen through telephone calls. Oh, I just saw this happen in this place; I saw it happen over here; I know youíre not far from there. These kinds of things. Just be careful about how much we allow that to happen, how much we let ourselves. Again, thatís for the person thatís here, thatís kind of wondering whatís happening. A little bit of information is good, but too much information sometimes can be very damaging.
Avoid rehashing old arguments. If John is deployed and John bounced a check before he left thereís not much he can do about it while heís away, so why bring that up? The old arguments is what Iím talking about. If there were issues in the past about trust, that needs to be not rehashed in that moment. Thereís nothing anybody can do about it. So itís being careful. Share whatís truthful, donít edit, but letís not go back into the past either and have old arguments. Thatís caused a lot of problems.
Reconfirm the next communication session. So if at 3:00 oíclock, that was the time on a Friday, talk to one another. Okay, we will talk again at this time on this date. It may change. That could happen, but thatís the plan that we have.
Establish a routine, which is step three.
Stay involved with prior family commitments, worship services, et cetera. If the family used to go to mass or they used to go to church or mosque or synagogue, whatever it might be, and suddenly someone is deployed, Iíve heard people say we donít go any more because dad or momís not here. Why? Thatís a routine that disrupts the family unit when itís not done, and kids, which are so much smarter than us I think, will know somethingís up if you stop going. By all means continue to do those types of routines.
Celebrate the holidays. Thatís a big one. How many times, I donít know if this has happened to you. Weíre not celebrating, letís say in this example, Christmas this year, because so and soís deployed. Iím just too depressed, I canít do it. Thatís probably the worst possible thing in the world to do, especially if thereís children involved. Now somethingís been taken away from them and that causes problems for them, I might even argue developmentally. You want to continue to celebrate that and honor the person thatís deployed in that celebration. If there is a Christmas meal, set a plate for that person at the table. Honor that person. Bring memory to that person and show that you care about that person. Thatís what Iím talking about with routines. Donít cancel the holidays, donít cancel Halloween or any of those types of things.
If possible, connect with other military families on a regular basis. If itís a difficult time, using the holidays here, or any time really, try to have contact with other military families as much as possible that are going through the same thing.
Now if some folks have their spouses deployed and theyíre in the United States and letís say theyíre in a rural area, that doesnít mean they canít connect. If theyíve got access to the internet, there are support groups they can join. If theyíre on a base, even better. There's all sorts of options here for family members to be able to connect and share whatís going on.
Have another family member continue acting as a mentor during the soldierís, in this case Airman, or service memberís departure. What do I mean by that? Iím not talking about Uncle Joe coming in and taking over as daddy. Some people might not want Uncle Joe around like that. What I am talking about is letís say your son is playing baseball. Why canít someone at least step in and help him with that? Be there for him. Continue that process and that routine. If your daughter is taking lessons in whatever that might be, the same thing. Have someone from the family come in and assist with that if at all possible. Even a close friend of the family.
What we donít want to do is cancel that because the personís been deployed. Thatís part of that routine.
Explore the idea of creating connection activities. What I mean by that is maybe one night during the week the family gets together and puts some type of a video package together for the person deployed. Maybe they draw pictures. For teenagers, it could just be writing a letter. Whatever that might be so that the family has some type of connection with the person deployed, and then they send it, if they can get the address and send it, they send it, or at least they hold onto it until the person comes back. There's that connection that happens.
Any type of connection activities are good. It lessens the anxiety. Anxiety is really a feeling like you've lost control. Thatís what weíre talking about here.
Weíre going to also talk about coping mechanisms with that anxiety. One of them, the unhealthy ones, are drinking, then of course drug use and abuse.
Step four, you want to reassess this plan. Is it working? What can be changed? Any plan that one makes has to be tweaked, if you will, because itís not going to be perfect the first time out. Think of your own budgets, all that kind of stuff you have to adjust.
What cannot be changed? What that means basically is the frequency of the communication. We would love to be able to talk to our spouses on a daily basis but thatís not going to happen.
Look for new opportunities that may appear. There could be new opportunities that come up. Maybe you know a friend of someone whoís deployed that can get a message to someone in that type of way. Thatís another way of looking at it. And the opportunities do come up, but we need to really be open to that.
Before we go into PTSD, are there any questions about what Iím just now looking and talking about here, about these deployment plans?
Question/Comment: Could you maybe expand on Ė In my experience the conduit to the Air Force [inaudible]. The service member deploys, sometimes the family goes back and stays with mom and dad away from the base. Can you [inaudible] a little bit more on how you [inaudible] connected to [inaudible]?
Dr. Moore: Thatís a great question. If your familyís moving off base, then how do you stay connected.
Iím going to answer that question, but I want to ask people here, just listening to that question, what ways have you found to do that?
Question/Comment: [Inaudible] and we deploy onesieís and twosieís. We usually have the commanding officer, all the reserves, I will call the individual, Iíll call the family, so we have to have a one-on-one connection with either their, whatever unit theyíre from or whatever. I think one-on-one connection.
Dr. Moore: Thatís one option.
Question/Comment: I just came from a Family Support Center Director. Even if you donít stay at your sending base there are Hearts Apart Programs that can be linking them through the telephone, even through your base operator. So you can call in from wherever in the country you are and get hooked up through that.
Every commander is supposed to have a person assigned to that individual, regardless of where they move to. If they have access to a phone they have to make contact with them and that should be set up based on that personís need. We have had some that didnít want to be contacted. Look, Iím doing fine. Maybe they need that time apart, or whatever the case may be. You've got to go where they want to go. But there are lots of neat programs.
Most Family Support Centers, if not all, have monthly dinners and lunches. They should send out newsletters. There should be all kinds of different events. A lot of local churches Ė Thereís a laundry list we can give you.
Another good source is Air Force One Source or the Military One Source. They will put together packets of information and mail it to you on different options and resources for every age group and every category that might deploy.
Dr. Moore: Wonderful information.
Question/Comment: Thereís also a Key Spouse Program now where a spouse in the unit acts as a sort of ombudsman of sorts for the military families that are left behind so they have a way to stay in touch with the unit.
Dr. Moore: Any others in terms of just ways to kind of keep that connection going?
My own thought about that is again, beforehand if at all possible, try and work out that plan. Just kind of like what was talked about, the most essential part of that in that plan is to find out what kind of communication can be used if at all possible, and then stick to that if at all possible. Again, I know that that sometimes is changing.
What Iím going to do here is move on to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. That just brings up all sorts of folks. What does that mean? What is this, what is that?
I think itís important for me to say at the outset that PTSD does not mean youíre weak, it does not mean there's some deep psychological problem with you or that youíre just a problem person. It means youíre human. That is the nature of PTSD.
There are really two types here that Iím going to be talking about. The first is called Acute Stress Disorder. Itís a 25 cent saying for someone whoís been exposed to a trauma within two days to four weeks after it happening. If you see someone get hurt, if you get hurt, something explodes, within two days to four weeks after that happening youíre going to start to feel the symptoms of that. The diagnostic criteria for this in a nutshell is a person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involve actual or threatened death or serious injury or threat to the physical integrity of others. That could cover everything, right?
PTSD does not occur, for example, when Visa denies a charge. Iíve heard that. People have said stuff like that to me. You know, Iíve got PTSD. They denied my TV. It happens.
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