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It takes a village to reintegrate a soldier
[April 07, 2006]

It takes a village to reintegrate a soldier

(Post-Bulletin (Rochester, MN) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Apr. 7--"Reintegration" is a new word in the Minnesota Army National Guard dictionary. It is the process which warriors return from Iraq and Afghanistan to the different and difficult world of the citizen soldier. It is a task that requires the help of the whole community.

Major John Morris, a full-time chaplain and a combat veteran, heads the Minnesota ANG's Reintegration program. He brought his team to Austin on Thursday for a meeting with leaders from the city, county, health and service organizations and employers.

"I am here to shamelessly beg for some more help from you," he said at the opening of a three-hour training session in the city hall council chambers.

Morris pointed out that Guard and Reserve soldiers have a higher rate of mental health issues after returning from combat than their counterparts in the regular Army. Most veterans adjust quickly and live productive lives, he noted, but some spiral into destructive behavior.

He also said that reintegration will be a long-term effort. "There is no end in sight for this global war on terrorism. We can expect continued calls for service in Iraq or Afghanistan or God knows where."

Holding a model of a canoe over his head, the chaplain outlined the problem for the soldier and his family.

"Here's the family moving across the lake of life," he said. "The sudden news that your soldier is going to war shakes that canoe. He or she may not come back or come back injured. How are we going to deal with that?"

The canoe might tip over when the soldier jumps out or when he climbs back in.

That news reaches into the schools and the workplace. "The whole community feels the impact of a deployment."

It is difficult for those left at home to understand the changes that take place in a soldier's life when he or she goes to war.

While in Iraq, Morris noted, Austin soldiers drove hundreds of miles over roads on which they faced constant danger.

"When you have to assume that everybody is a bad person, that changes your view of the world," he said. "You can be very, very proud of this company, but in the process, we changed them. They are now warriors."

When their tour ends, the warriors are 200 hours away from being home. Unlike soldiers in the regular Army, Guard soldiers find themselves cut off from the support of their units, from their buddies, from people who understand what they have been through.

For some, the adjustment is simply too much. To suddenly go from a world where every moment is defined the unit and its mission -- when to wake, when to sleep, what to eat, what to wear, what to do -- into a world of unlimited possibility can be overwhelming. Some soldiers find a world without purpose where the traffic is too slow and life is intolerably dull.

Do's and don'ts

Here's a list of do's and don'ts when interacting with returning soldiers, provided Jennifer Iveland of the VA Vet Center and a member of the Army Reserve's 785th Combat Stress Control Company.

-- Let them know you are glad they are back.

-- Make use of their newly acquired experience, maturity and responsibility.

-- Encourage their input.

-- Don't isolate them.

-- Don't force them to talk about their experience.

-- Don't offer your opinion about the war unless you were there.

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