Carole Gnatuk, Ed.D., Extension Child Development Specialist, University of Kentucky, says that there are seven distinct stages of emotional challenges faced by military families during and after deployment—and that failure to successfully negotiate each stage can create havoc for the family.
According to Gnatuk, the stages in this “emotional cycle of deployment” are:
- Stage 1: Anticipation of Departure
- Stage 2: Detachment and Withdrawal
- Stage 3: Emotional Disorganization
- Stage 4: Recovery and Stabilization
- Stage 5: Anticipation of Return
- Stage 6: Return Adjustment and Renegotiation
- Stage 7: Reintegration and Stabilization
Wanting to help military families cope with deployment, Gnatuk and her team at University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension developed a new program, Communities Support Military Families. While developed in Kentucky, Communities Support Military Families is national in scope–its materials contain no state-specific references and can be used by anyone.
Here’s how Gnatuk explains the program:
Most of us know firsthand the power of good neighbors reaching out to each other with practical support. It’s just what friendly people do. Now, cutting edge research is showing that intentional, informal, friendly networks, undergirded by community agencies, can be highly effective in strengthening resilience and mental health in National Guard and Reserve members and their families. They live among all of us, often unrecognized but with unmet needs. Communities Support Military Families discusses the rationale, raises awareness, and provides suggestions for sensitive listening and for taking up the slack of families with absent or recently returned fathers, mothers, or spouses. This program has been effectively utilized by Extension community volunteers in Kentucky through family to family contacts doing lawn mowing, kid transportation, shopping errands, and car fixing; in public schools through family recognition evenings and bulletin boards; county fairs through family photos on t-shirts and pillow cases; and in cooperation with Operation: Military Kids, promoting summer family camps, to name just a few projects. (Personal communication with Carole Gnatuk, April 23, 2012)
Here are some suggestions from the Communities Support Military Families program for ways you can help support the military families in your community:
- Befriending a military family with a member who is or will soon be deployed—and then be prepared for the long haul! Keeping up friendship throughout the seven stages of the entire deployment cycle is critical.
- Walk a mile in their “boots”! Try to put yourself in the family’s situation. Don’t try to offer judgment or solutions to their problems. Be a good listener!
- Be sensitive about discussing your own views on war or the military. The family may want to talk over their issues or they may only want your caring.
- Send the children birthday and holiday cards as well as giving small gifts, if appropriate.
- Call them on a fairly regular basis, just to check in and see how they are doing, if they feel like going out for a walk, or want to come over for dinner.
- Suggest taking the whole family or perhaps just the children on an outing to a place of interest for fun.
- Gift the family with tickets to a performance that they might not otherwise be able to afford.
- Make a point of attending and cheering on the children at sports events, musical performances, appearances in school plays, or dance recitals.
- Suggest specific ways that you could support the family once the service member leaves. These suggestions will likely ease the anxiety of the soon-to-be deployed family member, as well as the parent staying home.
- Offer to assist with routine household and family tasks. You might offer to watch the children once a month, clean the house, bring meals in on certain days, mow the lawn, rake leaves, remove snow, or change the oil on the family’s vehicle.
- Send a care package or letter to the deployed military member. The children in the family might like to help in this activity.
- Offer to go on a school field trip in place of the parent, or to go along to be an extra set of hands for the children on an outing such as a trip to the zoo or a visit to a nearby park.
Adventure Camps for Military Teens
Do you know a teen from a deployed military family in your community who might be interested in—and benefit from—a high energy, high adventure, and high experience camp?
Now through March 2013, nearly 1,600 military teens (14-18 years old) will have an opportunity to participate in adventure camps at little to no cost, thanks to a partnership between the Dept. of Defense and NIFA/USDA. These high energy, high adventure, and high experience camps are being conducted by experience 4-H Youth Development and Cooperative Extension staff.
Each camp offers a unique outdoor experience that will allow a teen to build leadership, self-confidence, and teamwork skills while participating in activities like backpacking, river rafting, canoeing, wilderness survival, rocketry, rock climbing, GPS use, mountain biking, first aid, winter camping, dog sledding, ropes courses, camp cooking, archery, and other camp activities.
There are camps being scheduled and planned across the U.S. from Alaska to Maine and from Colorado to Georgia as well as states in between. Camps for youth with special needs (mental, physical, and emotional) are also planned in California, Ohio, and New Hampshire. For military youth already in the Pacific Rim, two camp dates are available in Hawaii.
You might be able to suggest one of these scheduled camps to a military family in your community and make a big difference in a young person’s ability to cope with their mom or dad’s deployment.
How is your community supporting military families? Share your story in the comments below.