The colors in Iraq have officially been retired, though we should never forget that approximately 4,000 troops remain in Iraq. And of course, Afghanistan remains a hot spot. For those with loved ones deployed to these regions, the war is anything but over.
We’ve been so caught up in a high OPTEMPO environment over the past decade that it’s been almost impossible to imagine what practical effects life without war would have on service members, their families and even military communities. This article references several worries that Ft. Bragg and Fayetteville community officials have with respect to the winding down of operations in Iraq.
Ten years of war has made Fort Bragg, N.C., and the neighboring city of Fayetteville a magnet for federal support and sympathy. But as the war in Iraq comes to an end this month, base and city officials hope President Obama will use his visit on Wednesday to allay their fears about a possible dwindling of population numbers and the Pentagon lifeline that has kept the area afloat—both economically and emotionally.
Over the course of the decade, Fayetteville’s population grew 65.7 percent, bringing its total to 200,564 in the 2010 census. And Fort Bragg spokesman Ben Abel estimates 150,000 people (mostly, but not all from Fayetteville) either live on the military base or come to work there daily. The boom brought federal money into family and mental-health support services, construction projects, and new jobs for civilians on the base. But the Iraq drawdown threatens that support, specifically because of its timing around talks of defense cuts in Washington. President Obama has proposed a $450 billion cut to the defense budget over the next 12 years. Already Fort Bragg is carrying out a federal mandate to eliminate more than 400 civilian jobs.
For better or worse, war has had an effect on the economies of military communities. Switching from the economic to the emotional, of particular interest to me were comments made by our friend Rebekah Sanderlin about how a drastic decrease in deployments and services could affect the family unit.
Sanderlin, a local magazine editor from Nashville, Tenn., said it took her a long time to adjust to life in Fayetteville; now she says she can’t imagine ever leaving. She fears federal cuts to services like counseling, which she says saved her marriage after her husband returned home a changed person.
“Now you have couples who are not used to living together trying to live together,” Sanderlin says. Thousands of troops are now returning to the U.S. after tours in Iraq that often last 12 months. “There’s a fear that resources in the community may be tapped dry,” she said.
Great food for thought. How does the military family collectively transition from a war footing?
Not too long ago, a young milspouse who was married in 2005 told me that war is all she knows. And the same goes for her husband. She said when people ask him what he does for a living, his response is, “I go to war.” How does a warrior adapt to training for war every day rather than participating in it? I can see that would be a tough transition for some. How does a family used to frequent absences of mom or dad adapt to a more full household? Carefully, and patiently.
Ramping up for war, deploying to a war zone and returning from a war zone all have effects on families. Each stage carries its own emotional landmines. Reintegration is tough stuff. As silly as it may sound to outsiders, for me, reintegration is often as tough as the actual separation. As the wars wind down and large numbers of our troops return home, our military community is about to experience the Mother of All Reintegrations (MOAR). This will be a phase unlike anything most of us have ever seen. It will bring more permanency than we’ve had in a long time, but the transition will bring many challenges and much change.
I stand in awe of the resiliency of military families. This community has amazed and inspired me over and over and over again. But resiliency isn’t automatic; there’s often a struggle to come out on the other end in tact and healthy. One thing I’m sure of is that we will face this unchartered territory as a family. We will be there for one another.
Just as we always are.