When the Cape Comes Off: Reintegration On the Guard Side

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I love Superman. He is by far my favorite superhero, but there is something utterly ridiculous about the Clark Kent “disguise.” I never could wrap my mind around the fact that he could change his hair and clothes and put on a pair of glasses and be unrecognizable. I always felt sorry for Clark, too. Everyone thought he was unreliable and dopey, but it was because he was preoccupied with saving lives and fighting crime as his alter ego. I always wanted him to tell Perry White, “I’m sorry I missed your staff meeting. I was busy saving the world from a nuclear bomb.”

Totally ridiculous, right? I thought so until I helped my husband reintegrate after his third deployment.

 

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The Cape is On.

My husband’s second and third deployments were with the National Guard. They both happened with less than three months notice. He was gone for about a year and a half each time. Both times he stepped into the phone booth, left his civilian life behind, put his cape on, and bravely served. The time apart was hard, but I had no idea that reintegration would be worse. No one prepared us for the challenges we were going to face once the cape was off and the glasses were back on.

The Glasses are Back On.

By the end of the third deployment, my husband was really struggling to adjust to civilian life. His civilian pursuits had been sidetracked, and before too long, another deployment was on the horizon.

At times, it felt like he was leading a double life. People get excited when they see someone in uniform. For a while, it was even trendy to have a yellow ribbon on your car. Everyone loves Superman. People make cakes and throw parades for Superman.

Everyone doesn’t love Clark Kent. Once that uniform was off, people changed. We were like Clark Kent for a while: unreliable and preoccupied. “I’m sorry we didn’t make it to your party. We had a terrible fight on the way over and had to turn around.” “I’m sorry we can’t meet you for that dinner out. My husband is still looking for a job and we’re spending all our extra money on counseling.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say that soldiers are Superman. These men and women are real people with strengths and faults. I’m just trying to say something to all the Lois Lanes, Perry Whites, and Jimmy Olsens out there.

Don’t you see that he’s the same person? It’s just a uniform! Cut Clark some slack! He may miss a deadline or two, but he is doing the best he can.

I think my husband would have loved nothing more than to crawl into his Fortress of Solitude for a while after he returned. However, that wasn’t an option. Life must go on. Support from family and friends after the deployment can make a huge difference in whether the pieces come together or fall apart.

So here’s some free advice for all the Lois Lanes, Perry Whites, and Jimmy Olsens out there dealing with a Superman.

— Encourage your solider to meet up with his or her military friends. Superman didn’t have a battle buddy, but your soldier did.

— Lower your expectations. Your soldier needs time and understanding as he or she transitions back into civilian life.

— Get professional help. We found a wonderful counselor (who charged us based on our income). Counseling can be intense, but it changed our lives. If you don’t click with the first counselor, try another. It is worth it.

 

Photo courtesy of Flickr user JD Hancock under the Creative Commons license.

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of Military.com’s spouse and family blog SpouseBuzz.com. A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for Military.com where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on CNN.com, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.
  • AnnieO

    I don’t know whether this applies in your particular situation, but war veterans and their families are eligible for free counseling through the VA: http://www.vetcenter.va.gov/

    • Anne

      Thanks for sharing this info

  • IAgal

    Interestingly, our civilian friends and co-workers have been the most supportive and understanding of the reintegration challenges and post-deployment health issues. Unfortunately, it’s been the Reserves – and most notably the “Active Duty Reservists” (who will never deploy) who have been the least understanding. As an individual augmentee, my husband has been essentially isolated from any supportive “battle buddies.” Years after deployment, he remains bitter toward the way various military personnel treated him during and since his return. Fortunately he has sought out and is receiving some helpful counseling, but he will most likely leave the military because of the complete lack of support from the military community.

  • Marisa

    Contact Military OneSource or helpanhour.org for free counseling services!

  • Jess

    Not guard, but my husband as been RC to AC several times (and, yes, a reservist who deployed), and making the switch is always interesting. I would agree that the reserve community can be…interesting…in terms of how people coming back from active duty are treated/considered.