For some soldiers, returning home from war and readjusting to the civilian life they had before they deployed can be more daunting than the threats they faced overseas.
“When you’re overseas, you have stress, but it’s a different kind,” Louisiana National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Brett Moore said Sunday afternoon, the last day of the Louisiana National Guard’s three-day Yellow Ribbon program at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Baton Rouge.
Moore recently went through this kind of readjustment in July when he returned home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
“When you get back home and you’re dealing with kids, a lot of decisions that you didn’t have to make (when you were in a war zone), but now you’re having to make some of them,” Moore said.
Moore said soldiers are more focused overseas, particularly when they’re on a mission.
“This is the mission and when I’m not on the mission, you don’t have to worry about where the kids are eating or picking up the kids from school. You’re just more focused,” Moore said.
All military service branches have post-deployment reintegration training, said 1st Sgt. Paul Meeker, of the Louisiana National Guard, and the Yellow Ribbon program is the National Guard’s program.
The program began in 2008 when the Department of Defense learned troops were having a hard time readjusting to civilian life.
The program provides information, services and proactive outreach programs to all service members and their families through all phases of the deployment cycle.
The program received its name from the yellow ribbons friends and relatives tie around trees as reminders of family members serving overseas.
Louisiana’s Yellow Ribbon program is one of the few in the country to bring soldiers and their family members into one setting during the three phases of deployment: soldiers returning from deployment, soldiers preparing to deploy and family members of soldiers deployed, said Capt. Rebekah Andersen, coordinator of Louisiana’s Yellow Ribbon Program.
The session this past weekend saw nearly 400 Louisiana soldiers and their family members representing the three phases of deployment, Andersen said.
Soldiers returning from recent deployments were required to attend mandatory sessions Saturday morning on several topics, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anger management and suicide awareness.
Soldiers preparing for deployment were required to attend sessions highlighting their insurance plans, job programs, veterans benefits and other pertinent topics.
The relationship sessions, some of which were conducted by members of the U.S. Army-sponsored Strong Bonds organization, are essential for soldiers before deployment, military officials said.
“It’s all about making the soldier more resilient by strengthening the family,” said Capt. Brian Ray, an Army chaplain, said.
He specializes in couples therapy — another chaplain handled sessions for unmarried and single soldiers — and said any unresolved relationship issues that a soldier brings overseas during the deployment could have adverse effect on that soldier.
“One of the things that could be life-threatening is to not have your head in the game,” Ray said.
Maj. Stephen Kay, a medical officer from Shreveport who returned from a six-month deployment in Afghanistan in July, said readjusting to civilian life can be more difficult for some than others.
“For some of the enlisted infantry guys, that’s a tough transition for them,” he said. “They come back and they’re used to their head being on a swivel.”
Moore works full-time in the Guard and said through communications with some of his fellow Guardsmen after their return to the country, he did notice a few were experiencing relationship problems.
He said while the soldiers already heard most of the information given during the Yellow Ribbon program, it is different hearing it from an expert as opposed to a commanding officer talking to them while showing a powerpoint presentation.
“This is what (the experts) are trained to do, specifically those classes, so they’re experts on those things,” Moore said.
Moore’s wife, Christy Moore, said she wishes they could have attended a Yellow Ribbon event before Brett deployed.
“Knowing ahead of time would have helped a lot of families, than after the fact,” she said. “It definitely gives you the information as to what support groups are out there for the soldiers and families.”
She said after her husband’s first deployment, they had no support system through the military, but that changed during his second deployment when she received periodic phone calls from officials checking on her.
“I think the program they’re setting in place will be of great benefit to the future deployments,” she said.
Beside the mandatory sessions, there was a potpourri of sessions available for soldiers and their families on how to deal with deployments, including relationship communication, massage therapy relaxation techniques and ways to deal with separation.
Andersen, the program coordinator, said the most popular sessions over the past few Yellow Ribbon events are sessions outlining veterans benefits and yoga classes.
“That is a way you can reduce stress in a 4-by-6 foot area,” she said.
Officers from other states attend the National Guard’s program occasionally because it has been nationally recognized as a top-tier program, Andersen said.
Between Sunday and next October, Andersen said, the National Guard plans to host four more Yellow Ribbon weekends in Louisiana.
One of the final events of the Yellow Ribbon weekend is an awards ceremony. More than 75 soldiers returning from deployments were awarded the Louisiana War Cross during a Freedom Salute Awards ceremony honoring their work during Operation Enduring Freedom, the name of the U.S. effort in Afghanistan.
Moore was one of the recipients.