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Easing post-deployment reunions: EA professionals can play critical roles in helping supervisors, co-workers, and family members adjust to a deployed person's return from duty.

Due to political and military conflicts, American military and civilian personnel are being deployed to near and remote parts of the world. When a person is deployed, s/he is not the only person who undergoes changes. Co-workers have to assume additional duties, children are challenged by new family roles, and spouses find their time and energy taxed and their responsibilities greatly magnified.

At the end of a tour of duty, the returning person and those at home look forward to the reunion. Reunions carry with them high expectations for relief and joy as well as worry, anxiety, tear, and disorientation. After all, during the deployment, the world continued to turn and many changes occurred--some small, some significant. All parties involved will need time to adjust to a slightly different world with slightly different people.


The returning person may be concerned about fitting back into the workplace. S/he may wonder, who performed my duties during my deployment? Was the job done the way wanted it to be done? Do I simply take over again now? Who are these new employees in the workplace?

The returning person and his/her co-workers may find it awkward to get reacquainted. An example of this is a returning military man with medical training whose assignment was stateside, working with injured returning troops from Iraq. His co-workers told him he had not experienced "real war," which he felt minimized the disturbing sights and stories he saw and heard during his tour of duty.

A returning person also may need to readjust to the work environment and pace of the job. The demands of the workplace--policies, deadlines, and responsibilities--may be radically different from those of active duty In addition, managers and co-workers and even the job itself may have changed during a soldiers time away.

If the returning person was a supervisor, s/he may need to live with decisions about job processes and personnel matters made by others during the deployment. The workgroup may now include people the returning person does not know, and building relationships and a productive work team with these new individuals may be his/her first task.

Colleagues at work may expect that the returning person will be the same as before, but this may or may not be true. Co-workers may not understand that a returning person might well need time to recover from possible war trauma. There may need to be a phasing-in period or a vacation between active duty and the return to work. Be aware that this can cause resentment among co-workers who had to "pull together" during their colleague's deployment and assume extra duties. They may want a break from work themselves and feel they deserve it.

The key to re integrating a returning person into the workplace is to go slowly. EA professionals should advise employees returning from deployment that they would do well to inquire about, rather than criticize, changes at work. Similarly, encourage them to respect the views and experiences of coworkers who remained in the workplace during their absence. Returning personnel may feel the need to talk about what they saw and did while away, but they must recognize that those who stayed behind have interesting things to tell about their lives as well. Renewing relationships is a process that requires mutual respect and tolerance.

EA professionals also need to communicate with workplace leaders about smoothing the reunion process and preventing issues from arising. For example, you may want to encourage a supervisor to debrief the returning person prior to the actual return to work. This will allow the returning employee to learn about the formal and informal changes that took place during his/her deployment. As part of that conversation, the supervisor can remind the employee of EAP services that might assist in meeting immediate as well as long-term readjustment needs.

EA professionals also should ask supervisors to monitor the returned person's progress and that of his/her workgroup for signs of discord, such as poor communication of missed deadlines. Remind supervisors that EAP personnel are available for consultation if the need should arise.

Co-workers also can be included in the transition process. This might involve a ceremony or gesture that welcomes the military person back to the workplace and/or a formal procedure for handing over job responsibilities. For example, the reintegration could be marked with something as simple as a greeting card or an informal gathering with food and balloons. An EAP representative can facilitate the decision-making process for marking the military person's return and reintegration. Keep in mind, however, that the returning military person may simply want to slip back into the work routine in a quiet manner, and EA professionals should communicate the need to respect this decision.


Just as returning military and civilian personnel should expect to encounter a changed workplace, they should anticipate changes in their families as well. For example, a young child may have a foggy memory of the returning parent or feel generally confused about, the absence in the first place, or may resent having to "share" the stay-at-home parent after the deployment ends. These emotions may prompt behavioral changes in young children, including sleep disturbances of a temporary loss of developmental accomplishments.

Older children, on the other hand, may have undertaken additional household or sibling care responsibilities and, as a result, gained more independence and confidence. They may not be ready to relinquish the esteem and status that their new roles provided them, and returning parents need to understand and appreciate this growth and not feel displaced or unneeded. This presents an opportunity for the returning parent to listen to the child's experiences while s/he was away and show respect and gratitude for meeting new challenges.

A returning person might naturally expect that his/her spouse will have been exhausted by the added responsibilities, but the husband or wife who stayed home may have developed new interests and hobbies, new approaches to doing things around the home, and new confidence. Rather than feeling more than ready to share household responsibilities again, the at-home spouse may feel anxious about the deployed person attempting to "take over." The returning spouse, meanwhile, may want to assume his/her old duties as a means of reconnecting with home life. Both parties must employ the "go slow" tactic to avoid hurting each other's feelings and facilitate reaching an understanding of how to resume sharing responsibilities. The couple may even want to negotiate new roles and responsibilities.

During tours of duty, those at home and those deployed have the opportunity to communicate with each other by several means: letter, e-mail, instant messaging, video conferencing, and telephone. Loved ones embrace these methods as a way of sustaining relationships and providing peace of mind Reunions, however, mean returning to face-to-face communication. While face-to-face communication offers a more complete opportunity to share experiences and explore feelings, it also conveys emotions that no electronic of telephonic communication can.

Given that sex may be a preoccupation of a couple during deployment, it can become a dominant focus upon the deployed person's return. If trust and fidelity existed in the relationship prior to deployment, they likely were sustained during the tour of duty, and resuming sexual relations may be easy In some cases, however, a separation may strain a relationship of give rise to suspicions of infidelity, though worries about unfaithfulness are more frequent than real occurrences. Nevertheless, couples must get in touch with each other and renew emotional intimacy and comfort with one another. This process takes time, as each partner has grown in his/her own sphere during deployment and must adjust to the other.


Reunions, whether at work of home, are successful when all parties are given time for re-entry. This gives everyone the chance to respectfully switch realities, digest experiences, negotiate new roles and responsibilities, and re-discover the relationship. The best advice for all concerned is to proceed slowly.

At any point in the process, an EAP can be a valuable asset. During the deployment period, EA professionals can help families make decisions and reassign roles and assuage their fears and anxieties. At the time of re-deployment, an EAP can support family reintegration and ease family members into the next homeostasis.

For more insight into deployment and reunion issues and other matters pertaining to the military lifestyle, visit these Internet sites:








Paula deLong is a licensed psychologist and d/rector of FirstCALL Employee Assistance Program. She is the immediate past president of the EAPA Greater Philadelphia Chapter.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Employee Assistance Professionals
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:employee assistance
Author:deLong, Paula Thomas
Publication:The Journal of Employee Assistance
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2004
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