By Dana Fields
American Red Cross
When members of the military return home from deployments, they may face fresh challenges as they reunite with their families. The initial elation at being together again can give way to frustration in confronting the reality that lives have changed during the months or years apart.
Through its free Reconnection Workshops, the American Red Cross can help returning military members and their families recognize and deal with difficult issues that may arise when they reunite.
A child may have taken on new responsibilities during a parent’s absence and fears losing that status, for example, or the returning service member may not recognize that a spouse or partner changed during their time apart.
And communication that once was easy may suddenly be complicated.
“Returning service members may not be sure exactly how they feel, so their body language may be at odds with their words and facial expressions,” says Barry Kramer, a Missouri Department of Mental Health professional and longtime volunteer with the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces division in Kansas City.
The Reconnection Workshops are open to all branches of the Armed Forces, including active-duty personnel, the Reserves and the National Guard. Led by licensed mental health professionals like Barry who receive special training on military culture in addition to their Red Cross training, the workshops address such issues as communicating clearly after long periods of separation and the effects of stress and trauma.
Barry describes the Reconnection Workshops – which are confidential — as concrete, practical and highly interactive. They include exercises in such scenarios as a mother returning from deployment and finding her toddler distant and afraid of her, or the parents of a young, single serviceman becoming estranged when he turns out to be far from the son they knew before his deployment.
“The workshops are not therapy,” says Barry, who entered the Army at 17 and notes that he was hardly the same person when he left active duty at 20. “Each one is truly a learning workshop – what to expect, how to deal with the reality of what’s coming in.”
With growing numbers of military members serving multiple deployments over the past 15 years, the Reconnection Workshops are increasingly attracting families with loved ones in the National Guard and Reserves.
And in 2015, Service to the Armed Forces expanded the workshops to include two designed specifically for young children and teens: “Roger That! Communication Counts” and “Operation 10-4: Confident Coping.”
“For families in regular active duty, kids go to school with others in their same situations,” Barry says. “With the Guard and Reserves, they may not even have anyone in the area to talk to and commiserate with about their experiences.”
Throughout the 62-county region of the Western Missouri Red Cross, Reconnection Workshops can be scheduled wherever they are requested and held at any convenient site, even in a private home.
If you could be helped by this service or would like more information, go to www.redcross.org/reconnectionworkshops.