Jump to a Section
Issues for the Home Front Leadership
- The Stress of Separation
- Supporting Spouses and Partners
- Rumor Control
- Spouses Moving Away from their Naval Base
- Double-Edged Swords
- Psychosocial Stressors
- Medical Readiness
- Stressors in Non-Deployed Personnel
Stress in the Modern Deployed Environment
Issues for the Home Front Leadership
When thinking about deployment, one automatically thinks of the stress created in the field or at sea. However, non-deployed personnel and family members are also vulnerable to Operational Stress.
The Stress of Separation
Spouses and family members separated from their loved ones by military duty may experience some of the same symptoms that service members do:
- Fear & Worry
- Loss of Sleep
- Guilt & Shame
- Anger & Irritability
- Drug & Alcohol Abuse
- Health Problems
- Behavior Problems
Children may experience a number of normal reactions during a parent's deployment that can nevertheless alarm parents and impair the child's functioning. Changes in sleep, interests, energy, eating habits, and behaviors are to be expected. Negative behaviors such as acting out, throwing tantrums, or unnatural social withdrawal should be handled with patience, honest communication (age appropriate for the child), and care.
Any family member that desires help or is having trouble coping with the deployment may be referred to a number of resources:
- Fleet and Family Support Centers (FFSC)
- Marine Corps Community Services (MCCS)
- Military &Family Life Consultants
- Families Overcoming Under Stress (FOCUS) Project
- Military Mental Health Clinics that accept dependents
- Military OneSource
Two good indicators to use when deciding to recommend help are:
- Problems are persistent (lasting for more than a month)
- Problems are significantly impacting the individual's (adult or child) functioning
Supporting Spouses and Partners
Remaining spouses often must fill new roles as single parents, caretakers for children and property, and primary decision makers. They may be unprepared for these responsibilities, sometimes because of the unexpectedness of the deployment, and sometimes because of maturity level and life experience.
Remaining family members may also have no local sources of social and emotional support. If a Sailor has just PCSed, just gotten married, or just moved their family to their duty location, their family may be new to the area and not have had time to establish helpful relationships and resources before a deployment.
Leaders should arrange and encourage education for family members about new responsibilities, social opportunities and support, and information flow of all possible useful facts; these things are essential for a successful deployment experience.
Topics that may be helpful for remaining family members include:
- Finances (balancing the checkbook, making a budget)
- Legal issues (powers of attorney, wills, custody of stepchildren)
- Childcare (especially for new parents)
- Communication options and expectations (with service members and command elements)
- Communication with family at home
- Social events and involvement (holiday parties, command events, video chat sessions, volunteer opportunities)
- Maintaining a household (mortgage payments, car & home maintenance)
During deployment, rumors among spouses and partners may increase fears and anxieties. Open, ongoing communication with family members is critical. Ideas for increasing communication with family members include: commander letters, unit newsletters, information briefings, 24 hr information hotline, webpage, social network group (Facebook/Twitter). The Command Ombudsman (or the Family Readiness Officer in Marine Corps units) is a valuable asset and source of information and can confirm or discount rumors. The contact information and identity of the Ombudsman/FRO needs to be widely disseminated.
Spouses Moving Away from their Naval Base
During longer deployments, spouses of deployed members and their families may move away from their initial military base, usually to live with or near relatives. Family members should consider consulting with the Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) and Command representatives regarding the financial impact and other implications of this decision. Such changes in residence may remove them from the understanding and support unique to military communities, and reduce their ability to participate in unit information flow.
Communication - now made easy with WiFi, Skype, Internet and Satellite phones - is a wonderful tool to help families and friends stay connected. However, easy communication can also allow people to forget that typical stressors that are mentioned in everyday conversation may seem more stressful to individuals that influence them. So a service member complaining about the lack of good food while on deployment, or a spouse remarking that she now has no time to help the children with homework may not realize how much distress their comments cause their significant others who are powerless to help them. On the other hand, some significant others enjoy knowing every detail about their loved ones when they are absent, sometimes to the point of overwhelming the other's desire or ability to contact them, resulting in arguments, misunderstandings, and unnecessary alarm. Leaders can help service members and their families decide on strategies in advance of the deployment to avoid some of these pitfalls.
Mid-Deployment Leave or Liberty, which is usually given when a service member is deployed more than 9 months or when a ship is in a port only briefly, can also cause unexpected problems. These periods of temporary homecoming can increase the intensity of emotions already associated with the deployment, such as loneliness or homesickness, fear or dread, anger or resentment, and love and attachment. These emotions tend to increase in intensity still further when the deployment is resumed, often resulting in adjustment or behavioral problems, or negative emotional reactions where there were none prior to the leave period. Service members and family members should be alerted to the likelihood that the end of the leave period may be more difficult than they expect, and they should be offered routine supportive contact following the return of the service member to deployment to alleviate any negative effects.
In times of crisis the American Red Cross can prove to be a crucial line of communication and support between the deployed service member and their family back home; especially during emergencies such as death, illness, birth of a child, and disasters (e.g., fires, floods, and earth quakes). The following meet the Red Cross' criteria for "family member": mother, father, brother, sister, in-laws of the same, and grandparents. It is best for the family member experiencing the emergency to contact the nearest Red Cross Center or the national number (877-272-7337) for assistance.
There are many other resources to assist service members and their families in times of distress. When there is a threat of harm to self or others Military Treatment Facilities (MTF) are the primary locations to handle such emergencies and appropriate steps (i.e., call 911) should be taken to get the service member, or their dependent, to a MTF.
For non-emergent situations, the command Ombudsman and Chaplain can be great assets to offer advice, support, and provide contact information. Additionally, they can help family members speak with a member of the chain of command about difficulties they are experiencing.
Fleet and Family Service Centers along with Military OneSource (militaryonesource.com / 800-342-9647) offer a range of services from financial planning to individual mental health services.
The Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society (nmcrs.org) offer a variety of financial and educational services. For instance, need based grants and interest free loans.
Additional crisis numbers include: National Suicide Line 800-273-8255 (veterans press one) and the Defense Centers of Excellence Outreach Center: 866-966-1020 / dcoe.health.mil.
A service member's stress can come from many different sources: poor communication, marital discord, pregnancy, medical problems, mental health problems, special needs of a family member, financial hardship, victimization, etc. When the family member needs help it is good to reiterate the services listed under emergencies above. When the deployed service member is struggling, the first question to ask is what services are offered where the command is currently located (on the ship, in port, in theatre, etc.).
Support from the chain of command and the Chaplain are two of the most frequently used resources as the majority of ships do not have a dedicated mental health asset (most carriers have a command psychologist). Additionally, fellow sailors are usually the first to notice a problem and therefore are a primary resource for service members in distress. There are many other ways that commands can help service members and their families contend with deployment related stress:
- Be available
- Keep families posted regarding deployed conditions whenever possible
- Encourage every Sailor to maintain regular contact with their families
- Encourage the family members to keep in contact with the deployed Sailor
- Sponsor and encourage family support groups
- Keep the family as informed as possible about important topics (e.g., return date)
- Establish a separate email and web address for families only. This my include newsletters and important contact information
Pre and post-deployment briefs (coordinated by the chaplain or mental health asset) are useful ways to prepare the service members for the stress they face on deployment and upon their return. However, the Navy's policy of "Intrusive Leadership" is the best way for leaders to check in on those in their charge so that they can offer mentoring, advice, and support. For returning service members it is a good idea to acknowledge that they have been away from their families for a significant period of time, changes are to be expected. Adopting the mindset of being a guest in one's own home for a time may help couples reintegrate with one another as opposed to criticizing how their spouse has changed things or not.
Medical and Dental Readiness
- Leaders should be aware of the medical and dental readiness of their personnel. Sailors who have not maintained medical and dental readiness may have to spend the precious time before a deployment getting medically cleared. This important time could be spent with families if medical and dental readiness is made a priority.
Stressors in Non-Deployed Personnel
One of the most frequently listed concerns of non-deployed service members has to do with being asked to complete the same amount of work with fewer personnel. Often, there is no realistic way to mitigate this issue. However, it is highly recommended that these service members receive praise and acknowledgement for their hard work INSTEAD of being told "well, at least you're not deployed". Additionally, one of the primary stressors has also been mentioned as feeling guilty for not being deployed. Offering the same kind of support and appreciation for their hard work and the importance of their responsibilities is highly appropriate.
Stress in the Modern Deployed Environment
There are a variety of stressors that impact upon sailors today. Whether they are experienced on the ship, shore, airframes, or in combat zones, it is important for leaders to recognize and address environmental stressors. Below are examples of common environmental stressors:
- Working in harsh climates/terrain
- Living situation--close living quarters & uncomfortable conditions
- Limited opportunities to maintain hygiene
- Excessive noise
- Long duty days and inadequate rest
- Ambiguous roles or assignments
- Interpersonal problems with peers
- Disappointments when others fail to meet expectations
- Being sexually harassed or bullied
- Problems with supervisors and other leaders
- Perceived ineffectiveness of leadership
- Fear of death
- Exposure to violence and death
- Perceived threat from nuclear, biological, chemical, conventional warfare or terrorism
- Exposure to foreign cultures with accompanying limitations (i.e., dress restrictions)
- High workload
- Lack of time to assimilate into the unit
- Domestic worries
- Personal problems
- New personnel -- ever-changing composition of the unit
- Lack of information
Stress exists along a continuum ranging from mild to severe and transient to chronic. Many leaders often struggle with knowing when to intervene and to what degree.
The following Stress Continuum Model slides help elucidate the construct of stress and offers objective advice as to the appropriate course of action.
When in doubt leaders should not hesitate to consult appropriate mental and/or medical personnel.
Under substantial stress, Sailors may experience difficulty with their duties, with other sailors and with their leaders. Some common problem behaviors include:
- Poor performance at work
- Isolation from peers
- Arguments with spouse
- Substance use
In extreme cases, thoughts, plans or urges to engage in self harm or harm to others may occur. These potentially dangerous behaviors should be taken seriously and reported to medical providers as soon as possible.
Managing Stress and Challenging Behaviors:
- Allow adequate time for rest and sleep
- Healthy eating
- Reducing tobacco use
- Monitoring caffeine use
- Promote team building
- Pay attention to sailors who are isolating themselves
- Pay attention to significant changes in behavior
- Get to know your sailors by getting out into the spaces and talk to your sailors
- Encourage junior leaders to speak with their sailors and utilize mentors
- Promote physical fitness
- Promote stress management
- Manage rumors by keeping the command well informed
- Focus on common goals
- Focus on the mission and how each sailor's work matters
- Utilize mental health professionals and other medical professionals as necessary and assist in reducing the stigma of seeking mental health treatment.
- Take action to provide basic amenities such as showers, food or better living conditions. Conduct small team “debriefings” after difficult actions (in training and in combat). Bring the sailors together to talk about what happened when the situation permits, but while the events are still fresh in their mind.
- Encourage Sailors to rely on their individual faith and spirituality and utilize chaplains.
Promoting Overall Resilience in the Deployed Settings
Resilience fosters heightened alertness, strength, endurance, adaptability and tolerance to discomfort. Resilience can be built through strong personal bonding between sailors and the pride of identification with the unit's mission. Steps that leaders can take to foster resilience include:
- Promote unit cohesion - Emphasize common mission goals and promote team building.
- Listen and build relationships - show interest in the welfare of each of your sailor, get to know their interests and their stressors.
- Exercise - promote and maintain physical fitness.
- Utilizing chaplains and medical professionals to promote stress management skills training for Sailors.
- Lead from the front - do not ask your sailors to do anything that you would not do or are not willing to do.
- Former peers and buddies you served with
- Friends, family, leaders
- Chaplains (100% confidentiality)
- Courage to Care Campaign: http://www.couragetocareforme.org/offline/
- www.killology.com / www.WarriorScienceGroup.com (LtCol. Dave Grossman)
- Leaders Guide for Managing Marines in Distress: www.usmc-mccs.org/LeadersGuide
- Medal of Honor Program: www.medalofhonorspeakout.org: 30 of the 91 living Medal of Honor recipients have joined in a public service campaign in which they share their experiences and spread one simple message: Don't let the enemy defeat you at home! Get help if you need it!
- Military One-Source: www.militaryonesource.com
- National Center for PTSD: http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention/
- Operation S.A.V.E. (Suicide Prevention Education): http://togetherweserved.com/
- Reintegration Action Plan (Guide for Returning Service Personnel): www.alabamareturningveterans.org
- Sesame Street Parents: archive.sesameworkshop.org/tlc/ (education for kids)
- Student Veterans of America: www.studentveterans.org
- TogetherWeServed: www.togetherweserved.com
- Veterans Administration: http://www.va.gov/
- Warrior Mind Training: warriortraining.us
- Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center: https://www.med.navy.mil/sites/nmcphc/Pages/Home.aspx
For the Service Member (consider recommending to your family):
- Cantrell, B. C. & Dean, C. (2005). Down Range to Iraq and Back. Seattle, WA: WordSmith Books
- Grossman, D. (1995). On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. New York, NY: Back Bay Books
- Grossman, D. (2004). On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace. USA: PPCT Research Publications
- Hart, A. B. (2000). An Operators Guide to Combat PTSD: Essays for Coping. Writer's Showcase Press
- Lewis, L., Kelly, K., & Allen, J.G. (2004). Restoring Hope and Trust: An Illustrated Guide to Mastering Trauma. Baltimore, MD: Sidran Institute Press
- Moore, B.A. & Kennedy, C.H. (2010). Wheels Down: Adjusting to Life After Deployment. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association
- Shay, J. (1995). Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
- Shay, J. (2003). Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming. New York, NY: Scribner
- West, B. (2005). No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah. New York, NY: Bantam Books
- Williams, M. B. & Poijula, S. (2002).The PTSD Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications
For the Family
- Armstrong, K., Best, S., & Domenici, P. (2006). Courage After Fire: Coping Strategies for Troops Returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and Their Families. Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press.
- Kraft, H. S. (2007). Rule Number Two: Lessons I Learned in a Combat Hospital. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
- Mason, P. H. C. (1990). Recovering From the War: A Woman's Guide to Helping Your Vietnam Vet, Your Family, and Yourself. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
- Matsakis, A. (2007). Back from the Front: Combat Trauma, Love, and the Family. Baltimore, MD: The Sidran Press.
- Matsakis, A. (1996). Vietnam Wives: Facing the Challenges of Life with Veterans Suffering Post-Traumatic Stress, 2nd Ed. Baltimore, MD: The Sidran Press.
- Self, N. (2008). Two Wars: One Hero's Fight on Two Fronts - Abroad and Within. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Mental Health/Medical Resources
- Mental Health Department; obtain referral from PCM
- Deployment Health Clinic: obtain referral from PCM
- Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program: referral through DAPA
- A self-referral for a problem will not get Sailors in trouble.
- Medical Officers/Corpsman
- Chaplains: 100% Confidentiality
- Marine and Family Services Counseling Services Branch: self-referral (individual and marital counseling)
- Find a provider through Tricare 1-877-TRICARE or (8 free counseling sessions)
- Find a provider through Military OneSource: 1-800-342-9647 or www.militaryonesource.com (12 free counseling sessions)
- Check phone book, Tricare, or Military OneSource for therapy groups in town
- Find a provider or services through www.GiveanHour.org or www.WarWithin.Org
- MCCS/Semper Fit: self-referral (health & fitness programs, martial arts, stress/anger management, communication and parenting classes, deployment health and family preparation)
- National Suicide Hotline (24/7 availability): 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (8255)