- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 30, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Soldiers returning from the Afghan war are experiencing a new kind of homecoming: quiet family reunions that softly settle between ticker tape and trauma.
The switch from the battlefield to the bedroom, from Global Positioning System readings to PTA meetings, from fighting terror to facing the terrible twos, has always been a potential minefield of shattered expectations and recriminations.
"The noise, the kids, the confusion," said Lt. Col. Glen Bloomstrom, an Army chaplain who helps ease homecomings. "Just going to soccer games, to play groups can be more overwhelming than looking out for a sniper."
But to the extent that the landings have been smooth, troops and military experts credit a thoughtful Pentagon, a supportive American public, e-mail and painful lessons learned from the past.
"It was just us and our families. It was great," Sgt. 1st Class Michael Peterson said of his homecoming, just weeks after a harrowing 18 hours under al Qaeda fire during Operation Anaconda.
"I went through the ticker tape stuff after the Gulf war," the 38-year old Waterford, Mich., native said. "You don't need that. You just need your family."
Making those reunions work, "combat stress control" in military parlance, has been a priority of the Pentagon since the Grenada deployment in 1983, when the Army first trained chaplains to counsel troops in the battlefield and families at home in the weeks before demobilization.
"Brace yourself, servicemember, there may be some unexpected changes in the life you left when you departed," read a recent advice column for troops guarding about 600 Afghan war captives at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.
Tensions are natural when roles have shifted and spouses at home have necessarily become more independent, said Col. Bloomstrom, who leads a homecoming program run by Army chaplains.
"It's about communicating and controlling expectations and fears," he said. "They come together pretending nothing has changed or belittling each other's efforts."
Such tensions were noted in a recent internal Army report that blamed five marital killings this summer at Fort Bragg, N.C., on family strife made worse by frequent separations.
The armed forces must take steps not to stigmatize those who seek help coming home, said Lt. Col. Yvonne Tucker-Harris, director of the Army's family-advocacy programs. "There are some soldiers who are reluctant to come in because they fear it will impact their careers."
The legacy of Vietnam and its "post-traumatic stress disorder" led the Pentagon to make changes that ease re-entry.
These include cutting tours by half, to six months, and making sure troops end a tour together, as Sgt. Peterson did with fellow soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y.
"In Vietnam they were coming home as individuals. Now they're coming back as groups," said Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University. "It's a fundamental difference: You decompress with your buddies."


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