Deployment is coming to an end, and service members are finally heading home. Next comes the reunion and reintegration phase. There are five key stages within reunion and reintegration. Learn what you may expect during each stage.
Stage One: the days before the reunion
The first stage is called pre-entry. It takes place during the last few days of deployment and before the actual reunion. Excitement and jitters may be at their highest. It’s a busy time where family and loved ones make reunion plans, and service members complete final tasks before arrival.
Managing expectations during this stage is key. Keep in mind that everyone has most likely changed in some way. As a result, it may be difficult for service members to immediately reconnect with old friends, family and even children. Service members may find that the household and family roles or responsibilities are different as well. It’s OK if it takes time to adjust to these changes. Try to be patient, and give everyone time to settle. Lean on friends and family for help.
Tip: Make sure expectations are realistic, and don’t spend too much time daydreaming about the perfect reunion. Instead, focus on the short-term tasks that you need to complete before the reunion. And make sure you are prepared for any unexpected delays such as deployment extensions or travel complications. Have a backup plan in case you need it.
Stage Two: the reunion
The second stage is the actual reunion or homecoming. This takes place during the first few days of the service member returning home and includes the initial meeting of family and friends. This is the first step the service member takes to reestablish themselves in their family and civilian environments, and return to normal military life.
It’s normal for service members and families to experience a wide range of emotions during this time. Everyone may be happy and excited, but might also experience some challenges with emotions and uncertainty about changes and adjustments. Don’t be afraid to talk about these feelings.
Tip: Express gratitude to each other, and try to be happy just to be together again. Remember that everyone has dedicated a good deal of time and effort into planning for the homecoming. Check out these 10 Ways to Rock Your Reunion.
Stage Three: the first week
The first week can be exciting, but busy. Try not to make too many plans. There are many tasks that service members must complete as soon as they return home. Take time up front to get an idea of each other’s feelings and workload and then decide how many events to plan. Check out these 9 Tips for Reintegration After Deployment.
At this point, you may notice that it feels strange to have face-to-face communication again at times. For some, even being together can feel awkward. If you have these feelings, share them with each other. Being a couple again takes some getting used to, and intimacy will eventually return to normal. Service members may be surprised at how well spouses have coped or may even be jealous of how close spouses are with their children. Talking about these feelings and working through them together is an important part of reintegration. Remember that adjustments take time — so just focus on getting comfortable with each other during this stage.
For ideas on how to help children during reintegration, read the short article Five Tips to Support Children During Reintegration.
Tip: If you have unresolved issues from before deployment, hold off on addressing them for now. It’s important for everyone to take time to settle in and relax.
Stage Four: the first month
The fourth stage is called disruption. During the first month, families return to old routines or create new ones. This stage may contain higher levels of stress and frustration for everyone. Be prepared for arguments and disagreements over things like authority, roles, finances and parental decisions. This is common because service members are adjusting to their family’s new processes. Unresolved issues can surface at this time as well — and can cause friction, trust issues, stress and behavior problems.
Typically, it takes between four to six weeks for everyone to begin adjusting to normal life. Service members may have difficulty sleeping or getting used to life without fellow service members. It may help to reach out to other military families for advice or support. Stay involved in activities and hobbies, and remember to take care of your physical health.
Some administrative tasks should be completed within the first month of reintegration. Take a look at this Revisiting Personal Affairs article to learn about the various financial, medical and legal affairs that should be addressed.
Tip: Because this is one of the hardest phases to go through, you might notice tension in the relationship and family. Expect a range of emotions. Keep in mind that service members may be facing additional stress with life changes and may feel like they need space. This can be a good time to take advantage of free, confidential non-medical counseling from Military OneSource. Consultants can help service and family members with communication, stress management, decision-making, parenting and relationship issues, and other challenges of military life.
Stage Five: the first year
The final stage is called normalization. It focuses on communication and redefining “normal.” You’ll spend time getting reacquainted with each other, renegotiating routines, redefining or easing back into roles and responsibilities and discussing the events that took place during deployment. Be open to new rules, routines and expectations.
With time, service members and their families return to routines of sharing, growing and being a strong family unit. Any remaining awkwardness dissolves, and everyone settles in to new roles and accepts the changes that have occurred over the deployment cycle.
Tip: Be patient with each other, friends, family and children. Don’t force conversations about uncomfortable topics, including the military mission. Give everyone the time they need to address tough issues or topics.
If you need help navigating any of the stages of reunion and reintegration, contact Military OneSource 24/7 for free, confidential family or individual non-medical counseling. Call 800-342-9647, use OCONUS dialing options, or schedule a live chat.
If your service member or any family members are experiencing mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress, combat stress, or depression, professional help is readily available. Learn more about mental health after deployment and where to get help. For emergencies, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 988 and press 1. You can also text 838255 to start an online chat.
Find information for chaplains, Military and Family Support Centers and other programs and services at an installation near you using MilitaryINSTALLATIONS.
The Next Deployment
Celebrate your family and all the work you’ve done to reach a new normal, but keep in mind that another deployment is possible. Depending on your branch of service, deployments and reunions can occur regularly. Now that you’ve been through a deployment, however, you know what to expect and can take lessons learned to apply to your next experience. And remember that Military OneSource is available 24/7/365 with help when you need it.