Coping With The Stress Of Holiday Deployments

Coping With The Stress Of Holiday Deployments

“Deploying soon after the New Year, it’s hard to look at the holidays.” Mr. Imhoff (MFT) said that soldiers often withdraw emotionally from their family. “There is a sense of losing contact with your spouse due to them withdrawing, even before they deploy, which is very hard on families."

Fort Drum— The holidays, while they are meant to be joyful, can often bring added stress. The 10th Mountain Division, the most deployed division in the country is scheduled to deploy once again.


Select soldiers will be deploying as early as mid-December, just before Christmas. While the remaining scheduled troops will deploy early January. ABC50 spoke with Lt. Col. Konop who stated that, “Things are constantly changing, sometimes select soldiers will be chosen to go ahead of the main body.” It is confirmed, according to Lt. Col. Konob, approximately 1,600-2,000 troops from the 2nd BCT will deploy come January.


Lt. Col. Konob stressed that things evolve and change all the time. He compared the changes in the military, likening it to evolving technology. “Things are constantly changing, that’s human nature- things evolve. That’s just the way it is.” Lt. Col. Konob said that he was used to the constant changes and plans that could shift or evolve around deployments.


And things have changed, especially the length of deployments. Just a few years back in April of 2007, the then Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced that active duty soldiers would see deployments extend from 1 year to 15 months. Currently, the confirmed 1,600-2,000 Fort Drum troops of the 2nd BCT will likely see a 9-month deployment verses the usual 1-year.


ABC50 spoke with retired Army Chaplain Randy Imhoff, now Clinical Director at Family Counseling Service. Imhoff is a licensed MFT (Marriage and Family Therapist) and is used to seeing a number of military families. Imhoff states that deployments around the holidays are stressful on families:


“You are already in distress because of a looming deployment and then the holidays come. If you are in the military or even if you are not, but you are away from home, you wonder- do we go see family or don’t we? This adds more stress, particularly for military folks.”


He went on to explain that having families in two different locations can pull military families into different directions, having to decide where to go. Often times, military families end up deciding to have a more low-key holiday. Rather than time spent with the family, soldiers might need to spend a large portion of their free time packing and preparing for the upcoming deployment. This in addition to general stress of a deployment can create havoc in the home. According to Mr. Imhoff, communication is vital:


“Deploying soon after the New Year, it’s hard to look at the holidays, particularly Christmas. You have to ask what’s best for us? What will be the least stressful thing for us to do? It is important to communicate and listen to each other.”


Imhoff says that a breakdown in communication tends to be the biggest issue for approximately 90 percent of couples he helps in therapy sessions:


“Over the years couples and soldiers that I have talked with, there is a tendency for some to withdraw and push the family away- spouse, kids and even parents- who ever. To kind of push them away, part of the thinking is that it is easier to deploy if I am detached from my family. And so, deploying soldiers may shut down, they may withdraw, they may even start arguing more.”


Imhoff stated that soldiers who admit to withdrawing or arguing before a deployment- regret that they have done this later when they are finally deployed. “I have had them say- I am regretting having argued for the last 4 weeks with my partner, we could have done it better.”


Mr. Imhoff told ABC50 that more so than arguing, withdrawing can be the biggest disappointment for military spouses who’s husband is emotionally withdrawing:


“There is a sense of losing contact with your spouse due to withdrawing even before they deploy, which is very hard on families. Some soldiers know they do it and some don’t know they do it.”

He went on to conclude, that soldiers who withdraw are subconsciously unaware that this is a coping mechanism. As long as the deploying soldier pushes their family away, it makes it easier for them to be away from their families for 9 months or longer. “But again,” Imhoff repeated “That the regret comes not long after, either on the airplane or when they are actually in Afghanistan or they're finally deployed that- I wish I wouldn’t have done it that way. I wish I would have spent more time having fun, talking, and getting closer rather than pushing away.”

Communication is vital and key for any healthy relationship, especially for military families dealing with a deployment. Imhoff believes that communicating your needs to each other in a non-critical, non-judgmental fashion can help open up the lines of communication. Though, Imhoff also believes that successful communication depends upon both parties being open to input and have the willingness to listen to one another. Deployments, especially around the holidays can be strenuous for any military family. However, keeping things light and simple can help to reduce stress.


Every deploying soldier handles deployments differently, being supportive and keeping the lines of communication open is always a step in the right direction. Sometimes, spouses of deploying soldiers do not know how to help reduce stress. Sometimes, simply allowing deploying soldiers to unwind or even distance themselves without added pressure can help.


Being understanding and supportive sometimes means letting someone cope with the challenges of a deployment in their own way. Loving a deploying soldier unconditionally, regardless of emotionally distancing behaviors, might be the best way to show your soldier moral support through the challenges of a deployment.  





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