Reservists Recalled: How to Help the Family Cope
Following the tragedies of September 11, 2001, life changed for many people. This is especially true for members of the Naval and Marine Corps Reserves who went from wearing civvies to military fatigues. Many reservists who have been recalled have previously served on active duty. They and their families understand what is expected of them and are familiar with military life. But there are others who, until now, were used to leaving their families for no more than a weekend every month and for two weeks of annual training.
With so many reservists recalled, families have readjusted their routines and are getting used to being separated for what may be an undetermined amount of time.
"My son is at the age where he's handling it, but my daughter has had a tough time with this," says Tyrone Faison, a Navy security specialist who was recalled to active duty at Great Lakes Naval Training Center.
"Because it's a wartime situation, she didn't think I would come home. She thought I might die." Faison's wife and two kids live in North Carolina.
Faison's story is similar to that of many reservists and their families who have put their jobs, schooling, and everyday responsibilities on hold in order to serve their country. Faison spent six years on active duty and the past eight in the Reserves. Recalled October 30, 2001, he had just a few days to prepare for deployment. His wife, a full-time student, also had to take a part-time job.
Another recalled reservist serving at Great Lakes, Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Reginald Gardner, has a wife and 15-month-old son who live in North Carolina. Gardner says he and his wife had planned to have another baby, but have had to put that on hold. Usually a manager at Federal Express, Gardner had little time to prepare for active duty — he had to quickly move his young son to another daycare that was more convenient to his wife's job.
"There was a lot of stuff that we maybe didn't pay attention to before that we're paying close attention to now," says Gardner. "My wife has had to take on a lot of my financial responsibilities too, like mailing the bills and such. I've tried to encourage her and to let her know it won't last forever."
Yonna Diggs, former Ombudsman-at-large for the Navy Reserves, explains that taking on more responsibilities while also working or taking care of the family — or both — is difficult for any spouse. It's especially hard for those who didn't expect their spouse's weekend commitment to become a full-time job miles away.
"Keep in mind that these people are civilians most of the time, and now they don't know what to expect or whom to call," says Diggs.
She adds that there is a lot of uncertainty for the family as well as the reservist. Spouses usually understand the commitment, but wonder how long it will last. Children also worry about the deployed parent's safety.
"But the biggest concern centers around the question 'When is Mommy or Daddy coming home?'" Diggs says.
To ease the strain on the family, Diggs recommends holding regular informational family meetings and doing things together that will constantly remind children of their deployed parent.
"Try to keep contact with the reservist through e-mail and audio and videotapes," she advises. "Remember to send special cards, letters, and photographs for special occasions — such as a child's birthday — that the spouse may have missed."
She adds that there is also a network of Ombudsmen whom the family can turn to for support, news on their deployed spouse, and for important information such as benefits and commissary privileges.
For recalled reservists and their families, life may have changed considerably. However, some of the strains of being recalled can be reduced if reservists and their families know where to turn for support and information. The Command Ombudsman is a good place to start.