Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Homefront Struggle

Soldiers with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team advance party read over paperwork April 26 as they arrive at Freedom Hall after their return from Iraq deployment.

Missing, however, from the homecoming was Ruben's wife and 2-year-old son.

"They, uhh, decided not to come," said Carlos Rodriguez, who admitted that his son's deployment had put a strain on his marriage.

"It's OK," said the Apollo, Fla., maintenance manager. "Ruben's good with it. We'll be back home soon enough for him to see Ruben Jr."

Deployment is hard enough on a soldier without being forced to tackle problems on the homefront.

But, said Mable Williams, a Family Readiness Group leader for the brigade's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, the strain on marriages is the No. 1 problem she's been asked to advise on, especially with young couples.

"Then comes financial problems," said the wife of 1st Sgt. Tony Williams. "Often times those two are related."

Ruben Rodriguez was married three days before he began his Army career.

He's probably spent as much time away from home as he has with his wife and child.

Few people are more aware of the problems families face during deployment than Chaplain (Capt.) Anthony Randall.

While at Forward Operating Base Hammer in Iraq, the brigade's home since March 2007, Randall began the reintegration process with homeward-bound troops. "We're training our soldiers on how to convert from a war front mentality to a home front mentality," he said.

He was among the soldiers who returned a few days early to Fort Benning.

First thing on his list was to conduct a three-day retreat in Atlanta for spouses of Fort Benning soldiers.

Once soldiers return from their initial 48-hour break granted after they've been reunited with their families, they are required to attend 10 half-days of classes, covering such topics as domestic violence, anger management and suicide prevention.

"Every soldier in the brigade is required to go through this process," said Capt. Stephen Miller, the rear detachment commander for the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, and the brigade's reintegration planner. "We start right off with how to communicate with spouses, how to recognize signs that could lead to suicide, drinking and driving. We try to get them to understand the number of changes they've gone through during the deployment."

All personnel must complete the reintegration training before the unit is allowed to take a 30-day block leave.

Yolanda Ferguson, whose husband Staff Sgt. Robert Ferguson is a member of the 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, has been through the reintegration process before.

"When my husband left, our daughter was only a few months old and now she is seven months and by the time he gets home she will be eight months old," she said. "We have gotten into a routine since he has been gone and we spend all of our time together. Once my husband comes home we will have to find a way to reincorporate him into our lives and get him adjusted to how we are accustomed to doing things here at home and when we go out as well."

"All in all, I can't wait for him to come home and for us to be a family again and then go on leave to Biloxi and Texas," she said.

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