The first time I came back from a deployment, I was back at work within days. The second time, it was about a week. The last was the first time I actually took off several weeks and used up all of my leave. While I eventually became stir-crazy from staying at home, it was much more of a healing process than I had in the past. This is why I now advise returning service members to take the time off if they can.
For most of my deployments, I returned to work very quickly. After my first deployment, this was largely a financial decision since my income was much higher in my civilian job than as a National Guard noncommissioned officer. My second deployment, it was mostly out of loneliness. While we took several days off, went to stay at a resort, and spent every waking moment together, eventually my wife and children returned to their job and school, leaving me at home. I did not last more than a few days before I started begging my boss to start back to work. Looking back, I can now see the beginnings of depression that reflected deeper problems in dealing with separation. My last deployment, I probably would have also returned to work immediately, but it ended up being close to 90 days before I was picked up on contract and so was forced to remain at home. It was during that time that I discovered how important it is for returning service members to take the time off if they can afford it. Most people have at least 30 days coming to them. The wise use most if not all of it.
For one thing, taking time off allows you catch up on household chores. Most returning service members have a “honey-do” list waiting for them that include chores and repairs that piled up while they were gone. For me, it was a lot of yardwork – my wife has severe allergies and does not often work out in the yard. Although we hired someone to keep the yard cut, no one really kept up with trimming hedges and trees, weeding beds, or making sure fences were repaired. For others, it may be a deep cleaning. A lot of people simply don’t do a very good job at it when they are on their own, though hiring a maid can help. For me, it was cleaning the garage. I seem to be the only one who knows how to put away tools, and it took me days of searching through drawers and cabinets to bring them all together. My earlier deployments, I had spent a lot of weekends catching up rather than doing so after I got home.
Another issue that can take time is for service members to become reintegrated with the family. Some of this is resuming normal parental duties. My earlier deployments, this was helping the children get ready for bed and reading to them. My oldest daughter had picked up this duty while I was gone (after working all day in kindergarten, the last thing my wife wanted to do was spend time with children). For others, it may be picking the children up from school or getting caught up on the children’s lives. Then there were the bills. My wife had more or less taken over bill payment during my first deployment, but she was growing tired of it. I found boxes of paperwork, which I had to file. Others may need to gradually pick up other household duties. All of this takes time, and being busy with work can complicate things.
Most of all, I found that staying home for a full month allowed me to process a career of being away from home. By jumping into work so quickly in the past, I had kept myself too busy to reflect on my deployments. When I was finally still, a flood of memories, fears, and anxiety came back to me. It was then that I saw how much recovery is a necessary part of the redeployment process. It is not only to deal with injury and trauma caused by war, it also is to release the stress of working days on end at peak performance and hypervigilance. For the first time in my life, I felt unstressed and fully healed from the suffering I had endured. For this reason alone, taking time off after a deployment is critical. We cannot heal until we can process our pain and stress.
Many military service members prefer returning to duty or to their jobs without taking time off. That way, they don’t have to deal with their feelings. In the end, however, they need the time to catch up on chores, become reacclimated with their families, and heal from trauma and stress. Even if it makes you uncomfortable, take the time off. You need it and deserve it.
© 2022 J.D. Manders