Deployment and Reintegration

Change and the Military Family

A Marine reunites with a family member, May 15, 2017. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Zachary M. Ford

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”Heraclitus

Change is inevitable, for everyone everywhere. We are no longer the same person we are today that we were ten years ago, twenty years ago, or more. We grow, and sometimes decline; we pick up some luster and shine on certain aspects of our personality, and we pick up some rust and grime on others.

In my experience, change is especially apparent in those who have served in the military, and in those who care for them. We can go through our daily lives, being changed by the work we decide, the schools we go to, the friends we have, and then there are those who choose to serve. Our experiences are significantly outside the norm compared to those around us, and our families are along for the ride.

Think about it as a simple a question of, “where are you from?” For a military family, that answer is rarely where they’re currently stationed. But their children? Someone asked me this question recently, and my  standard answer came out quickly…”I’m from St. Louis, my wife is from Tennessee.” Thinking about that, however, I asked my son, “If someone asked you, ‘Where are you from,’ what would you say?” His answer was, “Well, I was born in Germany, but I don’t remember it. We were in Maryland when I was little, but I’m not ‘from’ there. I guess I could say I’m from Colorado, but not really.” Simple questions like this indicate change that is outside the normal civilian life.  

More change occurs after deployment. Let’s face it, no one is the same after spending time apart, and especially after the service member experiences combat. After I started writing over a year ago, I talked with my wife about the changes that happen to other veterans when they return from deployment. She said, “What do you mean, ‘other veterans,’ big guy? You’re in that category, too!” She went on to tell me that the change was obvious to many, including her, my kids, and even her mom who had commented on it to her.

Although change constantly happens, we’re not always aware of it. Here are some thoughts on change and the military family

It’s Hard to Change Someone

I know I tried this with my Soldiers. I tried it with my kids, and my wife and I have even attempted to change each other from time to time. How effective is this, though? Can we really change someone, if they don’t want to change? A lot of this comes from the fact that we are aware that something’s wrong, and the other person is not Sometimes, unfortunately, it’s because the other person is doing something we don’t like, but they do. Which is easier to change,our attitude, or someone else’s? Having awareness around the fact that change is not something we do to someone can make it easier for us to be open to them changing at their own pace and in their own time.  

It’s Easy to Help Someone Change

This is a slight distinction, but an important one. The responsibility for the change is different if we’re helping someone to change, rather than trying to make someone change. It’s the concept of support rather than effort. Helping someone change, or being comfortable with unexpected change (as my wife was) is a lot easier than forcing someone to do something. It’s a difference between a partnership and  an adversarial relationship.

Resisting Change is Easy, but Harmful

When I was a kid, we used to go on a lot of float trips and river outings. I’d do my best to lean into the current, to resist it, and push against it. I imagine that it’s similar at a beach, trying to hold back the waves. Resistance is futile, however, as the Borg used to say in Star Trek. Pretending that a service member or a veteran hasn’t changed, or resisting the change that has happened, is like trying to freeze time or ignore reality. None of us have that power, and continually trying to do so brings frustration and disappointment.

Accepting Change is Hard, but Beneficial

Rather than resisting change by defying gravity and age, accepting it is much more beneficial. I often hear from veterans that I work with, “I wish I could be the person I was before I joined the Army.” My response, “Why? I sure don’t.” The me who I am today, scars, bruises, and all, is a stronger, more resilient, happier person  than my eighteen-year-old self. Do I still make mistakes? Of course. I’m human, just like the  rest of us. But even our mistakes are the seasoning that makes life rich and full, and we can learn to appreciate the uniqueness of ourselves after change. I can, and often do, apologize for things I’ve done or said, but I will never apologize for who I am. Because I’m me. You, and those you care for, can do the same.

How have you managed the change in your life? Dealing with everything from minor changes that happen due to daily life, or  even major changes that come with seismic shifts? I’d love to be able to hear about it, and how you’ve thrived and prospered. The more we hear of success, the easier it is to repeat it.