An Army Family Prepares for Deployment

The Colors are Cased – a battalion ritual as soldiers prepare to deploy. Photo by Stanley Leary.

By Dorie Griggs

The last few weeks have been full of rituals and changes.

October 12-13 was Parents Weekend at The Citadel. My son graduated in 2011, but I am still in touch with quite a few families with cadets there. It is fun to relive the fun weekends through their stories and photographs. Since the first year cadets or knobs are promoted and the seniors receive their rings this weekend, it is a very happy time to visit the otherwise serious campus.

This year, I will admit to spending a bit more time looking at Facebook photos of this fun weekend. It was a great fun way to escape the ritual our family was about to begin. . . deployment.

Our oldest son is about to deploy to the Middle East. He was home in early October for his pre-deployment leave. He spent most of that time living it up with good friends. We saw him for a couple of meals and a going away party his father and step-mother threw for him. It was tough not having more time just to visit, but I was very happy to see him enjoying all his friends. Continue reading

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Army Mom Uses Websites, YouTube, Facebook to Learn

Graduation from the Armor Basic Officer Leader Course at Fort Benning. Dorie Griggs with her son Nelson and family. Photo by Stanley Leary.

I’m on the steep learning curve on how to become the mom of a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. After four years of being the mom of an Army ROTC cadet at The Citadel, I thought I was pretty aware of the real military process.

I was wrong.

Over the years I have learned how to navigate various military related web sites. In my previous professional positions, I honed my Internet research skills. Those research skills and my drive to learn are coming in handy now.

The past few months, I’ve heard from other mothers of soldiers that they too are learning a lot. We learn more from our own research than from what our sons or daughters tell us directly.

I found great support from other mothers in particular about the various processes. Our children are busy starting their new careers. Many of them are in training that requires them to turn in their cell phones and don’t allow for computer access. It is during these periods, when we can’t hear directly from our own sons or daughters, that we as parents and spouses reach out to each other.

Armor school Basic Officer Leader Course graduating class. Photo by Stanley Leary.

The Army’s Family Readiness Groups (FRG) appears to be most helpful to spouses of military members. So far, I’ve not found them to be particularly helpful to family who do not live near the base. My son is scheduled to be deployed in the fall. I wonder if the FRG will be more helpful at that time.

I’ve found the base websites to be very helpful with back ground information.  During Armor BOLC both the website and the Facebook groups posted updates. The same was true when I researched Ranger School, Reconnaissance Surveillance Leader Course (RSLC), and Airborne School.

I found I could get lost in research on these sites. I also found answers to many of my questions on the various Facebook groups. To find more information on the particular training your soldier is going through, I have had  great success using the search window on the main base website. I used the search window to find the links to the various training pages and Facebook groups listed above.

Airborne soldiers during an exercise. Photo by Stanley Leary.

To find the Facebook group for my sons battalion and regiment, I put 3-69 Facebook in the search window on the main Fort Stewart website.

At Fort Stewart, they have an extensive website and also a variety of Facebook groups. Fort Benning does as well. Through these sites I’ve come to “meet” other parents and staffers who were more than willing to answer my questions.

If you want to find the group for your soldier, enter the base name in the Facebook search window. Once you find a site, you can also check the “Likes” section on the right side of the page to see what other related groups are listed.

YouTube is another source of information that I believe is under utilized by parents. I also know that sometimes you can have too much information. The videos in particular may not be very comforting if you are worried about the training your loved one is going through.

If you’d like find videos about the training or unit your soldier is in just enter the name in the search window of YouTube. I try to watch the videos posted by an official source like this one about the U.S. Army Basic Training.

Airborne graduation. Photo by Stanley Leary.

While my son was in college, he was involved in learning Modern Army Combatives. I found some training videos that helped me understand that discipline. One website gave me the background and another link showed a series of training videos. Now that he is active duty, the other videos I’ve found about the Rangers training, and the U.S. Army Special Forces are ones you need to be ready to watch. I wouldn’t recommend them to someone struggling to come to terms with this extremely challenging career choice.

The greatest gift I have received is the many new friendships, most virtual, that I have formed. Our children are on a path most of us haven’t traveled. The parents with military background help those of us without that experience.

The training we go through as family members isn’t physically grueling, but it is tough emotionally. We have peaks and valleys. The best you can hope for is that the peaks out weigh the valleys. Reaching out to others who understand this dynamic may not literally save your life, but the military family community can ease the stress.

Military Mom Goes Airborne, to First Jump and Graduation

The first of jumpers for Airborne leave the plane over the Drop Zone. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Hurry up and wait.  At this point in my son’s career with the U.S. Army, that is how we feel. He completed his Armor Basic Officer Leader Course (ABOLC) in early October.  He gave up his spot in Ranger school, but was to begin Resilience and Surveillance Leader Course. When he and a few ABOLC friends reported, it turned out the course was over booked. For about 48 hours, it was unclear what would be next. He sent a text a few days later to tell me he was going to Airborne School.

My son’s time at Airborne School was an interesting experience for me. I didn’t hear much from our son since he was kept very busy with his training.  I found the web site for Airborne School through the main Fort Benning website and a Facebook group titled, U.S. Army Airborne School, Fort Benning, that was very helpful.  Through the group, I met a number of other parents, spouses and girlfriends of members of Bravo Company.

A Soldier floats to the Drop Zone during the First Jump. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Airborne school begins with Ground Week. The second week is called Tower Week. The third and final week is called Jump Week.

A friend and veteran of the Army told me about that family could attend the jumps made during Jump Week.  The website also gave instructions on how to get to the Drop Zone (DZ) and Facebook group posted maps in their photos. I suggest calling the number listed on the Jump Week page prior to your trip to get information about your soldiers “drop week”.  They can tell you about the weather conditions and the scheduled jump times.

Since our son’s Jump Week was right before Thanksgiving the first two jumps were scheduled for Sunday, then two on Monday with the third and final jump on Tuesday. We made the two-hour trip to Fort Benning on Sunday to watch the first jump. I let my virtual friends on the Facebook group know we would be there Sunday and I’d try to post updates and photos.

The Drop Zone is on the Alabama side of Fort Benning, just south of the Fort Mitchell National Cemetery off of Alabama Highway 165. We stayed at a hotel in Phenix City, AL to be closer to the entrance to Fort Mitchell where the DZ is located. It was still about a 25 minute drive.  Once there, you will see bleachers and a concrete block rest room building. Be sure to pack drinks and snacks. If the winds pick up and are stronger than 12 knots the drops will be delayed.  You could wait quite a while.

2LT Nelson Lalli runs by the observation area with an Airborne School classmate to report in after his first jump. Photo by Stanley Leary.

The day we arrived the winds were low and the sky was pretty clear. A few other family members and friends were waiting as well. We enjoyed talking with them and learning about their soldiers.

The first jump was scheduled for 9:00 AM. They were delayed by the brief increase in wind speed.  Once they did begin, it was quite a sight. On the ground we could see several white trucks scattered on the Drop Zone. One young lieutenant who was waiting with us explained they are out there to monitor the landings and help if anyone needs it.  They also release smoke to help the jumpers know the wind direction.

Continue reading

A Citadel Mom Marks Her Son’s Transition to Army Ranger

Bravo Seniors display their rings Friday afternoon outside the barracks. Photo by Stanley Leary.

One week from today, my son will graduate from Armor Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC). In two weeks, parents of cadets at The Citadel will descend on Charleston for Parents’ Weekend.  It is also Ring weekend, the time all cadets look forward to their senior year.

This year is the first year, in the past four, that we will not be in Charleston for Parents’ Weekend.  We are creating new rituals as the family of a graduate and new second lieutenant. I will miss the rhythm of the college school year.  Fortunately, I’ve made some wonderful friends and know we will go to Charleston for visits but our time won’t be spent following the official schedule of events for cadets.

Bravo Company Cadre lead the first year knobs in a set of push-ups at the promotion ceremony. Parents’ Weekend the knobs are promoted from cadet recruits to cadet privates. Photo by Stanley Leary.

I’m already missing the regular information posts of The Citadel.  As the mom of a second lieutenant, I have to rely on calls, emails, or text messages from my son to fill me in on what type of training he is going through.  The Public Affairs Office at Fort Benning does have a lot of information posted, but much of it is geared toward the spouses of soldiers, not family members who are not in the area of the base. To learn the location, time and directions to the graduation next week took a phone call and a few email messages.

The next phase is Ranger School.  My son will report at the end of October. The website for Ranger School is very helpful.  I’ve also read Facebook posts of his classmates who are in the Ranger School class immediately ahead of him. They all know just how challenging this training is.  A few 2011 graduates of The Citadel have mentioned that their schedule in the real Army is tougher than knob (freshman) year.  That is saying a LOT.

Lightening Troop Class 11-005 Recon Mounted STX. Photo courtesy of the class' Facebook page.

In some ways, I feel like the mom of a knob. I get little information from my son.  He is putting in long hours and getting little rest. And he still appreciates care packages of protein based foods.

Unlike knob year, I don’t have the comfort of regular photos being posted to a web site, or parent volunteers to call with questions. In that regard, I am like any other parent of a recent college graduate living away from home and working at a new job . . . until he is deployed.

An Army Mom Transitions from The Citadel to Ft. Benning

The Citadel Georgia Class of 2015. Photo by Dorie Griggs.

I’m living in the in-between times of being the mom of a cadet at The Citadel and being the mom of a newly commissioned second lieutenant in Armor branch training at Ft. Benning, GA.

My son graduated in May of this year. With his graduation, I passed off my volunteer parent baton to a new coordinator of the Georgia Citadel Parents Group and the Area Rep coordinator position I held with the Citadel Family Association.  Fortunately, the Atlanta Citadel Club has made it clear just because my son has graduated doesn’t mean I can’t attend their functions as the parent of a graduate. The new coordinator of the Georgia Parents Group has also included me in her parent orientation meeting which helped ease me out of my role as coordinator and into the role of coordinator emeriti.

Dorie Grigg's son, Nelson, is in the top row second from the left. The photo is from the Facebook Page of Lightning Troop 2-16 CAV.

It is fun to know he is there with about 20 other 2011 graduates. I jokingly call Ft. Benning The Citadel west since the guys all live in the same apartment complex in Columbus while they are going through training.

To help me move into the role of support person in Georgia, I attended the Cadet Send off Event, hosted by the Atlanta Citadel Club, one last time. The event held at a local restaurant was well attended.  Like my son’s year, the summer of 2007, the new families were anxious to learn all they could to be prepared for Matriculation Day. I gave the new families a card with links to my blog entries for Off the Base so they could access the helpful links to the Nice to Have List and the Survival tips located under CFA benefits on the CFA home page.

Thanks to the Citadel Alumni Association Facebook page administrator, the entry titled, A Letter to the Class of 2015, has been widely read and circulated. In writing these entries, it is my hope that the new parents will feel a bit more comfortable and prepared with the process of getting a child ready to report to The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina.

Georgia Citadel parents and Knobs gather for dinner at Dorie Grigg's home. Photo by Stanley Leary.

In an effort to ease my transition further, we hosted a potluck dinner recently for the Georgia families. It was a great opportunity to see everyone in a relaxed environment without worrying about the hectic on campus schedule or the anxiety of dropping your cadet off for Matriculation Day. About 35 people came to the house. I invited some incoming cadets, or knobs as they will be known their first year, and their families.  We spent a few hours catching up or meeting friends we’ve only seen on Facebook. The new families learned that when your child attends The Citadel you enter a group of supportive families. Many of the people I’ve come to know the past four years I know will be friends for life.

The Citadel Bravo Moms Marie Dopson sitting, Dorie Griggs (left) standing and Anita Mag (right) standing. All of their sons are, or have been, company clerks for Bravo Company. Nelson was the senior mentor to Marie’s son, Brian.

Now that the two send off events have taken place, I’ve settled back into the wait and watch stage of begin the mom of a second lieutenant in training. Fortunately, the U.S. Army has embraced social media. I’ve found the Facebook groups for my sons training unit and for the Ft. Benning Family Readiness Group. Reading these sites I’ve learned quite a bit. I’ve even gotten to see photos of my son and his unit while they train.

Ft. Benning is only a couple of hours from our house, but Nelson doesn’t get home much. When he’s been home, it’s to attend a Braves game or go out with friends. Phone calls have been a bit more frequent, but they are short and matter of fact calls.

Last night I sent a text asking how the weekend training exercise went.  His response was short and to the point. “Good. Blew stuff up.” They are learning to drive and operate the tanks. I found a video from their media day to give me an idea of what he was talking about.

The text was followed by a short phone call. The call I was told to expect. He was in the middle of filling out forms, one of which is for death benefits distribution. He needed some personal information from me about the family. While I didn’t struggle with the call, it struck me then that we are all in the real Army now. We’ve completed the training at The Citadel and this is the real thing.

Military Retirement = Going Back to School for Both of Us

Rex Temple and Liisa Hyvarinen Temple, April 22, 2010, the day he returned from a year's deployment in Afghanistan.

When they tell you retiring from the military is a gateway to a whole new life – they mean it. These last few months going through my husband’s separation from the United States Air Force after 28 years of service has at times felt like we moved to a new country and learned a whole new society and a language – and we stayed in the same town where we’ve been since 1996!

I am the first to say we are incredibly blessed to have awesome retirement benefits. But learning to navigate them has been quite interesting. Just getting my husband’s entire medical record transferred from the military to the Veterans Administration has taken months coupled with multiple medical evaluation appointments. Fortunately my husband is currently using his educational benefits and attending graduate school fulltime so we don’t have to worry about taking time off from a civilian job to go to all these appointments. He also transferred 28 months worth of educational benefits to me so I will be able to go back to school and update my skills. That transfer will not only pay for my tuition and help with my books but it will also pay a housing allowance, which will help with our mortgage payment. (The housing allowance varies based on location and is higher if you attend a physical “brick and mortar” school versus take courses just online.)

Being able to access your spouse’s educational benefits is a great benefit for military spouses who may need updated skills to help spruce up a resume that reflects all those mandatory PCS (Permanent Change of Station) moves as they followed their spouse from one duty station to the next. (For more information about transferring education benefits to your dependents, check here: http://www.defense.gov/home/features/2009/0409_gibill/ ) Keep in mind also that this fall you can use these benefits to pursue non-college degrees, on the job and apprenticeship training, flight programs and correspondence training.

(More on that here: http://www.gibill.va.gov/benefits/post_911_gibill/Post911_changes.html – be sure to scroll down the page to heading “Effective October 1, 2011)

SMSgt. Rex Temple with his parents, Raymond "Skip" Temple and Maxine Temple, and his wife, Liisa Hyvarinen Temple, during his retirement ceremony, April 6, 2011, at the MacDill Air Force Base Officers' Club.

The hardest part about retirement is of course deciding what you will do now and where you will go. Many retiring military families face the decision about whether to stay in the area where their last duty station is at or moving to someplace else – for example closer to their families. In our case my husband has not been home for Christmas in 26 years and ultimately it would be nice to get closer to his family (my family lives overseas in a very cold climate so that’s not an option).  But mix in the current tight job market and the high unemployment among veterans – and deciding where you will enjoy your retirement is not so simple. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the jobless rate for veterans who have served since September 2001 was 13.3% in June, up from 12.1% the month before. In June 2010 it was 11.5%.

Another hurdle has been dealing with friends and family. Retirement is a difficult process for anyone who has had an active career – whether it’s a civilian career or one in the military. Making the transition can take an emotional toll especially these days when you may have “survivor’s guilt” for being able to leave the service and your buddies and their families are still facing many more deployments and night and days filled with worry and separation from their loved ones.  Many friends and family are eager to spend time with you and constantly ask what your plans are for the future. When you don’t have an answer, having that conversation gets old quite quickly.

One of the most amazing blessings about retirement has been the ability to spend true quality time together. We recently were separated for 15 months when my husband first trained for a deployment out-of-state and then spent a year in Afghanistan. Although my husband returned from Afghanistan in the end of April 2010, life has not really returned to “normal” until a few weeks ago. Decompressing as a couple after a combat tour takes time and getting used to being together is also a time-consuming process. We have enjoyed gourmet cooking together, going on long walks with our dogs and getting into a routine of working out together at the gym.  Surprisingly this last deployment brought us much closer together as a couple because it was so incredibly demanding on our relationship and it’s been great to build on that strong bond even further. Now we get to go back to school together although we are studying vastly different subjects. But it will be fun to see just who has the higher GPA!

Emotional Cycles of Deployment: An Army Mom’s Overview

Contributor Tracie Ciambotti and her son Josh on his deployment day, June 2011, at Fort Carson, CO.

Every traumatic event we encounter in life triggers a cycle of emotional responses; military families experience this emotional roller coaster continuously due to the frequency of deployments.

The Army’s website, US Army Hooah4Health, outlines the following 7-stage cycle that military families go through with each deployment:

Stage 1 – Anticipation of Departure: Begins when the service member receives an order for deployment and ends when he or she actually leaves.

Stage 2 – Detachment and Withdrawal:  Final weeks prior to deployment

Stage 3 – Emotional Disorganization:  First six weeks of the deployment

Stage 4 – Recovery and Stabilization:  Two months into the deployment to a few weeks before the end of deployment

Stage 5 – Anticipation of Return:  Final weeks of deployment

Stage 6 – Return Adjustment and Renegotiation: First six weeks post deployment

Stage 7 – Reintegration and Stabilization: Up to six months post deployment[1]

This model was updated in 2006 by Jennifer Morse, M.D., Navy CAPT (Ret), San Diego, CA because of the increased occurrence of deployments that military families experience.

Josh and Alison, his wife, when he returned from his second deployment in Iraq--August of 2009.

The detailed description provided in this model pertains to the service member and his or her spouse and children—there is no mention of parents in this emotional cycle.  As the mother of an Army sergeant, currently serving his third deployment, I can personally testify that parents go through an emotional roller coaster too.

Through a series of posts on this topic, I will share a personal look into the stages of the deployment cycle from the perspectives of various members of my military family: a mother, a wife, and the soldier.  I hope to generate an understanding of the challenges faced by the entire family as we experience deployments together.


[1] Morse, J., (2006).The new emotional cycles of deployment. Retrieved pdf June 28, 2007 from the U.S. Department of Defense: Deployment Health and Family Readiness Library: San Diego, CA

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