Saturday, March 05, 2005

Twilight of the Deployment (take two)

Once again I'm going through one of the most dangerous months in a unit's deployment, the final month out here where everyone is getting ready to transition back to the real world. Shar did a post (thank you) about the write up I did on the Warrior Brief I attended and the suicide prevention portion. Last year late in my deployment I did another post I titled Twilight of the Deployment about stressors that come with this month (my last unit, we all made it back home safe and sound).

What is bringing this to the forefront once more is the 29 percent rise in suicides that took place last year in the Marine Corps. Our Commandant, General Hagee, made some remarks about this subject at a news conference a couple of weeks ago. A small quote from his speech "The increased operational tempo that our Corps is experiencing may be affecting the ability our Marines to deal with the perceived overwhelming stresses associated with relationship, financial, and disciplinary problems."

The numbers show that 70% of the Marine suicides over the past 4 years have been caused by problems in personal relationships. One of the sayings we've always heard in the military is your family isn't issued to you. Yet I’ve also noticed a rise in the family readiness programs offered and supported by the Commandant (someone up there is listening). They’re trying to keep the families back home in the loop. Even with all of these, as military personal we're living in a different world then the one before 9/11. When Marines go out on deployment, there a definite chance that that he or she could die a violent death. Plus the frequency of the deployments leads to an unnatural sense loneliness when the source of much of your happiness goes away.

The world isn't the nice place to live in anymore and as the world premier fighting force, we're cocked guns, always ready to go forth and save the day in some foreign land. Of course this viewpoint doesn't help us at home with our families and eventually they’ll take a toll on our combat effectiveness. It's not easy starting or keeping a family when you're gone half the time. It takes a fairly strong case of love to stick with someone that gets torn out of your life every so often, sometimes at random, for 6 months to a year. Those military spouses out there are the people we should be thanking (one stubborn ones that stick around), they didn’t sign up for the job but they’re expected to support us through all of our trials.

This last twilight month is usually the worst for a unit because this is when the problems arise usually. Our significant others that are keeping the home fires burning, decide at about this time (if there are problems in the relationship.) to find answers to these questions: What am I doing with my life? Why did I marry this guy that I'm never going to see? When will I get to make up my own life and not have to move every couple of years and drop everything? He calls once a month, has written twice and hardly ever emails me. Doesn't he care about me anymore? Every time I talk to him he gets stranger and stranger on the phone, who is this guy I married? Maybe it's time to tell him before he comes back and I have to tell him in person.

There are relationships that are doomed to failure (NOT MINE!) Not every love out there can handle what we put it through.

Much of this could be the military members fault, I know guys that have called their spouse 3 or 4 times while they are out here and never wrote home. Then they're surprised when they get the Dear John letter or the divorce papers and their spouse or girlfriend has cleaned out the bank account. Suddenly they have the taste of ash in their mouth when they think about the shambles of their lives that they’re returning to.

These are the people we have to watch out for, everything that they've built up over the last few years is gone. A huge investment of time, love and money has been taken away as if it never existed, all that's left in the anger and the depression to fill the hole. It seems like the ground has been washed out from under their feet and they're drowning. At work, their productivity goes to hell, from this the supervisor is yelling at them and life spirals out of control, they don't know up from down and no one seems to care.

Our job, like in regular medicine, is to stabilize these guys. Support them, counsel them, work up the chain and get them help before what is happening in the states affects destroys the sense of community that we have here. Remind them of the basics and that there are reasons to live, the sky isn't falling in, weather they believe it or not, it's not the end of the world. We're still getting 3 squares, there’s a roof over our heads, you have a guaranteed paycheck and it’s happened to other people and this is how they handled it. We care and we'll help you get by this. Not everyone falls apart either but you never know, better safe then sorry.

Preventive medicine for problems such as this (before it every happens) is ask them about their family, encourage them to write, make phone calls, keep the lines of communications open. Have an out in case she runs with your money and be emotionally prepared for anything but don't get paranoid about it. Be loving and show the spouse back home that you DO care and they're the most important thing in your life. Send flowers for birthdays, holidays or if they sound down when you’re on the phone with them. Whatever you do don't disappoint them, be their hero that they have built up in their minds and never ever yell at them at the phone center, not only because it’s rude and makes other patrons want to hog tie you with your phone cord but your only driving them away (unless you’re trying to do that).

This is sign of the human condition, we all like being with our loved ones. Deploying like this does suck and best we can do down here at the bottom of the military food chain is to attack the problem on a one on one basis.

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