Returning soldiers to receive welcome ceremony, reintegration support

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After a nine-month deployment in Afghanistan, the Chisholm-based 114th Transportation Company of the Minnesota National Guard is back, and a welcome home ceremony is being held at the city's high school Saturday afternoon.

The company initially returned in mid-September, and a joyous reunion with families and loved ones was held in Inver Grove Heights.

Saturday's 2 p.m. event in the Northland is billed as public welcoming, while also serving as a "30-day reintegration event." The Hibbing Daily Tribune says more than 140 soldiers are expected.

"We invite the community to attend our welcome home ceremony as our guests," Cpt. Ryan R. Koester, 114th Transportation Company Commander, says in a news release. "We appreciate the support the community has provided for the 114 Transportation Company while at home and abroad."

It's part of a legislatively mandated Minnesota program called Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, that sets out a handful of check-ins and reintegration events following a soldier's return.

According to the program's website, the first step is initial reintegration training, which happens immediately upon return.

The 30-day event, like the one in Chisholm Saturday, is described as the first of two "family-focused" events. The soldiers and their loved ones have the opportunity to learn about different available resources (such as benefits and financial literacy options) and also can take part in personal development workshops aimed at helping the family through specific issues.

"Soldiers and their families are able to select the workshops that pertain to their family dynamic," Koester says.

A 60-day event offers similar information in the same family atmosphere, but is also used "to address and mitigate negative behaviors related to combat stress and transition," the site says.

After 90 days, a service members-only meeting is held.

Challenges of reintegration

The challenges many soldiers face adjusting from a foreign war zone to home and family life is well documented.

In June, the publication Military Behavioral Health published this piece analyzing the "implications and complications" that come with reintegrating National Guard soldiers into society when they return from deployment. The reports begins with this quote from a soldier identified as "David 25, NCO, 1 Deployment."

"I left for Iraq for a year. I came back. It's kind of like I'm trying to walk again type of thing. It's figuring out what's going on with society ... it's a hard thing to adjust, but it's possible. It just – it wears and tears on you."

The National Council on Family Relations describes reintegration as potentially a "turbulent time for the family, as members must re-form into a functioning system." The site says stress tends to reach a peak between four and nine months after a service member's return.

"One of the greatest challenges for these families appears to be renegotiating family roles as the service member encounters the often-unexpected difficulty of fitting into a home routine that has likely changed a great deal since his or her departure. ... [T]here may be expectations among family members that things will either return to how they were prior to deployment or that the structure that emerged during deployment will remain."

Two papers published this week, reported on by the New York Times, found Army recruits enter the service with the same rate of mental illness and problems as un-enlisted civilians. But the research suggests the "rigors of service" cause that rate to go up for military members, the New York Times reports.

Kelly Henry, the wife of a returning soldier, details her experiences – the joy of his homecoming, and the struggles that followed – in a piece on Military.com. She says keeping the lines of communication open, creating and sticking to a routine, and allowing her husband time to decompress upon his return all helped things get back to normal eventually.

For Chisolm's 114th Transportation Company, that journey takes another step forward Saturday.

"A priority of the Minnesota National Guard is to improve the wellness and resiliency of service members and their family members," Koester says in the Minnesota National Guard's news release.

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