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Angela Amundson, a mother of two from Minnesota, noticed that little things were bothering her way too much. Getting the kids to clean up their room or balancing work and family duties felt overwhelming. “I wasn’t always as patient as I should’ve been,” she confesses to Newsmax.
Amundson can be forgiven her short fuse. Just 18 months ago, she was fighting America’s enemies in Iraq as a master sergeant in the 34th Infantry Division of the Minnesota National Guard. Upon her return home last year she faced a second battle: adjusting from war to being the primary caregiver for her family.
“I thought now that I was back home with my kids and family, things should be easy,” she says. “When I was in Iraq, I had a lot of responsibilities . . . but it felt more manageable there. When you tell a soldier to do something, they do it right away. Getting a kid to clean her room is a different story.”
Fortunately, Amundson had a support group nearby to help her.
“What helped most for me was seeing the other people I served with and talking with them about the little things that feel strange about coming home. Not everybody can understand what a soldier goes through when they make the transition home. But they can, because they’re going through it, too.”
With the Obama administration’s plans to wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an army of soldier-moms such as Amundson will be marching home soon. America’s female warriors encounter the same adjustment hurdles that await every soldier: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), recovery from physical wounds, and a sense of alienation in their everyday lives.
But they have a more far-reaching impact on society. As women and mothers, they play an essential, irreplaceable role in the development of their families.
Amundson was able to connect with other members of her battalion through the Minnesota Army National Guard’s Beyond the Yellow Ribbon — a reintegration initiative designed to help service members and their families ease through the transition home.
National Guard members take part in regular gatherings that convene one, two, and three months after their return. She says: “We all shared the same experiences there, and many of us are going through the same struggles. We support each other.”
From Soldier to Grandma
Throughout her deployment in Iraq, U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Arthurine Jones encouraged her granddaughter to stay strong. But once Jones returned home, the little girl’s emotional dam burst. “Driving home on the expressway, suddenly she starts screaming,” Jones recalls. “I asked, ‘What’s wrong?’ and she said, ‘Nana, you were gone for so long.’ She held it inside for so long.”
Military moms understand her pain. One of the officials helping moms make the transition is Barb O’Reilly, director of women veterans programs for the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs. A former lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard, O’Reilly commanded the 147th Personnel Services Battalion in Afghanistan. When she deployed, she left behind a husband and two daughters, ages 4 and 7.
As the growing need was recognized, O’Reilly’s position was created this year. “Since 9/11, more and more women have been joining the military,” she explains. “When women with children come home from deployment, that’s when the special challenges start.”
There’s another tragic side to this homecoming from dangerous conflicts: Some don’t come home as intact as when they left.
Retired Army Staff Sgt. Angel Herrera was deployed twice to Afghanistan. During her second tour, a rocket-propelled grenade struck the California mother of three. Her internal organs were torn apart by shrapnel, and she couldn’t walk for months.
Today, Herrera has largely recovered. But like many soldiers who have experienced the first-hand ravages of battle, she suffers from PTSD. “I got a lot of help with my wounds,” Herrera says. “But my family and I haven’t found a lot of support for the emotional stuff. It’s hard to know where to turn for those services.”
While Herrera was recovering at Fort Hood, Texas, she got help for her children, bringing them for a couple of visits to a therapist who charged on a sliding-fee scale. But now she’s back in her rural hometown of Corning, Calif., where her options are limited.
Unable to find an official support program for female veterans and their families in her area, Herrera has had to form her own support network. “I have a loving family and caring friends who understand where I’m coming from,” she says. “When life gets out of hand, they are just a phone call away.”
Military Parents ADAPT
Abigail Gewirtz, associate professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota, developed a new National Institutes of Health-funded study. It will measure the effectiveness of a parenting program for National Guard families as they cope with the stresses of deployment and reintegration.
“We are hoping to learn an awful lot about child and family resilience,” she says. The After Deployment: Adaptive Parenting Tools (ADAPT) study will have 400 participants. For some military moms, however, only time and perspective can help lessen the impact of deployment. But many report they are winning the battle to successfully transition home.
Last year, when Minnesota Army National Guard Lt. Col. Christine Ostendorf prepared to deploy to Iraq, the wife and mother wondered whether her family could survive the stress of yet another tour.
Then one day while she was out running errands, she recalled a coping mechanism that she’d developed during her first tour. She looked at the big picture, and a sense of calm washed over her.
“I realized that in the larger scheme of things, this was really just a blip in the road of life,” she says. “It gave me the confidence to go into my second deployment knowing that my family and I could eventually come out the other side. And with the help and support of others, we did."
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