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Marine Corps Family Team Building helps spouses prepare for Marines' return

By Sgt. M. Trent Lowry | | May 29, 2003

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More than 80 family members of deployed Marines gathered in the Gonzalez Room of the Sonoran Pueblo consolidated club May 20 for a Return and Reunion Brief.

The brief was held to prepare the spouses of Marine Air Control Squadron-1 and Combat Service Support Detachment-16 for the return of their Marines, some of whom were arriving later in the evening.

While some spouses may have wanted to prepare for their Marines by going to greet the devil dogs as they debark the airplane or bus that brings them home, the goal of the brief was geared more toward mentally and emotionally preparing the spouses for a stressful situation.

"I wanted to share my personal experiences to give the first-time-deployment ladies an answer to what they are feeling," said Brenda Smith, wife of Master Gunnery Sgt. Stuart Smith, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron-13 avionics chief. "I wanted them to know they are not alone. They're feeling the same feelings as everyone else."

Indeed, one of the main themes of the brief was that each of the spouses could be assured that their peers were feeling many of the same emotions of loneliness, frustration, nervousness and stress   to name a few  while their Marines were deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to Mona Messer, Marine Corps Family Team Building manager.

"The purpose of this exercise was to have you look around the room and realize you weren't the only one who felt that way," Messer said to the congregated spouses. "The main thing is you all made it through; your Marines are almost home."

While the family members learned that they had a lot in common, they also were made aware that their anticipation of resuming life with their Marines may not be as easy as it was before the deployments.

"I think the biggest benefit of this brief to the spouses is to help prepare them for what to expect when their husbands return, because expectations can be a lot different from reality," Messer said.

"The reunion is not an event," said Gail Perry, Marine Corps Community Services prevention and education coordinator. "It's going to take a little time to get things back to where it's comfortable for you as a family."

The presenters also helped the spouses realize the return and reunion process is a two-way street, and that the Marines have been feeling some of the same things as the spouses  and some different emotions as well.

"You may find that what you expect may be very different from what he expects," said Smith, who in 19 years of marriage to Master Gunnery Sgt. Smith has experienced at least nine long periods of her husband's absence, including a forward deployment during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

According to after action surveys from this brief and one offered last week to spouses of Marine Attack Squadron-211 Marines, the family members appreciated the personal experience stories like the one Smith presented, Messer said.

"This session has given a real grounding type of information," said Ivonne Ruth, wife of three years of Cpl. Billy Ruth, with MACS-1 Tactical Air Operations Center. "All of us can get caught up in the excitement of their return. I want to be a support system to him when he returns."

Ruth said she wanted to attend the briefing "because I think it's going to be helpful to our marriage if I have a better understanding of what may or may not happen when he returns."

To help the spouses see the Marine point of view, Pfc. Christopher Hipolito, Marine Corps Integrated Maintenance Management System clerk with CSSD-16, spoke to the wives about his recent experiences while deployed supporting operations in Iraq and Kuwait.

"The main point I wanted to stress was for them to not be disappointed if their husbands aren't able to come back when they originally expected, because things can change," Hipolito said. "I wanted to prepare them for that impact."

In all, Messer said she felt the brief was a success. There were more spouses present than expected, and the wives were eager participants in some of the exercises Messer and Perry had prepared for their audience.

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