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Returning troops and their families have work to do after the reunion, researcher says

Leanne Knobloch
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L. Brian Stauffer

Communication professor Leanne Knobloch has spent the past five years studying how military families adjust after a service member’s return from deployment.

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7/30/2014 | Craig Chamberlain, Social Sciences Editor | 217-333-2894; cdchambe@illinois.edu

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — About 20,000 service members are headed home from Afghanistan before the end of this year. Thousands of others will be returning from other deployments.

Many will arrive in the U.S. to happy reunions. But reunited couples and families will have work to do in the months that follow, says Leanne Knobloch, a University of Illinois communication professor who has studied the relationships of military families post-deployment for about five years – and is starting new research funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.

“Post-deployment is a new chapter that’s very complex for military families,” Knobloch said, and yet it’s gotten little research attention. “The vast majority thrive despite the challenges; they’re incredibly resilient. A significant minority of families struggle.”

Knobloch (pronounced kuh-NO-block) studies how and when problems can occur during the months after the reunion, as well as why couples and families thrive. She hopes her research will eventually provide families with guidance timed to when they need it.

Based on research conducted so far by herself and others, Knobloch offered the following advice to military families during the reintegration period following deployment:

• Be realistic. “After being separated for months, expectations for reunion can be so high that the reality of the homecoming can be disappointing. Returning service members should be ready to be surprised by how much the family has changed since they’ve been gone. And everyone should remember that the service member, as well as family members at home, may have gone through life-changing experiences during the deployment.”

• Take it slow. “The first days and weeks will be exciting, but they won’t be normal. It may take some time for everyday routines to get smoothed out. Returning service members may not be ready to talk about their deployment experiences right away. At-home spouses also may have experienced challenges that they are not yet ready to share.”

• Prepare children. “Kids may think that the returning service member will jump into fun activities, but he or she may be exhausted and just fall asleep on the couch. Also, children may have a lot of questions about deployment that they know they’re not supposed to ask, but at the same time, they’re really curious. Military kids tend to thrive when they have a sense of meaning about the deployment – that it was a personal sacrifice but it was for a common good.”

• Know when to ask for help. “Some upheaval, sadness, frustration and anxiety are perfectly normal during reintegration. But if those feelings linger and become debilitating, then it’s time to ask for professional help. If one person is suffering from symptoms of depression, for example, it’s going to reverberate through the entire family. The spouse can play an integral part in getting professional help, if it’s needed.”

Knobloch’s new study is funded with a four-year, $836,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. Her co-investigator on the project is Lynne Knobloch-Fedders, the Director of Research at The Family Institute at Northwestern University. The two researchers also are twin sisters.

For the study, they are seeking 250 military couples in which both partners are willing to complete an online survey once per month for the first eight months following the service member’s return from deployment. Couples need to enroll in the study within seven days of homecoming and will receive e-gift cards for participating.

Those interested can find more information here.

Editor's note: To reach Leanne Knobloch, call 217-333-8913; email knobl@illinois.edu.

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