For those in the Territorial Army Reserve (TA) being deployed on operational duty can be a life-changing experience - they are pitched into an environment that can be both hostile and totally alien to them. For those left behind the absence can also create problems which they may find difficult to deal with.
'Combat Stress', a charity which deal with mental welfare for former servicemen, has identified the TA soldiers as a particularly vulnerable group.
Similarly, a survey of families of those serving in Iraq, conducted by the Army Families Federation (AFF) in 2003, found that many TA and Reservist families also felt particularly cut off from army welfare sources, and some felt unaware or unprepared for the adjustment difficulties and stresses many returning TA's and Reservists have faced.
Tina Thornber is the TA and Reservist Specialist for the AFF and has helped Panorama to compile the following advice guide for returning servicemen in the TA or Reserve and their families.
Stress occurs when normal people are put in abnormal circumstances
It is important to remember that when a TA soldier has been deployed to an operation for a long period, particularly the first time, they have had a life changing experience. Equally, those left behind have also had to deal with the problems his absence has created. It has an impact on partners and children, although parents and siblings of single soldiers are also affected.
For the returning soldier
The soldier has been used to a very different pace of lifestyle. They are used to a set routine of work, often at a high intensity pace, with little time off. Their daily work, which may at times have been mundane, will never the less have been conducted under the intense pressure of potentially life-threatening circumstances. They may have been in an alien culture and in an environment that is basic at best or unbearable at worst.
To make a rapid change back to the comforts of home with the completely different routine - the change of pace, the apparent triviality of domesticity - and being with people who have not shared his experience, can be difficult.
For the family at home
The family may have undergone changes in the soldier's absence, which may not have been as dramatic, but will have seemed significant to them. The home partner may have adopted new routines or changed existing ones.
They may have changed their work and social patterns and adopted new responsibilities. The family will have experienced stress and worry about the soldier's safety, which on home coming may release itself in unexpected ways.
Children will have grown and changed, and their emotional dependence may have transferred to other family members.
What to look for in the soldier's behaviour
Returning home is as much a change as the deployment itself. The soldier may find it difficult to adjust to these changes and may demonstrate some of the following.
- With the changes that have taken place in their absence
- With the behaviour of children or partner
- With the lack of understanding of what he has been doing
- Sleep problems
- Adjusting to noise or quiet
- Reacting to movements of partner
- Bad dreams
- Difficulties describing their experiences or not wanting to share them
- Still using military terminology that no one understands
- Difficulties adjusting his language/tone of voice
- As a result of experiencing specific trauma
- Questioning the value of what he has been doing
- Lack of empathy from family members
What to look for in a partner's behaviour
The partner may also find the changes difficult to cope with and may react in the following ways:
- If the soldier doesn't recognise or value the way they have coped
- Of the experience the soldier has had
- When the soldier wishes to change routines back
- When the soldier wishes to spend time with his TA mates who have shared the experience
- That the soldier is displaying personality changes
- That the soldier is unsettled
- That the soldier is edgy or irritable
- That the soldier doesn't want to engage with the family
Impact on daily lives
This is probably best summed up with examples of comments from soldiers and their families:
- "I can't cope with large crowds; I'm watching them all the time"
- "Work is so boring and my work mates don't like the fact that I've been away for so long"
- "My Mum keeps bursting into tears"
- "The kids drive me mad"
- "She just doesn't understand what I've been doing"
- "He wants to spend his time with his mates not with us"
- "His language is foul"
- "He just can't relax, he just sits around all day, and He's drinking too much"
- "He didn't compliment me on how well I'd coped, just complained that I wound the garden hose the wrong way"
- "He speaks to the kids like they are his soldiers"
- "He jumps when a loud bang goes off"
- "Oh God, he wants to go again - Afghanistan this time!"
Isolation from other Army communities/Welfare/Medical Services
TA families generally have little contact with either the Army or other TA families. They are unlikely to have a great knowledge of military terminology, or the administrative systems in place. The Army to them may feel a completely different culture.
Evidence has shown that being part of a network of families who can share their experiences is beneficial in terms of learning about and coping with deployments. Information can be gained, problems recognised and experience shared.
In isolation, the family may have difficulty in recognising stress symptoms. Without access to the military world they cannot share their concerns with sources of support, and if a partner has never been inside the TA Centre, they are unlikely to go there to find help. Civilian sources of help (eg GP's) may not have been exposed to these problems.
The family may not be aware of the procedures that are in place to reduce the risks of post operational stress in soldiers, or have been advised of what to expect on the soldiers homecoming.
Experience, knowledge and education of families have proved to be significant factors in managing the changes, identifying problems and early intervention from the medical services.
Where to get help
First point of contact
The first port of call for any family member who has concerns should be the soldiers TA unit. The unit will have a specific person who is responsible for the welfare of the soldier and his family. This is often the Unit Welfare Officer (UWO) or the Permanent Staff Admin Officer (PSAO).
In the case of TA Specialists, their Central Volunteer Head Quarters (CVHQ) will have a nominated member of staff who holds this responsibility.
For Regular Reservists, the Reserve Training and Mobilisation Centre (RTMC) at Chilwell has a Helpline (0800 028 5533). This number may also be used for those soldiers who have previously been mobilised.
Army Welfare Services
The Army Welfare Service has a life long obligation to support those who have been in military service. They provide in-service support to Regular and TA families and post service support where problems are related to military service.
The local AWS number can be gained from the Army Families Advise Bureau on 01722 436569.
Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen & Families Association - Forces Help
(SSAFA Forces Help)
SSAFA Forces Help are also a locally based source of help and support for those soldiers and families when serving and post service. Their remit is to support the parent's spouses or children of any persons who have completed one day's service.
The Army Families Federation
The Army Families Federation is a world wide net work of staff that represents all members of a soldier's family by working with the chain of command. They listen, research, gather information and communicate, to the various Ministry of Defence departments, the concerns and problems that Army families raise with us. They lobby and work along side the Army to enable a satisfactory change or answer to a problem for the families, within the constraints of operational effectiveness and the wider constraints of government departments. They then communicate back to the families through their staff, the Army Families Journal, website and conferences.
The Central Office is contactable on 01980 615525