I saw your Twitter request for opinions on publicized homecomings (aka reunion p0rn) of the surprise variety. I have so many opinions on this. I’ll try to be concise (and will probably fail).First, I’m a milspouse of nearly 20 years. My husband was commissioned into the Navy in 1994, about two weeks before we were married. We met as midshipmen at the [college] NROTC. We’ve endured numerous lengthy underways, a geobachelor experience lasting about 18 months, six ship deployments, and one IA deployment to Afghanistan.I find reunion p0rn problematic on a few different levels, but making them a surprise only exacerbates the issues, especially when a child is the recipient of the shock. It’s annoying enough when you’re pier-side after an eight-month deployment, the service members are coming down the brow, but everything is delayed because of media blocking the exit route in an attempt to get those reunion shots. It’s so much worse to see men and women arriving home from war, where the sacrifices and fear have been amplified, and the long-term effects are so much more severe.Reunion p0rn is exploitation that many military families unfortunately participate in willingly. These televised moments are a small snapshot of the psychological deployment cycle—a moment of exuberant joy, almost universally—used to give civilians a feel-good moment and a sense of having participated in our lives. It’s a reminder to them that they “support the troops” even when they don’t give a second thought to the milspouse neighbor struggling so hard she can barely keep the yard mowed. These moments don’t serve military families, though, except for a moment of squee when a family sees themselves on the local news. They certainly don’t serve the larger military community in any way.Why?They don’t offer a truthful look at deployment. At best, civilians will see a very short report with teary eyes and proud-patriot words at deployment. And then they will see on infinite loop the moment when families come together again. Their takeaway: military families are proud, patriotic, strong, and happy to sacrifice. That surface view of reality is insulting and ignores the highly emotional and wide ranging experiences that begin the moment you find out a deployment is coming and continue through reunion and into reintegration. How many civilians know that we milspouses have recently (thanks to the community we’ve formed in the blogosphere) realized we’re not crazy because we walk through how we’ll respond if the chaplain and command representatives show up at our door with dress uniforms and condolences? How many civilians have known the guilt we feel when we’re so relieved that IED didn’t hit *our* husband? How many civilians know how often we’re up late at night, unable to sleep because we haven’t heard from our spouse in days, and that’s unusual? They don’t know. They have no idea because their only view of the deployment experience is reunion. Happy, tear-filled reunions that have so many layers beneath that joy, civilians cannot possibly comprehend.They inevitably segue into the next image the civilian world sees: PTSD and the sometimes violent results when it’s untreated. This also does us no favors, as combat veterans are immediately under suspicion. Will she snap and pull out a gun? Does he go into rages at home and beat his family? Is this person in front of me dangerous??Reunion p0rn puts the surprised milchild or milspouse in a very awkward position. Children have it worse than adults in these situations. Again, civilians have no idea that these kids have struggled so hard. Parents keep secrets during wartime deployments, but kids see through this. They might not know details—might have no idea that Mom is outside the wire and regularly convoying down oft-targeted roads, no idea that Dad is living in a tent in an FOB with insurgents on every side—but they feel the stress. They worry, too, and they often act out. Night terrors and nightmares are common. Violent outbursts happen among many families. Tears, changes in personality, suffering grades—these are common responses during deployment when kids miss their deployed parents, when the spouse or grandparent still at home doesn’t fill the empty spot in their lives. Surprise reunions don’t just ignore the layers of emotion and psychology beneath this desire to see the missing parent again—they gloss over the resentment, the longing, the fear, the anger, the desperation.They also put the child in a position where she has to perform. Whether televised or not, if you put a child in front of all her classmates and then spring her just-returned father on her... That’s more than just an ugly cry. That’s a genie you’ve released from a bottle, and now that child is in public, dealing with a bevy of emotions she might not be prepared to deal with, in front of her peers or strangers, asked to put all of that on display. I’m not saying parents don’t know their kids and are being irresponsible parents, but I do think, in our desire to do something great for kids who have suffered so much, we don’t always consider the wider-ranging effects of our actions. A surprise of this magnitude seems like a great idea, and boy howdy do the civilians just loooove to watch them. What’s one more sacrifice for the entertainment of America?It’s even worse when the reunion isn’t at the end of a deployment but at an R&R homecoming. R&Rs are incredibly difficult to navigate, a time when the demands on a couple or family put more pressure on them than they might be ready to deal with...and then the service member has to head back. It might seem like an oasis of happiness and calm, but it’s fraught with more worry and another heart-wrenching goodbye at the other side. That’s always at the back of everyone’s minds — even the kids.At the end of our Afghanistan experience, my family mentioned calling the local TV station to let them know we would be welcoming my husband home at the airport, but I obviously had opinions and said no. I was doubly glad I stood my ground because my young boys reacted in a heartbreaking manner to their father’s return. The older one, who remembered his father despite the three nearly back-to-back deployments we’d dealt with, hid behind me. He didn’t know how to deal with his emotions. He was happy to see his father, but he was also conflicted. My younger one didn’t recognize his father despite the photos we showed every day, so he clung to me and refused to be held by this strange man. They were young enough that they probably would not have realized the significance of a camera in their faces. But if they were older and dealing with similar emotions...just imagine how hard that would have been. The cameras would have been long gone by the time they warmed up to their father.Long gone when my husband decided to try driving again and nearly ran an aggressive driver off the road because it was a convoy habit.Long gone when he no longer could read the responses of the child with minimal verbal skills.Long gone when, in the middle of a stressful reintegration, we were under orders to move and leave behind the support system I’d built up and relied on so heavily during the last few years.Thanks to the portrayal of the military experience by the media, and thanks to the stress put on military families every time we see a publicized reunion (surprise or no), the military-civilian divide is widening. Considering less than 1% of Americans serve [bear the brunt of the sacrifice demanded by politicians, most of whom have never served] and considering the level of sacrifice required by both service member and military dependent, this cavernous divide is untenable.I apologize for not rereading this tome and for basically word-vomiting in your inbox, but I have a lot of work to do before my last day on this job. We’re moving to a country that doesn’t allow military dependents to keep their self-employed positions (which we milspouses often rely on to support a portable career)...something else you’ll never see publicized. I hope there’s something useful in here, but I’m happy to clarify if needed.
5 weeks ago