|Chaplain helps troops readjust to home life|
Capt. Colin Fleming is back home in Minneapolis with
his wife, Ann, and daughter, Morgan, after a two-year deployment to
Iraq. A UMNS photo by John Gordon.
By John Gordon*
Feb. 28, 2008 | MINNEAPOLIS (UMNS)
After two years away from his family for training and a tour of duty in
Iraq, Capt. Colin Fleming of the Minnesota Army National Guard was in no
mood for a homecoming party.
Fleming poses with villagers in Al Batha, Iraq, during his tour of duty. A UMNS photo courtesy of Colin Fleming.
"Being in a crowd is something that’s taken me awhile to work on,"
Fleming says. "People will talk to me every once in a while and say,
‘Hey, where have you been?’ It’s kind of complex – not avoiding you,
it’s just going to be awhile."
But Fleming knew about many of the adjustments he would face on his
return, thanks to the Minnesota Guard’s Beyond the Yellow Ribbon
program. The project, led by a United Methodist chaplain, helps
returning citizen soldiers reintegrate with their families and
Lt. Col. John Morris, a full-time state support chaplain for the
Minnesota Army National Guard, was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and 2004. He
knows the challenges confronting soldiers as they return home.
"This is like having your house burn down when you send somebody to
war," he says. "This is a long-term engagement for people who are
dealing literally with a form of trauma."
Ann Fleming has noticed changes in her husband since his return from Iraq.
"He’s a different person than he was two years ago," she says. "And
our daughter is different, and I’m different. And it’s normal for us to
go through that."
As a result of his duty in Iraq, Colin Fleming doesn’t like loud
noises. Going from the sound of artillery fire to listening to his
daughter, Morgan, practice the saxophone took some adjustment.
So did adapting to family schedules after his wife spent the two
years of his deployment as a single parent, raising 10-year-old Morgan.
"After being in charge of our (military) group across the board, I
had very definite expectations about what the schedule should be, what
our activities should be," Fleming says. "And both Morgan and Ann have,
for the last two years, been running their own show."
Morgan, a fifth-grader, joined a local hockey team during her father’s deployment.
"It was weird when he came back because there were three of us
walking around the house," she says. Her dad’s absence was tough at
times. "It was pretty hard," she says, "and there were some times when I
really missed him."
‘Significant work’ needed
Morris developed Beyond the Yellow Ribbon in January 2005. The
program includes classes on marriage, parenting, coping with depression
and adjusting to changes that occur in family dynamics while soldiers
are deployed. The courses are offered in the first 90 days after
soldiers return home.
"No relationship gets better by being gone a year to two," Morris
says. "All relationships that are being put back together again need
some significant work, and the skill set needed to do that work is
sometimes lacking. Yet we expect guard and reserve soldiers to figure
that out on their own."
If it takes a village to raise a child, Morris says it takes an entire
community to bring back soldiers. He meets with local government
officials, law enforcement officers, pastors and veterans’ groups to
The Rev. John Morris, a United Methodist chaplain
with the Minnesota Army National Guard, leads the Beyond the Yellow
Ribbon transition program.
A UMNS photo by John Gordon.
"It takes the local church, school, local law-enforcement agent, social service providers, employers," he says.
Avoiding past mistakes
Finding a job is a major challenge for many returning National Guard
troops and reservists, Morris says. He notes that nearly four out of
five soldiers also want to continue their education.
Beyond the Yellow Ribbon has become a national model for
reintegrating National Guard and reserve troops on their return. Morris
is hoping it will help society avoid mistakes of the past.
"In Vietnam, we shamed, shunned and spat upon our soldiers," he says.
"So what we tell community leaders is we’re not asking for support of
the foreign policy, that’s not our issue. We’re asking for support of
your fellow citizen, who we all want to have come home and become a very
*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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