I am the author of "When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind." I am currently separated from my husband, a National Guard soldier who served one year in Iraq in 2004-05. Just as we are beginning to find our way back together, we are starting the countdown for a possible second deployment. Two of my cousins by marriage have also served in Iraq, one with the MN Guard, a deployment that lasted 22 months, longer than any other ground combat unit. My other cousin, active duty, was killed in action.
My family members have spent more time fighting one war – the war in Iraq – than my grandfather and uncles did in WWII and Korea, combined. When the home front costs and burdens fall repeatedly on the same shoulders, the anticipatory grief and trauma – secondary, intergenerational and betrayal – is exponential and increasingly acute. Nowhere is that more obvious than in Guard and Reserve households.
Same Duties, Less Training
Our Guardsmen and Reservists perform the same duties as regular active troops when they are in theatre, but they do it with abbreviated training and, all-too-often, insufficient protection and aging equipment. It was a National Guardsman who asked then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld what he and the Army were doing "to address shortages and antiquated equipment" National Guard soldiers heading to Iraq were struggling with.
Guard families experience the same stressors as active duty families before, during, and after deployment, although we do not have anywhere near the same level of support, nor do our loved ones when they come home. Many Guard members and their families report being shunned by the active duty mental health system. Army National Guard Specialist and Iraq War veteran Brandon Jones said that when he and his wife sought post-deployment counseling, they were "made to feel we were taking up a resource meant for active duty soldiers from the base." One Guardsman's wife was told that "active duty families were given preference" when seeking services for herself and her daughters while her husband was in Iraq.
The nearly 3 million immediate family members directly impacted by Guard/Reserve deployments struggle with issues that active duty families do not. The Guard is a unique branch of the Armed Services that straddles the civilian and military sectors, serves both the community and the country. The Guard has never before been deployed in such numbers for so long. Most never expected to go to war. During Vietnam, some people actually joined the Guard in order to dodge the draft and avoid combat. Today's National Guard and Reservists are serving with honor and bravery, each and every time they're called. But when the Governor of Puerto Rico called for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq at the annual National Guard conference, more than 4,000 National Guardsmen gave him a standing ovation.
These factors are crucial to understanding the mental health impacts of the war in Iraq on the families of Guard/Reserve veterans, and tailoring programs and services to support them.
Several weeks after my husband got the call he was mobilized. There was very little time to transition from a civilian lifestyle and employment to full-time active duty. The Guard didn't have regular family group meetings, and I couldn't go next door to talk to another wife who was going through the same things I was, or who had already been there, done that. Most Guard/Reservists live miles away from a base or Armory, many are in rural communities. We are isolated and alone.
At least 20% of us experience a significant drop in household income when our loved one is mobilized. This financial pressure is an added stressor. The majority of citizen soldier