Course at Anne Arundel Community College course aims to help military families manage stress of homecoming

The Baltimore Sun

Maybe the kids seem too loud, too playful, too unrelenting. Maybe a spouse has grown accustomed to doing things alone and isn't ready to let go of a newfound independence. Or maybe routine noises such as slamming doors or clanging silverware trigger flashbacks or uncontrollable twitchiness.

Combat has many dangers, but returning home can also be fraught with peril for troops.

Using private funding, Anne Arundel Community College next week will begin "Reunited: Family Life After Deployment," a free, four-week seminar aimed at helping military families readjust to life at home.

"This course is a very small way of saying thank you to all servicemen and women and their families for the sacrifices they have made," said Lou Aymard, director of the Parenting Center at the Arnold college, which operates the course.

The four sessions, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays in October, will focus on looking for the symptons of post-traumatic stress and how it can affect families; responses to lengthy separation, common psychological reactions of children whose parents went to war, balancing disciplinary roles, effective communication as a couple and planning for future deployments.

Kerri Gehring, one of a handful of people who have registered for the course, said she hopes it will help her in roles she fills at work and home. She wonders whether the course could be expanded beyond the college, something she would handle in her job as a liaison between the Department of Veterans Affairs and Maryland veterans.

As "family readiness group leader" for the Army National Guard battalion her husband commands, she is also screening the class for the families of the 400 other soldiers who deployed with him in June and are in Iraq.

"For some, the 10-year-old daughter they left behind all of a sudden is 11 or 12 and is starting to act like a teenager," Gehring said. "Some new babies have been born and they will come home to a baby in the household."

Last, she will use it for herself to get ready for the return of her husband, Lt. Col. James Gehring.

"I want to know what I can do to make that transition easier for us when he returns," Gehring said.

The course will be taught at the Arnold campus by Bruce Turnquist, a former chief of psychology at then-Kimbrough Army Hospital at Fort Meade who now operates a private practice in Severna Park.

Turnquist said he hopes to focus a great deal on family needs.

"For some couples that already had marital stress and tension, deployment can kind of be like a last straw or a huge stressor on a marriage," he said.

Some spouses start other relationships or take over necessary tasks at home by paying bills or taking care of the house. Maybe they go on a decorating spree that their spouse won't like, Turnquist said.

"He's got to be able to ease back in and focus on reconnecting with his family," he said. "They need to get reacclimated to being a two-parent family again."

Aymard said the redeployment course is being paid for through a "Friends of the Parenting Center" scholarship account, which has allowed the center to develop other charity courses for special populations of parents. Last year, it offered parenting instruction for young mothers who had struggled with substance abuse.

"This course is not being offered because we believe military families are dysfunctional," he said, "but because we want to give them the information they need to raise healthy children, to make informed decisions about relationships and to enhance family life."

Free course

"Reunited: Family Life After Deployment" is a four-week course offered free to military personnel and their spouses or significant others at Anne Arundel Community College.

When: Mondays, Oct. 1-22, 7 to 9 p.m.

To register: 410-777-2325 or Source: Anne Arundel Community College

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