VARC hosts discussion on military transitions

Originally published in the Central Florida Future:

Laurie Reid kicked off her high heels Thursday night setting an intimate and laidback tone to a discussion she led on military life transitions at the UCF’s Veteran Academic Resource Center.

The event was organized by the Camaraderie Foundation, an Orlando-based nonprofit that provides private counseling to service members and their families, but this free educational seminar was particularly important because it piloted the organization’s new Community And Military Nights.

“We hope that this new outreach program can bring families together in a non-stressful and non-pressured event where they can meet other families that have either successfully transitioned or are in the middle of it,” said Tammy Knowles, the organization’s executive director. “We hope to break down the isolation that families feel.”

Reid, who is a Persian Gulf War veteran and licensed marriage and family therapist, was uniquely fit to guide the conversation. 

She engaged the small audience of veterans, service members and their spouses through narrations of her transitional experiences as both a veteran and a wife of a veteran—two distinct roles that Reid believes need considerable support and guidance during the changeover phase. 

According to Reid, a veteran can never be the person they were before their deployment. She believes that problems emerge when the veteran has to convey their changes to their loved ones. 

“You are a changed person, the person that you left behind is a changed person,” Reid said to the crowd. “We now need to reestablish this new person, new personality, new life, new rules and new normalcy, that looks way different than the neighbor next door.”

According to a report by the Defense Department, the military-wide divorce rate hit its peak last year with 30,000 married couples deciding to call it quits. 

Although military deployments can sometimes turn couples into strangers and tear a marriage apart, Reid said the false assumption that a spouse may have believing that their husband or wife will return as the same person they were before they were deployed can create misunderstanding and insecurities that may also wreck marriages. 

“Most of the time reunions can be idealized or fantasized,” Reid said. “It’s not like that, and that high expectation that runs deep and that is romanticized through the media can really destroy what’s really there.”

For thousands of service members, it’s that anger caused by the detachment, which grows from little to no communication and confusion from both the service member and the spouse, that eats a marriage up. 

But Marnie Waldrop, co-founder of the Camaraderie Foundation, was determined to beat those odds when her husband Michael came home from the war in Afghanistan.

“Before Michael even came home I had a counselor lined up for us because the last thing I wanted to do was go through a horrible deployment … and end up getting divorced and being a statistic,” Waldrop told the crowd. 

The Camaraderie Foundation, which currently helps more than 30 families through its private counseling services, was created primarily to support military veterans, service members and their families with financial, emotional and spiritual support. 

“There’s such a huge stigma associated with counseling that you’re a weak individual and part of [Camaraderie’s] messaging is that you’re actually a stronger individual if you are proactive about getting the care that you need to just digest your process and what you’ve gone through,” Waldrop said. “Anybody that says they don’t need that counselor to talk to or anyone to talk to about their experience is fooling themselves.”

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