By Karen Smith Rotabi
On 9/11, while most of the nation retreated and watched television insatiably, the men and women of the U.S. military mobilized to care for the survivors.
With time, the average citizen regained a sense of daily stability.
However, military families faced a different reality — a new Gulf conflict with prolonged deployments.
Since 9/11, a million active-duty and reserve forces have been deployed. Of these, approximately 40 percent are National Guard and Reserve members.
These citizen-soldiers — teachers, nurses, doctors, barbers, plumbers, farmers– need our support.
After deployments of 18 to 24 months, reserve forces return to face challenging readjustments to families, communities, and jobs.
They often return to communities with few other Gulf veterans with whom they can talk and receive support.
Readjustment to family life can be a difficult hurdle.
During deployment, families develop new daily patterns, such as the remaining spouse making independent financial or parenting decisions, creating a sense of displacement when the military member returns.
Existing military support programs are typically unavailable to most of these families.
Following a yearlong deployment, for example, a military police unit returning to Asheville, N.C., finds it is several hundred miles from a military installation offering family support services.
It thus must rely on local resources for family assistance, seek health care from local providers willing to accept military insurance, and look to civic organizations for recognition of their selfless service.
To meet the needs of citizen-soldiers, our communities need a concerted effort to coordinate and ensure services are readily available.
Failure to meet critical needs has serious implications ranging from untreated post-traumatic-stress disorder to family disruption, including divorce.
The Citizen-Soldier Support Program is a community-based initiative to mobilize community organizations and services to meet the challenge of assisting these families.
The program is connecting citizen-soldiers with local community organizations in five North Carolina communities – Asheville, Charlotte, Greensboro, Rocky Mount, and Wilmington, all communities without existing military support structures.
What can you do?
Just as “it takes a village to raise a child,” it will take a village to support our citizen-soldiers before, during, and after their tours of duty.
They need our support and respect for their sacrifice to this country, and they need our communities to enfold their families as they adjust.
The Citizen-Soldier Support Program assists local service providers and civic organizations in pulling together to do just that — wrap around families during their time of need.
Karen Smith Rotabi is support programs coordinator for the UNC Citizen-Soldier Support Program and a recent doctoral graduate of the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.