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The Color Of Stress For Combat Vets

Audio

Aired 3/3/11

A Navy workshop takes families beyond the joyful reunions into the reality of coming home. We'll hear about the challenges vets face returning from deployment, where even the color green can be difficult to adjust to after so much time in the desert.

SAN DIEGO (Feb. 22, 2011) Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Lourdevan Timtiman spends time with his family before getting underway aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Comstock (LSD 45). Comstock is on deployment as part of the Boxer Amphibious Readiness Group.
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Above: SAN DIEGO (Feb. 22, 2011) Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Lourdevan Timtiman spends time with his family before getting underway aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Comstock (LSD 45). Comstock is on deployment as part of the Boxer Amphibious Readiness Group.

Even in a town with a big military presence like San Diego, most of us have not been personally touched by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And frankly, not many of us expect to have our lives changed or disrupted by our nation's wars. That was the attitude of one of our co-workers here at KPBS, until last year, when his wife Katie - a long-time Navy reservist - was deployed to Afghanistan. Bruce Rogow has written a series of moving essays about what he feared and what he's learned from Katie's absence. Now Katie is home, on leave, she has to go back to finish several months of her year-long deployment.

Guests

Bruce Rogow is Director of Television Operations for KPBS.

Katie Deininger is a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy Reserve.

Shannon Klein is Program Coordinator, for the Navy's Fleet & Family Support Center in San Diego.

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and You're listening to These Days on KPBS. Even in a town with a big military presence like San Diego, most of us have not been personally touched by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And frankly, not many of us expect to have our hives changed or disrupted by our nation's wars. That would the attitude of one of our coworkers here at KPBS, until last year, when his wife Katie, a long time Navy reservist was deployed to Afghanistan. Bruce Rogow has written a series of moving essays about what he feared and what he reasoned from Katie's absence. Now, Katie is home, on leave, she has to go back to finish several months of her year long deployment. But Bruce and Katie join us today, to talk about the separation, how they're hoping. I'd like to formally introduce them. Bruce Rogow is director of television operations for KPBS. Hi Bruce.

ROGOW: Hi, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And Katie Deininger is a chief petty officer in the Navy reserve. Katie, good morning. Thanks for being here.

DEININGER: Good morning, Maureen, I'm glad to be here.

CAVANAUGH: Yes. And also here is Shannon Klein, she is program coordinator for the Navy's fleet and family support center in San Diego. Good morning, Shannon.

KLEIN: Good morning, Maureen, thank you for having me.

CAVANAUGH: Now, we invite our listeners to join this conversation. How have you or your family members handled a military deployment? Were there problems you didn't expect? Give us I call with your questions and your comments, our number here is 1-888-895-5727. That's 1-888-895-KPBS. Bruce, Katie's been home about a week or so now; is that right?

ROGOW: Uh-huh.

CAVANAUGH: That's the difference in your stress level?

ROGOW: Well, it's -- it's gone down significantly. One of the things that I didn't realize would happen when this whole thing started was that you get a new baseline level of stress that -- and it's actually kind of complicated because it's more than just the logistically now I'm responsible for everything at the house and taking care of the pets and everything. But it's also the apprehension and worry about her safety. And it forms a new noise level, if you will, emotionally that you have to cope with all the time. And one of the things that I noticed when she got back is that that's diminished quite a bit. It hasn't gone away completely because frankly the deployment's not over.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

ROGOW: But it's almost like her being home is just like being on vacation, even if I was going to work every day would be like being on vacation.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Katie was gone for nine months before this leave right? Well --

LEF3: About seven.

CAVANAUGH: About seven months?

ROGOW: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: So you got a lot bit used to the whole routine of maintaining your household and so forth on your own?

ROGOW: Well, yeah. Yet I had -- I had a life, and I had so many hours every day when I was awake, and that was completely filled with things to do, and probably not a lot of room to do anything else. So when Katie's deployment came up, I had to completely build an entirely new routine. I had to add in all of the things that she was doing and my job. I didn't know everything that she was doing. A lot of this I discovered along the way. And frankly there were some things that I never continued to do or I never took over. Folding the laundry, my God. For those of you who have the fortunate circumstance where your spouse is folding the laundry, it takes an enormous amount of time to do that. And I will tell you, I don't fold socks.

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

ROGOW: I do not because, you know what? They can lay balled up in a laundry basket somewhere, and when you put them on your feet, they look perfect.

CAVANAUGH: Things you learn.

ROGOW: Yeah, exactly.

CAVANAUGH: Katie, tell us the story of how you actually learned that you were going to be sent to Afghanistan.

DEININGER: Well, I learned it in the time honored traditional way with a phone call from my skipper, my unit. And we had landed in Honolulu airport to start a vacation, and I had a message on my cell phone from my skipper, and I figured that it was either a major disaster in the unit or I was getting mobilized, and it was the mobilization.

CAVANAUGH: And were you expecting that at all?

DEININGER: Yes, yes. The navy, for the reserves, they publish -- we call it a short list, but it's called the reserve mobilization pool list, and if you're on that list then you're kind of on notice that your chances of getting mobilized for that fiscal year are almost a certainty. So I had thought when I got back I'd try to volunteer for an assignment. But I didn't have the time.

CAVANAUGH: They got to you first.

DEININGER: I found about it that I was on the list at the end of January, and I started my vacation, like, on February 8th, and that was the day I found out I was getting called up.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I tell you, one of the things that make -- every story is unique. One of the things that make your story unique, is the fact that this separation, with Katie going to Afghanistan was the first time that you were separated in many membership years. Tell us about that Bruce.

ROGOW: Well, yeah, you almost don't realize it. We've been married 17 years, and I took a look at it, and we'd never really even been apart for more than ten days if that entire time. So it was kind of inconceivable that she'd be gone for an entire year. It was hard to imagine what the total scope of that really was. And you know, it's been -- I'll be honest with you, it's been unpleasant.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

ROGOW: I'm not happy about it. But you know, this is not something that's really unusual. Of and frankly, most military families are making much, much more in terms of sacrifices than we are. I've really come to have a very deep respect, well beyond what I had before for the people who remain behind, and you know, take care of the home front while the -- you know, the military's out doing the really hard work.

CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Bruce Rogow and his wife, Katie Deininger, and we are talking about their separation. Katie has been deployed to Afghanistan for the last seven-month accident she's on leave now, she's gone go back and finish her year long deployment there. We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. This specific focus of our talk here today is about how couples and families reunite after a long deployment, and my guest also in studio with us is Shannon Klein. She is program coordinator for the Navy's fleet and family support center here in San Diego. I'm gonna get to Shannon in just a minute, but I do want to ask both Bruce and Katie, Bruce first, what were your concerns about Katie coming home after such a long time away?

ROGOW: Well, I think a lot of it was just the unknown. She'd been in a completely different environment in terms of the working seven days a week, eating the same kind of food every single day, dealing with the stress of the danger that exists over there, being away from, you know, everything that she knew over here. I didn't really know what to expect when she came back. I know she's a pretty tough cookie, and usually in very good spirits, but on the other hand this was a brand-new territory for us. And when I heard about the -- you know, the homecoming workshop that the Navy was having, I thought it'd be a smart thing to do to go back and find out what other people had gone through, so I could make at least this Rand R period for Katie as minute as possible.

CAVANAUGH: And Katie, when you were coming home, obviously I would imagine you were thrilled, but did you have any concerns as well?

DEININGER: No, not really.

CAVANAUGH: Were you -- smooth.

DEININGER: When you've been removed from your normal lifestyle, especially when you go some place hazardous, a lot of the little worries in life just really aren't a big worry anymore. You really have an opportunity to prioritize.

CAVANAUGH: Talk to us a little bit more about that. What is not a concern for you anymore that perhaps used to be?

DEININGER: It's hard to put it into words. But just things that might have bothered me before it's just -- it's not even gonna cause a ripple in the surface of might have mental pond. When you have to think about, fortunately, not as bad in Kabul as other places in Afghan standpoint, but still you have to keep your head down and your eyes open, and we're all of us armed all the time. And we live in a -- an extremely gated community, you have to -- every vehicle that enters our compound could be carrying an i.e. D, we have to rely on the local nationals who are our first line of defense to make sure they're catching people. We don't know how much pressure the bad guys are putting on the local nationals out in town, and they're there, and they do. And it is a risky environment. And when you're really nor thinking about, if I go running today out along the perimeter, is there gonna be a bomb going off? Is this the last run I'm ever gonna take? How many limbs may I lose? It just kind of puts everything else on a much lower priority.

CAVANAUGH: You know, Shannon issue you've been hearing Bruce and Katie balk about this, and of course you run workshops for returning warriors. And I'm wondering what's your take on what you've heard so far? Is this the kind of conversation that's -- you expect from people, couples who are reunited after a deployment?

KLEIN: Yes, absolutely. All the things that they're explaining are very normal. And like produce said, what to expect when we get back or who to expect when they get back can be I huge concern, that especially on a first deployment, the fear kind of the unknown. So being able to utilize a workshop or something and glean from the experience that other people have gone forward and realizing I'm not alone, I'm not going crazy, my fears and my concerns are very common and normal, is I think healing. And it kind of brings validation, and it kind of helps lower, maybe, the level of stress a little bit.

CAVANAUGH: You know, Katie's description of the things that she encounters on a daily basis when she's deployed in Afghanistan are so different from what we encounter here on a normal day to day basis just going through our lives in San Diego that it's hard to find a common ground there, Bruce. When you hear that, what goes through your mind?

ROGOW: Well, it's not good. I'll tell you that. I worry all the time. I mean, I'm -- I worry anyway, even when she's here in San Diego, she's out some place, I'm the kind of place, I just worry if she's okay and whatever. And it's very, very nerve wracking for me because there's nothing I can do to protect her. There's nothing I can do to help her. Really all that I can do is maintain -- you know, maintain the household, maintain the homefront so to speak, and maintain the things that are important to her, like our pets am Katie can confirm this, that having dogs were her idea. Which I found out after we got married that she wanted to have dogs. But I'd never taken care of the pets. She did all of that stuff. She took them to the vet, she fed them, she trained them, she understood their behaviors. I had to learn all of that. And frankly, it was really nerve wracking because every time I would see any kind of change or anything would happen, I would have a level of adrenaline and panic that for Katie would just be, okay, we'll take you to the vet in the morning or whatever. And it took a lot of getting used to, and frankly, I'm still not used to it.

CAVANAUGH: I want to take a phone call. We have our lines open if you would like to join this conversation at 1-888-895-5727. And Steve is on the line. He's calling from mission valley. Good morning, Steve, and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning, good morning. I am also the male spouse of a female soldier, not a sailor.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

NEW SPEAKER: And what you're saying brother, is exactly right on. The new level of stress, and I like what you said about the pets because usually it's a big panic for -- when my cat, you know, had a sneeze, I immediately went to the vet. But my question for you is that I have been finding that being the male spouse of a female service member, there isn't -- most of the support that the family groups have is tailored toward female spouses. And I was wondering if -- now, I know things are changing in the army for the better for that, to make it more gender neutral. But I was wondering if you could comment on what you have found in the Navy as far as more or less gender based family support.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that call, Steve. So Bruce?

ROGOW: Actually, it's been -- it's been quite good on the Navy's side. I get e-mails from the ombudsman just checking in on me to see if everything's going okay. And probably like yourself, you know, we got it figured out, we can manage it. It stinks but we're making it work. But I found that there's a lot of resources available to me, and I get invited to community dinners and various types of events, and so on. I don't have the time to really attend most of them, but they're keeping after me.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, Shannon, what is the Navy's response? Is it the sort of support, sort of gender neutral? It's just support for all the spouses of service members?

KLEIN: Yeah, we try to do that. Each command does have an ombudsman, so that ombudsman will reach out to the family members as well as some of the command leadership they have like a command coordinator that works with a service member and their family, trying to stay connected, and then at fleet and family support center here in San Diego we do a monthly -- we call it a family connection. We provide dinner and child care, so if they have kids, they can have child care. We do some type of an activity or a resource, and it's very -- something that would be beneficial for military families regardless of male, female.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, Katie?

DEININGER: Oh, I just wanted to add that I'm an HR director when I'm not Navy chiefing. So I pay attention to the ratio of men to women in the service, and we're still about 10 to 15 percent women. So that's about 85, 90 percent men. So unfortunately there's gonna be a tilt just because the great majority of our service members happen to be male.

CAVANAUGH: Do you find that the support services reaching out to male spouses at all?

KLEIN: For this particular type of deployment, yes we do, we reach out to everybody. And they provide the type of support that they're comfortable with, that they want. We do get some feedback from the males because there's not as many of them, but we really try to make the adjustments and do things so that we can include everybody.

CAVANAUGH: We have to take a short break, when we return, we'll continue our conversation with Bruce Rogow and Katie Deininger and Shannon Klein, talking about deployments to Afghanistan, coming back from deployments, and also taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You're listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The I'm guests are Bruce Rogow, he's director of television operations here at KPBS. And his wife, Katie Deininger, she's a chief petty officer of the Navy reserve of Katie has been deployed to Afghanistan for the past seven months she's home on leave now. She has to go back to finish her year long deployment. And my other guest is Shannon Klein, she's program coordinator for the Navy's fleet and family support center here in San Diego. And basically we're talking about deployments and the stress they give to families, military families around San Diego, and also about some of the challenges faced by families of military members when they return from deployments. We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Bruce, you mentioned Katie's been kind of eating the same stuff over and over and over again for the last seven months. Of so you took it upon yourself to change that. Tell us a lot bit about that.

ROGOW: Well, Katie and I had talked about what was she gonna do for Rand R? And I think for the first couple months she was there, she went all around the globe looking at different places she might want to go. Then finally decided she wanted to come home and eat in restaurants ever single day because of the food that she was eating over there. And one of our favorite, favorite restaurants was Kimosabe in Hillcrest. And so we decided, all right, we're gonna go, you know, Tuesday night or whatever. And lo and behold discovered that we hadn't been there in a while and they -- it was no longer in business. So I e-mailed the Cohen restaurant group and I asked them, hey, what happened? And particularly about a couple of appetizers that were our favorites because I want Katy to experience all these things while she's here.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

ROGOW: And they were very, very nice. Chef Debra Scott actually e-mailed me back and offered to make a special in one of their other restaurants, you know, with those appetizers that they don't ordinarily do, and we're gonna do that today.

CAVANAUGH: Chef Debra Scott on the line with us right now. Debra, good morning.

SCOTT: Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: When you got this e-mail, why did you respond immediately to make these appetizers that they wanted?

SCOTT: Well, first of all, this is what I love to do. I love to accommodate people. And I think the hospital -- the southern hospitality thing, being from the south is very prevalent it me. And secondly, I have a stepson that's in the Marines, and he's been in Now Zad for seven months she's back for his son's birth. And then she goes back next month for another seven-month deployment. So not only do I love doing this for people, for guests but also I do have a personal attachment to Katie and her situation as well.

CAVANAUGH: Now, let me ask you, chef Debra Scott, because this is another point, I think, that both Bruce, Katie want to make by being on this show. Do a lot of people in your circle know that you have a stepson who's being deployed?

SCOTT: No, not really. Only close friends. I don't really -- I'm more like to concentrate on my guests and talking about myself in the restaurants, and making sure that everyone feels like they're at home. And like I really care about what their experience is like. So I really try to focus on that. Some of my more personal friends and guests do know. [CHECK] he's an amazing young man, and we're extremely proud of him. He's in the infantry so he's kind of in a precarious situation. So he's a brave young man, and we're extremely proud of him. But I do love what I'm doing with Bruce and Katie tonight, and I'm very, very much looking forward to it.

CAVANAUGH: Thanks for calling in, chef Debra Scott, and thanks for what you're doing. [CHECK] moving blog about there are so many people that you meet now and sharing the story of Katie's deployment, and you find that that they have a relative or a spouse, a son, a stepson, a cousin, who is deployed of tell us with that.

ROGOW: You know, it was probably within 1 or 2 months, I think, of us finding out I deal with a lot of people here at the station, and also at the university. And you Kent kick a rock and not find somebody who's got a family member, either as you said, a son or a daughter, or a mother or father, who's serving. And I never knew this about these people. And it occurred to me that any one of us, we could be out in a super market, driving down the freeway, or whatever, the person to the left or right of you is probably got somebody who's in the military serving right now. And I guess oblivious to that prior to this.

CAVANAUGH: And why is it that people don't speak more about this in casual conversation? Is it 'cause it's too personal and too stressful and it opens up too much?

ROGOW: Oh, gosh, that's a really good question. I guess the only way I could really answer it would just be my own reasons. I feel like -- this is just something that it's a part of being in America, and probably any country that has a military. We have to defend the way of life that we have, and there are gonna be members of the society who are gonna shoulder a bigger portion of that. And I think the biggest portion is shouldered by the military and then the families who are left back here. So in a lot of ways, I never really had to think about that prior to Katie's deployment. I always admired, and I was always grateful for the military, and frankly, public safety people firemen or policemen or whatever, they get out there and they do the really hard, dangerous things, so the rest of us can go to Baskin Robbins or whatever. But this was the first time that I actually felt like I was a part of that another -- that other group that were doing the harder work. And it made me appreciate those people even more. And the fact that, as you were saying, I don't even know it sometimes when I'm out in public, whether or not I'm standing next to somebody who's also making that kind of sacrifice and feeling that stress.

CAVANAUGH: We have another caller on the line. Jennifer is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Jennifer, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, thanks. So I am a Navy wife. I've been marry forward 12 years, my husband is serving in Afghanistan right now. And this is our fourth deployment. And my experience, which has been a little bit surprising to me, is each deployment has its own set of challenges. And for us, the first deployment was we did not have children. Then I had a three-month old, and the next one, then in the next one I had a nine-month old and a four-year-old. And now I've got a three and a half year-old and an eight-year-old. And so each one is really with the kids as they develop it changes. I think that -- and it doesn't get easier. And some people get comments, oh, you must be used to it by now. No, you don't really ever get used to it. And it is, at this stage of our lives, I think it gets more and more difficult for the kids. And ultimately that makes it more difficult for the -- I think the spouse at home.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Well, thank you for calling and sharing that, Jennifer. Stephanie is on the line as well. Good morning, Stephanie, and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, good morning. Yeah, I'm a Navy wife. And my husband is currently deployed right now. And I've kind of noticed, well, one thing that's very unique in this military atmosphere that is around here, so it's really great about that. Because I'm from Texas, and it's not like that there. But also I notice that there's not a whole lot of support for spouses alone, like when you don't have children, there's not a whole lot of things, most of the things are a family running this group, and most of the things those people do is all geared toward people with children. And there's just not a whole lot for spouses both wives and husbands that are here by themselves.

CAVANAUGH: Let me get a response from Shannon, Stephanie, thank you. Shannon, is there outreach to the single partners, partners that don't have children?

KLEIN: That's one of the things that we really are trying to raise the awareness on, when you're doing your family readiness and outreach to the families, to do a variety of events, to take a look at how we could help support those, whether it be breakout groups where we just kind of help connect them, and then they can kind of build friendships and stuff like that, but it is all about that network, so we do hear sometimes about what about us that don't have the kids? So when we're planning events to just make a conscious effort to try to do a variety of things that would appeal across the board or specifically to singles even.

CAVANAUGH: Now, the support center looks specifically at returning warriors and has a support group for that. What are some of the things that can make people -- make that transition a little bit smoother when someone is coming home from deployment and reuniting with the family?

KLEIN: I would think probably the number one thing is utilizing your resources. If you don't know what they are, your command ombudsman, fleet and family support center, we're there, we can help point you in the right direction. Taking advantage like Bruce did of the homecoming workshops, because it's all kind of about expectation management. What are they expecting, the service member? What are we expecting? How can we be on the same page with that? Talking -- you know, open and honest communication. So I would say the number one thing would just be knowing that you're not in this alone, that the ups and the downs and the feels this you're having are all normal, and then by connecting with resources and other people that have gone there or are there with you just brings that -- I think maybe a kind of a comfort knowing that I can do this, and here are some tips and here are some things that we can do to make our reintegration that much bother.

CAVANAUGH: Katie, I hymn hate to bring this up, about you you're going back, going back in a week or so. And Bruce told us about how concerned he is about you, are you concerned about Bruce being here when you're --

DEININGER: Oh, yes, definitely. But I'm comforted that he is using services that the Navy provides. And also, I'm fortunate that I have Internet connectivity such that we can Skype. And we Skype just about every day. And it helps a lot to be able to see him, and see the dogs and just kind of see how they're doing and just stay connected that way.

CAVANAUGH: That's kind of a really sort of unusual and really useful tool that is around now to actually keep up that kind of communication. What is the -- did you look forward to that every single day.

ROGOW: I'd never even -- I'd never even used Skype prior to this whole deployment thing coming up. I mean I -- we have another coworker who's got family in Sweden, and they use it to talk to each other. But it's crazy what you can do with that. Katie and some of her coworkers over there in Afghanistan have been making quilts for some of the hospitals, and so on over there. And she needed some material from her quilting kit that's like a big sewing box or whatever, and she's describing to me what it is. And I can't find the thing. So I take the web cam, and I point it into the carrying case there, I said is it this, is it this, and she was able to see what it was, and told me exactly what to pull out and mail to her. I mean, that's insane. And we go camping every winter out in the desert, and this was the first year that Katie wasn't gonna go. So I had to sort of bundle up the dogs and all our stuff and take them out there. And I brought my notebook computer. And one of my friends, he's an IT professional, and he set up a Wi-Fi hot spot out there. [CHECK] and there's Katie down at the camp fire with us, you know, 7000 miles away, and every time somebody wanted to talk to her, I'd just sort of tilt it and point it at that person, and I know me, that's amazing.

DEININGER: And if I wanted to smell a camp fire, all I had to did was go outside.

CAVANAUGH: Surround smell. Let me ask you two, are you actually, as you're enjoying this leave, also getting ready to say goodbye again?

DEININGER: Oh, I was ready to say goodbye before I even got here. You just -- you know just know it's coming so you don't get all crazy about it.

ROGOW: I'm just trying to make sure that this is the best, most relaxing experience that she can have to, you know, kind of help hold her over. I turned part of our living room into a shipping department so that, you know, so I could respond to whatever needs she might have to sending her the things -- as many of the things that you can send over there to try it make it as home like as possible. But you really can't. You can't really achieve that. So basically just kind of look at Katie, listen to her very carefully, and see whatever it is that she wants to do or doesn't want to do, and I just follow along with that. This time is for her.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I'm glad that you shared some of this, this very special time that you have together with us. It's, I think, very meaningful. Thank you so much, Bruce and Katie, thank you. And Shannon Klein, thanks so much for your expertise about this. I want to let everyone know that if you want to read Bruce's blog posts about the separation, you can go to the this emotional life page at PBS.org. And if you'd like to comment on anything you've heard, please go on-line, KPBS.org/These Days. Stay with us for hour two, coming up in just a few minutes right here on KPBS.

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