TAMA HILLS RECREATION CENTER, Japan — Being yanked from families for long deployments can alter life on the home front significantly.

Addressing a budding issue for the military given today’s demanding operations tempo, Yokota Air Base staged “Honey, I’m Home,” its first conference to help families regain their pre-deployment dynamics.

Yokota’s Airman and Family Readiness Center counselors, volunteers and staff tailored the three-day event at Tama Hills Lodge to help returning airmen reconnect with their families.

“When an active-duty member leaves, the whole family dynamic changes,” said Hugh Clark, Family Advocacy outreach manager. When they return, “they have to ease back into it because things change while we’re gone.” The conference provided “tools to help deal with that,” he said.

Clark said about $10,000 in Air Force money funded the inaugural project. That paid for a round-trip charter bus from Yokota, lodging, meals, conference materials and use of facilities at Tama Hills Recreation Area.

Forty people attended the event, the maximum the Tama facilities could handle. Each family received a free “Survival Kit” that came with luggage, games, a camera and sleeping bag. Prizes given away during therapeutic exercises included a portable DVD player and iPods.

Friday, Tech. Sgt. Cesa Sullivan, Airman and Family Readiness Center noncommissioned officer in charge, gave a presentation on potential obstacles in returning home and their solutions.

Saturday, two workshops focused on easing stress and building communication.

“If communication is open, you have a better chance of surviving and stabilizing a marriage,” Clark said.

Families also had abundant free time to ride horseback, hike, bike and play volleyball and putt-putt golf.

Tech. Sgt. Mario Garzaro, Yokota’s 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron, who returned June 1 from four months in Iraq, indicated Saturday such free time might have been the best tonic of all.

“The main reason for coming here was family time,” said Garzaro, who was at the weekend with wife Alicia and their two daughters, ages 10 and 7. “We got away from the base. It was dedicated time, no outside influences. … And the lecture was pretty good.”

Reclaiming his role in the family will take time, Garzaro said. “Knowing what I’m supposed to be doing … my responsibilities … It’s a re-learning process.”

It’s been just the opposite for Alicia.

“I have to give him more responsibilities again, let go of some of the daily stuff,” she said.

He’s resumed bill-paying chores again and can watch the kids, allowing her some free time.

“I like the fact they teach us how to communicate in an efficient manner,” he said. “It’s not about just putting out the message but making sure your partner receives it properly and there’s an understanding.”

Clark said he’s hoping the conference becomes a regular, even annual, event.

“The longer we stay in this high-tempo ops, the more we’ll be concentrating on reintegration,” he said. “The longer one stays away, the more impact it has on family dynamics. We must figure out how to reconfigure it back to the way it was.”

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now