Volunteer Hugh Clark helps family members of deployed servicemembers at Yokota Air Base devise strategies for coping with stress.

Volunteer Hugh Clark helps family members of deployed servicemembers at Yokota Air Base devise strategies for coping with stress. (Jim Schulz / S&S)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Parents dealing with a spouse’s absence brought on by the tsunami-relief effort, Middle East deployment or other temporary- duty assignment gathered Wednesday at the Yokota Enlisted Club to hear about various coping methods.

The Parent Talk on Deployment, sponsored by Yokota East Elementary School and Yokota Middle School, was the first forum of its kind, according to school psychologist Sandi Johnston, the event’s chief organizer. Hugh Clark, a Family Advocacy volunteer, led the discussion, touching on deployment stresses on all family members and outlining different ways for them to adjust.

The session was timely: About 500 Yokota airmen are away supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and the U.S. military’s tsunami-relief missions in South Asia.

“It’s important to have these types of things available,” Clark said. “The sad thing is, people don’t always utilize them. Programs are huge here and they’re available.”

Understanding the sources of stress during separation periods is critical to handling its impact, he said. Managing almost every aspect of life — from finances and friends to health concerns and the isolation of being so far from home — are contributing factors.

Master Sgt. Terry Cross of the Family Support Center said families should attend pre-deployment briefings to get a stronger grasp on difficulties they might face. “It helps to deal with stress if you know what stresses you’re facing,” he said.

Clark offered some coping strategies for spouses, which include sticking to priorities, organizing tasks, getting adequate sleep, allowing for personal time every day, eating well-balanced meals and regular exercise. He also encouraged the group to develop a healthy mental outlook.

“Check your thinking,” he said. “That’s a problem a lot of us probably face. The shaping of views is very important. The mind gets programmed a certain way. Some programs are good. Some need tweaking every now and then.”

When one parent is deployed, he said, some children — particularly younger ones — often display troubling signs such as extreme neediness, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, complaints of physical illness with no apparent cause, fears related to events, withdrawal or intense sadness, concentration problems and regressive behavioral patterns.

Clark urges parents left behind to keep lines of communication open — even if that means scheduling a daily or weekly time to talk — while maintaining pre-deployment habits and practices when possible.

“Routines are reassuring and comforting for everyone but especially young children,” he added.

News reports — particularly those from Iraq detailing terrorist bombings, beheadings and kidnappings — should be avoided, he warned, adding that parents also must carefully temper their reaction to such current events.

“Do not watch this stuff,” Clark told the forum. “There are other ways you can let your children know what’s going on in the world, without seeing gruesome or graphic images.”

Susan Simmons brought her daughters Kaitlyn, 14, and Courtney, 11, to Wednesday’s workshop. Her husband, Capt. James Simmons of the 374th Comptroller Squadron, left for the Middle East in December.

“This is our fourth deployment,” she said. “It never gets easy but you kind of know what to expect. We also have the very, very best support system. His squadron has been phenomenal, with regular calls and e-mails. All we have to do is mention something, and someone from the squadron is over to help.”

The family also copes with the separation by staying away from TV news reports, she added.

“We know too that this is something he believes in,” Simmons said. “That makes it easier because we know it’s something he wants to do, and we support him.”

Johnston said future forums aimed at reducing the burden of deployments on families and children remain likely.

Contact the Family Support Center at DSN 225-8725 or Family Advocacy at DSN 225-3648 for information about Yokota’s assistance programs.

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