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Family Programs News
NEWS | May 20, 2009

Illinois agencies help prepare for returning Soldiers

By Mike Chrisman Illinois National Guard

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Coming home from a deployment overseas is exciting for Soldiers, but can also lead to a mix of emotions, actions, reactions and consequences.

Several state, federal, and local agencies have teamed up with the Illinois National Guard to help alleviate some of the issues families face when their Soldier comes home.

The Illinois National Guard Family Academy was started in 2008 to provide an opportunity for families to meet experts who could answer their questions and give them the tools and insight to ease the challenges of reintegration.

Reintegration is a process service members endure as they transition from Soldier back to citizen following mobilization. The family academy is there to ensure both family members and Soldiers know what benefits and programs are available.

While Soldiers receive reintegration training when they return from deployment, families need to receive similar information prior to the service member returning home.

"It’s the last day of school when they come back and they don’t do a lot of teaching on the last day,” said 2nd Lt. Justin Anweiler, of Lincoln, reintegration coordinator for the Illinois National Guard.

Anweiler has teamed up with several agencies throughout Illinois to help teach and inform family members at the family academies, including Veterans Affairs, Internal Revenue Service, and Veteran’s Health Administration are on hand to answer questions and help families understand what services are available when their loved one comes home.

There are also several workshops for families to attend during the family academy that provide guidance and information on issues like marriage after deployment, finances, challenges Soldiers face reuniting with their children and using college education benefits.

Counselors are also available for private consultations.

Eric Proescher works for the Jesse Brown Veterans Affairs Medical Center in the Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom Outreach program. He has set up a booth at family academies to help families and returning veterans understand how to appropriately participate in homecoming and readjustment.

"The families are vital to successful readjustment and reintegration,” Proescher said. "They are often the first responders, first line of support and are the most impacted by the service members departure and return.”

Proescher said the Illinois National Guard has become a leader when it comes to helping its service members returning from deployment.

"I’ve worked with other states, including Wisconsin and Indiana, but haven’t seen anything as organized as the Illinois program,” Proescher said.

Many Illinois Soldiers return from deployment and go back to college. Family academies also give Soldiers the information they need to get back to their studies.

Janetta Clemons works for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission and teaches would-be students what is available for financial aid. Clemons said she feels good after talking to people at her booth during the family academies.

"I think it’s important for families to get the same information that their Soldiers do because most Soldiers are not thinking about anything but getting home,” Clemons said. "The more times a Soldier and family get information, the more likely it is to ‘sink in’.”

Most of the nearly 1,000 family members that have attended family academies in 2009 seem to agree that they received information they could use to help their loved one when he/she comes home.

"I can't say enough about how important it is for every family to attend one of these family academies,” said Janice Laging, of Blue Island, who recently attended a family academy in Moline. "I don't think most family members think about how much their Soldier will have changed after being gone for a year in a war zone, nor do they fully realize that they too have changed. This will all make an impact on them when they all reunite. These workshops help give them the insight of what to look for and how to deal with it.”

Laging is preparing for her son, Staff Sgt. Todd Laging, of Blue Island, to return from his deployment to Afghanistan later this month.

The final family academies will be held this weekend before 3,000 Soldiers with the Illinois Army National Guard’s 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team begin to return from their one-year mobilization to Afghanistan.