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Soldiers now getting help on adjustment to civilian life

BOLTON LANDING - Hundreds of Army National Guard Soldiers, who spent most of 2008 in Afghanistan, and their spouses and children, participated Saturday in a program at the Sagamore Resort held to help them reintegrate their lives after returning from combat.

Many of the Guard soldiers had spent most of 2008 in Afghanistan. The soldiers were from a region that includes the Capital District and the North Country.

Prior to 2008, when Army National Guard units returned from deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers were given 90 days to themselves before they were required to begin attending monthly National Guard weekend drills.

While giving soldiers time to decompress and spend time with their families after a year or 18 months away had merit, the practice didn't adequately address readjustment problems, National Guard officials said at the program in Bolton. During this decompression period, soldiers might experiencing problems and have no one to talk to about it. Family members also might be put under strain as a long-gone spouse suddenly returned home.

Returning soldiers would often sink into drug and alcohol abuse, family problems and workplace difficulties, National Guard Chaplain Eric Olsen said.

The Guard's reintegration program requires soldiers to attend assemblies 30 and 60 days after their return from a combat zone, and invites families to attend as well. The sessions are held in a non-military environment to provide soldiers and families a chance to share experiences and talk frankly with each other and counselors about their experiences.

In December more than 1,200 National Guard Soldiers of the Syracuse-based 27th Brigade Combat Team returned from ten-month deployments in Afghanistan, where they were responsible for training the Afghan Army and Police. Part of the reintegration program will be mandatory counseling sessions for all of the returning soldiers, provided by the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs.

Also at these reintegration sessions, career fairs will be held by the state Department of Labor.

"At the 60-day mark National Guard soldiers are put back in touch with people who shared and understand their experience, at about the time the 'honeymoon phase' of their homecoming starts fading," Guard officials said. And with their families by their side, they hear about benefits and programs such as veterans' benefits, education and job opportunities and available support networks.

Also, there are briefings on anger management, substance abuse, compulsive behaviors, financial management and other topics.

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