Despite positive outcome, deployment challenges couple

Master Sgt. Gregory Hicks and wife, Teresa and their children at the Yellow Ribbon event in Baltimore. Prior to his six-month deployment to the Middle East, Hicks, stationed at Travis Air Force Base, California, was a teaching aide in a post-secondary program for students with special needs. Now he’s about to begin his first semester as a high school teacher.

Master Sgt. Gregory Hicks and wife, Teresa and their children at the Yellow Ribbon event in Baltimore. Prior to his six-month deployment to the Middle East, Hicks, stationed at Travis Air Force Base, California, was a teaching aide in a post-secondary program for students with special needs. Now he’s about to begin his first semester as a high school teacher.

BALTIMORE, Md. -- A deployed Air Force reservist who used his limited free time overseas to finish requirements to become a schoolteacher learned some lessons of his own about how separations caused by military service affect GIs and those closest to them.

Prior to his six-month deployment to the Middle East, Master Sgt. Gregory Hicks of Travis Air Force Base, California, was a teaching aide in a post-secondary program for students with special needs. Now he’s about to begin his first semester as a high school teacher.

When he wasn’t working his daily 12-hour shift or resting, the 21-year Air Force veteran was focused on preparing to pass three intensive state exams that would allow him to become a certified teacher in California.

He balanced work, physical fitness, communicating with his family, and studying to reach his goal, finding ways to make the most of his time by exercising his body and his mind simultaneously.

“I would put my books on the treadmill and do 30 to 45 minutes and study there (before work),” Hicks said during a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program training weekend July 30-31 in Baltimore.

Hicks, an air transportation journeyman at the 82nd Aerial Port Squadron, also studied for an hour or two before bed each night while deployed. He eventually felt prepared to pass the exams, which he did while still overseas. He completed the paperwork to receive his certification, leaving him excited to go home and begin a new career.

But returning from deployment would prove to be a difficult transition for Hicks and his family. While he was moving forward with his career, things had changed at home. Despite being excited about her husband’s return, Teresa Hicks admitted that she had grown accustomed to her daily routine without him.

“It was rough adjusting to him coming home,” she said. “I feel as though I’m still adjusting.”

She said she initially felt a bit resentful toward her husband’s deployment. She supports his military service, but said she couldn’t help but feel somewhat abandoned.

Teresa Hicks said it was especially difficult caring for their two young daughters alone, something she had never done for such a long period before. Previously, the longest they had been separated during their seven-year relationship was in 2014 when Hicks attended a military training course in Texas for six weeks.

Six months apart proved to be a much tougher challenge for her. Eventually, however, she said she learned to cope and settled into what became her new normal. He and his wife, Teresa, said Yellow Ribbon training helped them address the situation.

“The beginning was rough, but then in the third month I got into a routine,” Teresa said. “I had to figure out how to do stuff alone and find a balance between him being gone and what my new life was going to be.”

Her husband also found it tough adjusting to the distance between them, even as he grew accustomed to his own deployment routine with his fellow Airmen.

“(It) caused challenges,” Hicks said. “When I got home, I was wondering whether we really needed each other since we had grown accustomed to being apart.”

Recognizing their difficulties adjusting to being together again, Hicks knew their relationship could use a boost. He decided to sign them up to attend training through Yellow Ribbon, which promotes the well-being of reservists and their loved ones by connecting them with resources before and after deployments. It began in 2008 following a congressional mandate for the Department of Defense to assist reservists and National Guard members in maintaining resiliency as they transition between their military and civilian roles.

They attended Yellow Ribbon’s Couples Enrichment Program, a class specifically designed to help partners communicate, reintegrate and enhance their relationship overall. Teresa Hicks said it was especially helpful for her to meet other spouses who understood her situation.
“There were a lot of relatable stories,” she said. “It makes me feel like I’m not alone, that many (spouses) have gone through what I have experienced.”

Her husband said the class was helpful for him in similar ways.
“The class really helped us to learn about each other again,” he said. “It’s helping us understand each other better.”

The couple said they are glad they attended the event and they are confident it can help others. They recommend eligible Airmen and their families attend Yellow Ribbon events both before and after deployments to manage changes more effectively.

“I look forward to telling my unit about Yellow Ribbon,” Hicks said. “It definitely helped us. I know it will help others.”

Besides reintegrating with his family, Hicks has another upcoming major transition: in the civilian workplace.

“Pre-deployment I was a teacher’s aide; post-deployment I’m an actual teacher with my own aides,” Hicks said.

Hicks will teach high school special needs’ students with two teaching aides and a sign language interpreter, making accommodations for students based on their learning styles and physical abilities.
“I’m going to learn from my students, and they’re going to help me become a better teacher,” he said.

Hicks said he knows he is capable of excelling in his new role because his passion for teaching, all he learned during his studies and even his military experiences will serve him well in the classroom.

There may be one more big change in store soon for Hicks. Senior Master Sgt. Shannon VanderZwaag, a first sergeant and Yellow Ribbon representative at Travis’ 349th Air Mobility Wing, has mentored Hicks to become a first sergeant. She said his knowledge, experience, compassion for others and natural leadership abilities make him an ideal candidate.

“Being a first sergeant is like being a teacher, so in that way he is prepared,” VanderZwaag said. “He has the ability to lead a classroom and lead Airmen, which is really special.”

VanderZwaag said she’s also glad the couple came to Yellow Ribbon and believes their relationship is stronger for it.

“They now have the tools they need to move forward together,” she said.

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