Couple learning how to reconnect after a deployment

Yellow Ribbon, Reserve Citizen Airmen,

Staff Sgt. Eric Gapp of the 934th Air Wing at Minneapolis-St. Paul Air Reserve Station, Minnesota, and his wife, Laura, credit patience, flexibility and the Air Force Reserve's Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program with helping them reunite following his return from a deployment. The couple attended Yellow Ribbon training event March 23-25, 2018, in San Diego, California. The program began in 2008 and promotes the well-being of reservists and their loved ones by connecting them with resources before and after deployments. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Luke Johnson)

SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- Staff Sgt. Eric Gapp and his wife, Laura, have known each other for eight years and been married for about 18 months, but they are getting to know each other all over again following his recent deployment for the Air Force Reserve.

“I thought (it) was going to be hard, but I’ve found that reintegration is harder,” Laura Gapp said during a March 23-25 event hosted by the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, which promotes the well-being of reservists and their loved ones by connecting them with resources before and after deployments.

Her husband, a training manager for the 934th Airlift Wing at Minneapolis-St. Paul Air Reserve Station in Minnesota, said it was difficult to turn off his deployment mindset when he returned home, which affected his closest relationships -- especially with his wife.

“You have to change the way you operate during a deployment,” he said. “You’ve got to be direct with people in order to continue the mission safely. You have to disregard how people are feeling about what you are saying.”

The direct mindset and apathy toward the feelings of others led to challenges when he reunited with his loved ones.

“Sometimes, I can be a bit too direct to my family, especially with Laura,” he said. “During the deployment, there are high expectations, and when you come home and you put high expectation on your family they can easily let you down because you have a lot less patience.”
Laura Gapp labeled this deployment mindset as being “wound up.”

“They wind you up very hard when you are deployed,” she said. “You don’t get time to unwind. You don’t remember what unwinding is, and you don’t know the best way to do it.”

She said her husband’s mission-focused mindset negatively impacted their relationship as they were learning to reconnect. She said his first day home from deployment was “blissful,” but then it became more difficult to adjust.

“You get lost trying to figure out what your next mission is and what your role is,” she said. “If it is undefined, it leaves you in limbo, and I think that for a lot of people, including Eric, who is goal driven, it leaves you frustrated with what to do next. If there is no set plan, it makes you angry or leaves a hole (in your relationships).”

She said patience has been the key for reconnecting with her spouse.
“Being flexible is very important, and you have to prepare that integration is not going to come naturally to anyone. You need to find that routine again and give it some time.”

The Gapps found the Couples Enrichment Program class at the Yellow Ribbon event beneficial on their journey toward reconnecting with each other. It is designed to help those who are married, engaged or dating delve into their relationships to better understand themselves and their partners in a more profound way so they can build and maintain healthy unions.

“(It) teaches couples to reflect upon the simple things in life and to simplify the daily issues, which will help us reconnect,” Laura Gapp said of the training, which is aimed at post-deployers and their loved ones attending their second Yellow Ribbon weekend following their return. It is led by an Air Force Reserve chaplain.

The couple encourages Reserve Citizen Airmen to attend Yellow Ribbon events to learn about what resources are available and to not be afraid to reach out if they are experiencing problems or issues with your closest relationships.

“It has been helpful for us,” Eric Gapp said. “(People shouldn’t) be afraid to talk to a chaplain or to a mental health advocate if (they) need help.”

Yellow Ribbon 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. Each year, the Air Force Reserve program trains 7,000 reservists and those closest to them in education benefits, health care, retirement information and more.