By Chief Master Sgt. Matt Proietti, 4th Combat Camera Squadron
/ Published December 04, 2019
Retired Lt. Col. Lynne Hull speaks about the challenges of military deployments to an audience of 500 Nov. 23, 2019, at an Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon Integration Program event in Orlando, Florida. Hull retired in 2016 after 28 years in the military and shared advice learned from her own Air Force deployments and those of her husband and father. Yellow Ribbon 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. 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. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nicholas Monteleone)
When retired Lt. Col. Lynne Hull was 16, her Air Force pilot father went to South Vietnam for a year. Or was it Korea, she wondered aloud in front of an audience of 500 during her presentation about the myths of deployment Nov. 23 at an Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program event.
She later remembered that it was actually Saudi Arabia. Her father deployed often in his career so she wasn’t surprised to misremember the detail.
The important thing, she said, was that the separation actually brought her closer to her father than she would have been if he’d remained home.
“We talked more in that year through letters than we would have if he’d been around all of the time,” she said. “They were really love letters between a girl and her Dad. I still have them.”
Hull said her family moved relentlessly in her childhood due to her father’s career and she remembers pleading with her parents to let her stay behind to live with the families of friends. Her father leaned on the same platitude each time, telling her that the moves built character and to get in the car.
In addition to being an Air Force “brat,” Hull, 55, has been an active-duty and Reserve officer, spouse of a career GI and mother to an Air Force pilot. She spent 28 years as an officer before retiring in 2016 as deputy commander of the 419th Maintenance Group at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and works as the senior aerospace instructor in a high school Junior ROTC program.
From 2012 to 2014 she was the 419th Fighter Wing’s representative for Yellow Ribbon, which promotes the well-being of reservists and their loved ones by connecting them with resources before and after deployments. Each year, 7,000 Air Force reservists and those closest to them receive training in education benefits, health care, retirement information and more through Yellow Ribbon.
She and her husband, Ken, a retired Air Force pilot who now flies for an airline, have been married for 27 years and have three children: a son who flies E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft for the Air Force; a daughter studying for a master’s degree in business; and a son who is an Air Force ROTC student. Ken Hull, then single, was among those who flew the first combat missions of Operation Desert Storm in 1991 in Iraq. His commander in Hill’s 4th Tactical Fighter Squadron was then-Lt. Col. Mark Welsh, later Air Force chief of staff from 2012-2016 as a 4-star general. Welsh had his Airmen write farewell letters to their loved ones in case they didn’t return home, Lynne Hull noted.
“I’ve been the Mom who left kids to deploy,” she said. “As a commander, I’ve deployed with people who are struggling. The hardest role is my current one as parent to a GI I can’t protect. It’s scary.”
She cited research by psychology professor Dr. Les Parrot and his therapist wife, Leslie, which shows the attitude of a military family is primarily based on the female lead, whether that is a deployer or the spouse of one.
“If she’s bitter about the deployment, no matter who’s deploying, the whole family will be,” Hull said. “Just know that it doesn’t have to stink. It depends on your attitude.”
Hull, who deployed multiple times, said it always irked her that people offered her condolences when she was tapped to head overseas. Military duty is satisfying, she said, and comes with rewards such as education benefits and healthcare coverage.
“Deployers get to really go do their job instead of just training to do it. Be proud of what you do. You are part of the 1 percent who serve in the military. You are awesome. Don’t let society dictate (that it’s negative) to you.”
She recalled deploying to Iraq through the 2006 holidays. Feeling forlorn one chilly night, she was outside looking at stars when she realized she’d never been as close to the original Christmas setting and that her military career was responsible for the special moment.
The former personal trainer challenged every person in her audience to develop an exercise regime during deployments, whether they are GIs or loved ones staying at home. She encouraged each half of a couple to keep a journal during their separation and then share them with each other post-deployment to give their partner a view as to what they were thinking while apart.
“You can grow through this,” Hull said. “Relationships can grow from a deployment.”
The key, she said, is communication before, during and after.
“Unmet expectations lead to conflict. When I deployed, I let my family know they had to keep my plants alive. Talk to your children. Their greatest concern may be who’s going to take them to soccer practice. You must always stay connected. Some people want to hear from the deployed person every day. Others are like, ‘I told you I loved you when we married. If that changes, I’ll let you know.’”
Adults should set priorities and accept that they won’t meet all of them, Hull said.
“Nothing will be perfect when the family is split,” she said. “Maybe the kids get macaroni and cheese for dinner four times one week. That’s OK.”
She urged audience members to take advantage of military resources – among them the Psychological Health Advocacy Program, chaplains, first sergeants, key spouses, Military OneSource, and Airman and Family Readiness Centers -- and encouraged post-deployers to talk to pre-deployers about what to expect and how to prepare.
“You aren’t in this alone. There are folks here in this room who have ideas you haven’t thought of for coping with separation caused by deployment.”
Hull shared a deployment memory of a woman sitting next to her on a commercial flight during an early leg of travel overseas. She was in no mood to talk but relented when the woman asked where she was headed.
“On a military deployment but the worst is over,” Hull told her. “I just said goodbye to my husband and kids.”
Then the woman closed her eyes and seemingly went to sleep for the entire flight. Hull later felt the woman’s hand on her leg and heard her say that it was going to be OK.
“She hadn’t been sleeping at all. She was a minister from Baltimore and had been praying for me the entire time. She even emailed me the first few weeks of that deployment to check on me,” Hull said. “She was my wingman. Get yourself a wingman – and it doesn’t have to be your best friend.”
She urged post-deployers ease back into family life the first two weeks upon their return: “no touching the checkbook, no disciplining children and no rearranging my dishwasher.”
Military OneSource provides 12 free meetings with counselors for post-deployers. Hull suggested that the GIs schedule them before they return as a natural part of the reunion process and not wait for signs of true problems in a relationship.
“My husband gave me one day with the kids before taking me away for two before I got overwhelmed (since) I’d been away from them for months,” she said.
Post-deployers may miss the routine of doing the same things every day and working in the environment that GIs train for constantly.
“Maybe you felt worthwhile while deployed. Competent,” she said. “Maybe those who stayed home resent being relegated to second in command again upon your return.”
Retired Chief Master Sgt. David Scoch schedules guest speakers for Yellow Ribbon training weekends in his role as a program analyst at Air Force Reserve Command headquarters at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. He’s invited Hull to speak as the keynote speaker perhaps five time and, more often, lead breakout sessions in classes she’s developed, including “Expectation Management” and “Scream-Free Parenting,” and one she hasn’t: the Four Lenses personality assessment, which helps individuals gain an understanding of another’s unique strengths, motivations and temperaments.
“She has a good perspective from a lot of avenues,” he said. “Her breakouts are some of the best attended and get the highest (scores) from participants.”
Chief Master Sgt. Miranda Sayre, the current Yellow Ribbon representative at Hill Air Force Base, said Hull remains heavily involved in the 419th Fighter Wing three years after retiring.
“She’s amazing. She knows everything,” Sayre said. “She’s been in the wing forever and has a heavy footprint.”
Hull punctuated her Florida talk with deployment-related photos from her life: one was of her in fatigues, arms around her three young children just before leaving them for months.
“I was a mess right before this picture was taken,” she said. “I was sobbing in my room, praying to God to break the planes, every plane, so I didn’t have to go. You know what I heard? ‘It builds character. Get in the car.’”
(Proietti is superintendent of 4th Combat Camera Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, and also the public affairs manager for the Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program)