ANNOUNCER: Welcome to FLO Global Podcasts, an audio series that is part of the Family Liaison Office’s advocacy, programs, and services to our clients– U.S. Government employees and their families from all agencies who will serve or are serving in our embassies and consulates overseas. Tune in regularly for new insights and resources from FLO and our partners. We’re here for you.
ILENE SMITH FLO: Today’s podcast features FLO’s unaccompanied tours team. Listen to two Foreign Service couples discuss their experiences before and after their unaccompanied tour. The first couple, Cecile and Keith, will talk about the pre-planning phase of an unaccompanied tour.
KEITH: So what do you remember about planning for our unaccompanied adventures?
CECILE: I remember that there was usually a large event in the world and that you would come home and say that you felt a need to serve. And I would, of course, ask you the question, why? Why do you feel compelled to go? How long will you be gone? What’s going on how? Could you make a difference?
KEITH: Yeah, I think Somalia was that way. And then, of course, post-9/11, in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That was common. I think all of us were looking for some way to be involved.
KEITH: And how about the– what was the next phase of decision-making?
CECILE: Well, after many hours of discussing the need to go or not go, we would start– immediately shift over to the kids, because they were our main concern. And there’s four of them, and they were in different age stages.
So what’s going to be best for them? How would this move affect them? How are we going to tell them? How are we going to get their buy-in on it? How we do it so that they’re not scared?
KEITH: Right. Right. The schools and the emotional impact were the things I remember we talked through about, given their ages and where they were in life, how this was going to impact on them, and what was the best way to do it, what was the best time to go, how long to go, and
what we needed to support us in the process.
And then what about resources? I’ve thought about some of the resources that are available to help families prepare.
CECILE: Well, I was concerned about, are we going to stay here? Are we going to go back to the states? I think that was pretty much a no-brainer, because we didn’t have a home in the states. And there’s four of them, and it’s only a year.
That’s a lot of moving for just one year. So fortunately, we were able to go to the FLO Decision Tree. And they have that great do this, do that. And then, also it tells you all of the allowances-
CECILE: –that are available. So I felt that was very, very helpful.
KEITH: And then there’s the age-appropriate workbooks you can walk through with the kids to kind go through with each of them what it means and what it’s all about. And then the blogs, I think, are important too. I think that catching the experiences of other people and how they both dealt with the decision–
KEITH: –and then also having made the decision, how they dealt with the tour itself, I think, was also important.
CECILE: Right, it was nice signing up for the blog and having that come into my e-mail and something to read and– it felt like I had a support system.
KEITH: Mhm. And the other thing that is a good product, a good resource, is the Deployment Stress Management Program of MED, which also, again, they have consultants that can help. They have a number of products to help one look at the different aspects of the stress that comes with both preparing for deployment and during the deployment– also very helpful.
CECILE: I know. Stress is something that we forget about that it just creeps like a fog. And all of a sudden, you’re stressed out. You don’t realize why you’re behaving in a certain way. So you’re right. Those reminders of stress are very important.
KEITH: Right. And for the kids too. They react to stress in different ways, and they have their own way of coping. And I think trying to understand that and get ahead of that is important.
CECILE: Also notifying friends and schools that you were going to be away so that they would be alert to any strange behaviors–
CECILE: –that they might see in the kids– or different behaviors. Let’s put it that way.
KEITH: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking about, the prep phase itself, where the deployment is almost upon us, and the things that we tried to do to get ahead of that. I remember involving the kids at whatever age they’re at and whatever’s appropriate was important. Rachel, I remember, for the Iraq deployment wanted to help me pack. That was something that she did not want to be left out. She wanted to feel like it was something she was involved in.
All right, so she came down. And we packed all night and got all the flashlights ready or whatever it is we had to prep for the deployment. So that was something for her that was really important.
The boys went to sleep. They were– they were fine. But all right, that was something she needed. And I think finding that way that they can be involved in it and in an appropriate way.
I remember we talked a little bit about the danger to them, which was minimal in reality. But they’ll see the news. They’ll watch things that might freak them out.
So kind of be upfront about the nature of what I was going to be doing and how we mitigated the danger and that sort of thing– I think that was important. I think they all were comfortable with that part of it. What else?
CECILE: Communication– how often will we be able to communicate? And nowadays, communication is a little bit easier. Well, maybe it’s a lot easier. But way back when, I remember some very expensive phone calls with that–
KEITH: The $90 phone call to–
CECILE: Yeah, the $90 phone calls.
KEITH: –Somalia? Yeah.
CECILE: So I think communication– how often will you be able to communicate? How will you be able to communicate? The other day I was looking through a binder of all our printed e-mails from one of your tours, which was a nice narrative of what the kids were doing, what you were doing. So that was nice to have.
KEITH: Yeah. And then the final financial summits, I remember getting together that last time. We kind of were together on finances already, but then going through passwords and powers of attorney, and making sure everything was in place–
KEITH: –making sure there was nothing left out as we got ready for actual departure.
CECILE: So what’s your takeaway for other people deciding on a tour like this?
KEITH: Well, I think the main thing was to involve the kids early and throughout the process, get their buy-in and make them a part of the thing. So it was a family event. It wasn’t just one member going off for a while.
I think that looking carefully at the experiences of others and kind of absorbing some of the things that other families went through, both in how they made the decision and then how they coped with the deployment itself. And then I think not going into the decision-making process with too many preconceived notions, but being open to the notion of going home or staying at post. There’s arguments for both–
KEITH: –but being open-minded about that and open-minded about all the other pieces of the decision that will play out over the course of the deployment.
CECILE: I think managing expectations is important–
CECILE: –too. How often would we meet? How often will we communicate? And watch out for stressors.
KEITH: Exactly. Great.
KEITH: You ready to do it again?
CECILE: Yeah, sure. [LAUGHS]
ILENE SMITH FLO: In their discussion, Keith mentioned the Deployment Stress Management Program within the Bureau of Medical Services, also known as DSMP. If you would like more information regarding resources available to employees and family members relating to a high-threat assignment, please email DSMP at firstname.lastname@example.org. That is M-E-D-E-C-S at state dot gov.
Now, hear Chris and Luis discuss re-integration following an unaccompanied tour.
LUIS: How did we manage our reunion?
CHRIS: Mm. You know, it’s like we had an unaccompanied tour that went on a lot longer than I think either of us expected. And it had been postponed so many times I was pretty sure that it was going to be postponed yet again. But it was going to come to fruition, and so we were happy about that.
I think we were getting that– we had bought the new house, a house that we both wanted to be in. We were really excited to put it together, because we had collected so many things from our travels. So turning that house into a home, that was a big part of it, at least for me.
CHRIS: What about for you?
LUIS: Well, I think for me, it was–God, what helped so much was focusing on what is within our control.
LUIS: Being in a position in a job with the Foreign Service where flexibility is key, control, I think, for me was important. And so looking forward to our quarterly trips that we committed to–
LUIS: –to having– just to reunite–
LUIS: –to be together. And yeah, I think looking forward to our home, because putting it together was so important to us as a couple and as individuals.
LUIS: That was critical.
CHRIS: You know, and there were certainly challenges associated with–
CHRIS: –being reunited. And I remember seeing a webinar that FLO put on probably a few months before you were moving back. And in the webinar, they talked about how critical it was to communicate leading up into it. And I remember having some conversations with you on the front end. Like, we’ve lived together before in the U.S. We’ve had the responsibilities divided between you and me. And after having been overseas for all those years and having GSO to turn to, having affordable help that could pick up in areas when we were busy with work or with social activities, those were great aspects.
But coming back, it was kind of like, OK, who’s washing the dishes? Who’s doing the yard work? Who is doing laundry this week? Wait, I’m not doing laundry this week. I thought it was your job.
CHRIS: But talking about those things and working out both on the small end of the spectrum and the big end, like, who’s doing what?
LUIS: One of the challenges that– definitely, it sticks out for me, and I learned a lot from it, was after talking to Staff Care.
LUIS: And it was the importance of dealing with and managing the closure–
LUIS: –of a tour.
LUIS: So after being in a very intense environment with lots of professional demands, I found that suddenly, unexpectedly, that it was difficult to go and to put closure to it.
LUIS: So it was that, all while I was looking forward to being home with you. But once I realized how–
LUIS: –I needed to manage both, I was able to move forward.
LUIS: So it’s a reminder how in the Foreign Service, there are many things going on in our lives that we’re not always aware of or attuned to. And paying attention to what is going on underneath emotionally is critical, and it’s important. And talking to a professional when needed is also important.
CHRIS: Well, and I remember you had suggested that I meet with someone from Staff Care as well to get that support. And I said, oh, I don’t need it. I don’t need it.
And then eventually, I think it was after speaking to somebody else, that said, you really ought to take advantage of it. It’s just getting a third party’s advice and guidance. And I was really glad– I was really glad that I did, ultimately, because it gave us more kind of structuring how to handle that–
CHRIS: –aspect of the reintegration. I think for me, also, on kind of the more celebratory side was having things to look forward to–
LUIS: Oh, yeah.
CHRIS: –and having them planned in advance of your arrival. So shortly after you returned, we did a
vacation at the beach with friends. We did a couple of staycations where we put together the house and took advantage of that time just to be together again. And so that in addition to knowing that we would be together for birthdays, holidays, family events, that was all important.
LUIS: Right. And then I think, oh, gosh, I’m glad we did it this way. It worked for us. It is overwhelming. It’s an overwhelming experience. And I think a way that we managed it, and I certainly think we did the right thing–
LUIS: –was focusing and prioritizing our reunion, our relationship–
LUIS: –and then eventually focusing on meeting with family, reunions with friends.
LUIS: And for us, I think it worked. It’s worked actually quite well–
LUIS: –in a way that made everything else meaningful–
LUIS: –rather than overwhelming us, ourselves even more.
CHRIS: Yeah. Otherwise, it would have felt like another home leave.
LUIS: That’s true.
CHRIS: I think the guidance that I would give to other people is that, number one, we’ve always taken
great pride in our communication. But I think making sure that people talk about not only the great parts of the reunion but the challenges–
CHRIS: –the division of responsibilities–
CHRIS: –if there are those responsibilities, reaching out to Staff Care or whoever to get some support, because I think it was easy to underestimate how challenging it might be.
LUIS: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, as simple as the simple things, the daily things of life that one just underestimates– routines, chores, as you talked about earlier. It’s constantly– change is inevitable, but so is adjustment.
And so life moves on, and so we adjust. And so how we go about our routines, especially when you come back together, is important to keep in mind that everyone’s adjusting, everyone’s changing.
ILENE SMITH FLO: Those are good points to remember. LUIS mentioned that Staff Care was helpful during the reintegration phase. Staff Care is the employee assistance program available to the USAID community. The Department of State has a similar program called WorkLife4You.
If you are affiliated with another federal agency, contact your human resources office for information about your employee assistance program. If you would like more details about the resources discussed in this podcast related to before, during, and after an unaccompanied tour or any separation by service, please contact our office at GCLOAskUT@state.gov.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you for listening to FLO Global Podcasts. Look for upcoming episodes as we share more important tools to help you navigate your Foreign Service life. To ask questions, give feedback, or to subscribe, e-mail us at email@example.com.
Now for a quick legal note. The comments, opinions, and recommendations presented in this podcast are for general information only. Unless specifically stated otherwise, GCLO does not endorse, approve, recommend, or certify any information, product, process, service, or organization presented or mentioned in this podcast. For general information, visit GCLO at www.state.gov/gclo.