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R&R beneficial; not without risks
Sgt. 1st Class Rick Perry and his wife, Gabi Perry, pose for a photo during a vacation they took while Sgt. Perry was on R&R. Perry, who has been deployed four times, and his family always take a trip while he’s home on a break. - photo by Photo provided.
After a few months deployed overseas, service members are ready for a little R&R. Through the Army’s Rest and Recuperation program, soldiers are allowed 15-18 days of leave, depending on their tours, to see family and friends or venture into other countries.
For many, R&R is beneficial, but for a few service members and their families, there is a downside, said Sharon Lynn Bullard, a social worker at the behavioral health clinic on Fort Stewart.  
Service members go through briefings about what to do or not do on R&R and are warned about problems they may encounter with sleep, irritability and loud noises. The key is to focus on planning time with family and friends, and trying not to change the routine or tackle big family issues, Bullard said.
Families need to remember not to create problems when a soldier is home on leave. Over time, they’ll adjust to making the most out of R&R, Bullard said.
Sgt. 1st Class Rick Perry has served in the Army for 16 years and is currently on his fourth deployment. “We’ve been doing this a long time,” his wife, Gabi Perry, said.
Though their children are older and know what to expect when Sgt. Perry comes home, the family still talks about the topics and activities to avoid, Gabi Perry said.
Bullard said couples and families can encounter other problems, such as mis-communications or financial issues.
Some soldiers see R&R as a time to let loose and party, which can affect budgets and strain relationships. Drinking too much can lead to arguments and sometimes domestic violence, according to the social worker.
But even with the countless issues that may crop up, the pros of R&R typically outweigh the cons.
“There are more positive aspects than negative of this program,” Bullard said.  “Soldiers get to be physically out of the war environment. They get to reunite with family and friends if only for a short time.”
In Gabi Perry’s opinion, it’s generally a nice halfway point for soldiers and their families. “It’s a great thing for us and our family,” she said. “Six months is about all we can handle without seeing each other. It gives me the motivation to make it through the rest of his deployment. What’s difficult for him is the traveling. It takes so long and he doesn’t get much sleep. If he didn’t have a family, he probably wouldn’t bother taking a leave.”
Doing something memorable during R&R helps families, but it’s important not to cram too many activities into the short break because doing so may stress a soldier and his or her family. “You can’t make up for lost time,” Bullard said.
The Perry family always plans a weekend vacation somewhere fun. “It’s typically Orlando, but this time we went to Helen,” Gabi Perry said. “The rest of the time we spend at home so he can sleep in his own bed.”
Saying goodbye again, though, may be the hardest part for families, according to Bullard.
“Having him back feels like a dream because it’s for such a short period of time,” Perry said. “Sending him back to Iraq is the hardest part for me.”
“It’s important for families to get back to their normal routine as soon as possible after the spouse leaves,” Bullard said.
To restore normalcy, she suggests families have a special tradition for after their soldier leaves — even something as simple as a family dinner.
“The transition back into the routine is the easy part,” Perry said.
Even though everyone knows the goodbyes are coming, families sometimes have problems with children who suffer from separation anxiety or misbehave.
It’s good for families, especially those with children, to talk about the sadness and anxiety of having a family member leave again. The Army promotes a “suck-it-up” attitude as a coping skill. “It was never meant to be an all-purpose coping skill,” Bullard said. 
Many families have developed ways of coping on their own, such as spending time with friends and relatives or finding hobbies to occupy time.
If after a few weeks, spouses or children still aren’t coping well with a soldier’s absence, families should consider a visit to the behavioral health clinic, which is there to help with the transition, Bullard said.
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