Veterans Day Is A Good Time to Armor Down and Ask "What About Day Two?"
By Allan Shedlin
Founder, DADvocacy Consulting Group
A SPECIAL VETERANS DAY 2021 EDITION
By Veterans Day – as with Memorial Day – we reach a crescendo of heartwarming visions of soldiers returning from deployment, surprising their children in various creative ways, by suddenly appearing in their camouflage. The exuberant heartfelt and heartwarming embraces trigger tears from all involved, including all the in-person and virtual witnesses.
That’s Day #1. But what about Day #2?
For just over two years I have been working to assist veterans and active-duty warriors to reenter their families in the most productive and rewarding ways possible. Working with Ben King, an Iraq War veteran, Purple Heart recipient, and creator of Armor Down and Mindful Memorial Foundation, we have been helping “Warrior Dads” transition from the “call to arms” of battle to their children’s and families “call to arms” upon their return home.
Our Armor Down/Daddy Up!™ (AD/DU!) program conducted our first sessions for Warrior Dads and their “Warrior Kids” with the Wounded Warrior Project in the greater Richmond, VA, area. After the pandemic required us to conduct our sessions virtually, the six-hour program, offered in three sessions, was opened up nationally and we have now served families in 20 states.
For so many veterans, their physical return home from combat precedes their psychological and emotional return. The traumatic baggage that accompanies them home can weigh heavily on their relationships for years to come.
Embracing the fact that becoming a parent and becoming a soldier are perhaps the two most identity-defining and life-altering moments in the participants’ lives, the Program assists veterans in armoring down from their military experiences and teaches them specific parenting skills to enable them to become the parents they want to be. It builds upon the idea that when parenting is satisfying it can help mitigate the negative consequences often associated with the realities of deployment and its aftermath.
For so many veterans, their physical return home from combat precedes their psychological and emotional return. The traumatic baggage that accompanies them home can weigh heavily on their relationships for years to come. The days/daze that follow/s reentry are/is often influenced by what occurs when the consequences of deployment come face-to-face with the everyday realities and demands of parenting.
There is little doubt and much research to support, that the experiences of deployment have a profound and lasting impact on the abilities and skills needed for veterans to become the parents they want to be. It is widely agreed that nothing will ever be the same after you’ve seen combat.
Because parenting occurs in a dynamic social context known as family, AD/DU! creates a dynamic interaction between parents and their child(ren). The Program works directly with both groups. The Program also acknowledges that the family exists within a broad social context that is experiencing the triple uncertainties brought on by a pandemic, its economic fallout, and increased social unrest – these challenges sometimes experienced as more than the sum of their parts – may be amplified for the veterans the Program serves.
By building upon the resilience the veterans may have developed during their military experience, the AD/DU! program seeks to help them develop positive coping skills and reminds them that we all have problems that need to be solved rather than seeing them as threats that require an attack.
Although I never served in the military, I have been proud to serve our country in classrooms and schools for more than 40 years. As one military veteran told me, “If you were a school principal in NYC, you can call yourself a ‘veteran.’“ And now serving as co-facilitator with Army veteran Ben King and Marine Ben Killoy, we continue to serve.
There is little doubt and much research to support, that the experiences of deployment have a profound and lasting impact on the abilities and skills needed for veterans to become the parents they want to be.
That said, the experience of working with veterans and their families has taught me a great deal worth sharing. Here are just a few:
Dads are dads and kids are kids – the challenges and joys they face are universal.
Military training and duty provide skills that can both enhance and/or interfere with parenting.
Supported by research, we learned that one of the valuable skills desired and needed by veterans is affiliation with others who are experiencing similar adjustments and challenges.
Discovering that other Warrior Dads had common experiences and needs, the men were quick to open up, recognize the kind of vulnerabilities the military discourages, and offer supports to their new “Band of Warrior Dads.”
Although initially designed to serve the military, the program has the potential to be valuable to others who have been impacted by trauma-related experiences.
Acknowledging the increase in female veterans, and at the request of the Wounded Warriors Project, we have also conducted an Armor Down/Mommy Up! version. And as the Program has expanded, we recently included a Warrior Kid “graduate” as a youth facilitator, Melonie Rodriguez, who is completing her senior year at William & Mary as a psychology major.
While we feel and savor the joy of soldiers returning home to their families, let’s each do whatever is within our power to make sure that on Day 2 (and the other 363 days that surround Veterans Day and Memorial Day each year) we recognize the 18 million living veterans and ensure they receive the thanks and honor they have earned. Let’s not leave any of them behind.
A special thanks to these Armor Down/Daddy Up! partners:
We highly recommend these two powerful documentaries, which relate the real struggles our veterans face balancing their military and home lives:
American Veteran (PBS)
Father Soldier Son (Netflix)
Allan Shedlin has devoted his life’s work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, a “bonus” son, five grandchildren, and three “bonus” grandchildren. Trained as an educator, Allan has alternated between classroom service, policy development, and advising. After eight years as an elementary school principal, Allan founded and headed the National Elementary School Center for 10 years. In the 1980s, he began writing about education and parenting for major news outlets and education trade publications, as well as appearing on radio and TV. In 2008, he was honored as a "Living Treasure" by Mothering Magazine and founded REEL Fathers in Santa Fe, NM, where he now serves as president emeritus. In 2017, he founded the DADvocacy Consulting Group. In 2018, he launched the DADDY Wishes Fund and Daddy Appleseed Fund. In 2019 he co-created and began co-facilitating the Armor Down/Daddy Up! and Mommy Up! programs. He earned his elementary and high school diplomas from NYC’s Ethical Culture Schools, BA at Colgate University, MA at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and an ABD at Fordham University. But he considers his D-A-D the most important “degree” of all.