A National Guard family's homecoming continuesby Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. FRANCIS, Minn. — Capt. Freddy Munoz gave his last orders as company commander two months ago at a National Guard welcome home ceremony.
After releasing his troops in St. Cloud, Munoz made his way across the auditorium to see his wife Jenny and daughters Emma and Eszie for the first time since December. They kissed, hugged and laughed.
Munoz is among nearly 3,000 Minnesota National Guard soldiers who returned from the Middle East in May. The 34th Infantry Division Red Bulls were stationed in Kuwait assisting with the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq.
Now comes the hard part.
As happy as he is to be home again, Munoz knows it will take time to adjust to family life. Life at home won't be as regimented as it was in Kuwait.
"We just gave orders and executed our mission," he said. "Now I have to get back to being a team player as opposed to being a boss. That's the adjustment part. Fortunately we've done this already once so I think we can manage the adjustment on this one."
Jenny Munoz also is nervous about how her husband will react to being home.
"I think it'll be a little bit of an adjustment for him," she said. "I mean, you go from living in a combat zone for that long to coming home and living in the suburbs, it's going to jolt anybody."
In 2007, when Freddy Munoz returned from his last tour of duty overseas, his relationship with Jenny suffered. It took months for them to figure out how to live together again. They fought a lot.
To try and avoid problems this time around, they began preparing for the transition months in advance. They sought advice on how to parent while he was away and went to a weekend marriage retreat.
Earlier this month at their home in St. Francis, Minn., the couple agreed that their preparation seems to be paying off.
"It's easier than we expected, and I think the reason it is easier is that we were expecting it to be terribly hard and so it's nice that it's not," Jenny Munoz said. "Throwing another kid in a month after he got home should have been horribly difficult. It was easier than we expected."
In addition to their newly-adopted daughters, Jenny and Freddy Munoz recently took in another foster child they hope to adopt. She said having children around seems to help them get along.
"We were sort of forced to be a little easier on each other for the kids, because the girls would get really upset if we would disagree and argue," she said.
Her husband said returning to his civilian job as a deputy with the Anoka County Sheriff's department has helped. He's sleeping through the night for the first time since leaving Kuwait. But they know the transition is far from over. Research shows adjustment problems often take months to surface after a soldier returns from combat.
Earlier this month, the couple traveled to St. Cloud for a mandatory National Guard event, a day-long series of workshops designed to help ease the transition between combat and home life. Soldiers are required to attend sessions on mental and physical health, Veterans Administration benefits, financial literacy and job hunting.
After lunch at the St. Cloud convention center, Jenny Munoz stopped at a table offering parenting resources. She took some workbooks designed to help kids understand a parent's deployment. She hopes it will help daughters Emma and Eszie work through their feelings.
"Emma's tantrums really escalated when he left," she said of her husband's overseas duty. "Eszie started having behavioral problems when he left. And then he came home for good and almost everything stopped.
"Then he went back to work at the sheriff department and that day we had temper tantrums start up again, so a lot of the behavioral problems were completely related to him being gone and them just not knowing how to express how they were feeling or that they were afraid or worried about him."
Since he returned to Minnesota, Freddy Munoz has noticed that he is much calmer with the children than he used to be.
"I'm finally starting to adjust," he said. "I'm starting to be more patient. I'm not yelling as much."
His wife agreed.
"I think we are all surprised at the way things have gone," she said. "I think everybody was sort of expecting [him to] fly off the handle at anything, because they have to be quick to react to anything when they are over there."
While her husband has loosened up, Jenny Munoz said being a single parent for the last year taught her to be tougher and strict with the children. They're still trying to get on the same page as parents.
The couple's adoption of Emma and Eszie was finalized while he served in Kuwait, so they haven't had much time together since then. Now that he is home, Freddy Munoz said they can start settling in as a family.
"So now we are into 'OK, this is how the Munoz family is going to be,' " he said.
Soldiers and their families across the state are facing their own homecoming challenges. The National Guard will sponsor two more mandatory workshops designed to help them with the transition.
(MPR News reporter Conrad Wilson contributed to this report.)