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Bringing you all the way home, Part 2

Part II of my interview with Jim Peak, co-author of Introduction to Type and Reintegration --

Jim Peak: Another thing that got me thinking more about Type and reintegration was Ken Burns' documentary "The War". They highlighted a couple of WWII soldiers from Alabama and Minnesota, which of course I had ties to. The last segment was about coming home, and throughout the documentary you had gotten to know these people, and the actual soldiers themselves talked about how tough it was coming back, "but so-and-so had a much harder time adjusting." You could see that these two people had completely different Types. Now I'm guessing, but I could imagine they were ISTJ and INFP, a more sensitive guy who liked to write and express things that way. Just that made me realize, hey, if I can pick that up, obviously it can relate to how a person can adjust and try to get back to normal.

That was an incentive for me to do some research into Type and military, and all I could find were case studies on PTSD. But what I was looking for were stories from people more like me: not really engaged in the horrors of combat, but still going through a huge, intense experience, that you still had to readjust no matter what. The chaplain and I would talk, and he said that the vast majority never really sees combat, but they're still affected. We really need something that can help the 90 to 95 % who don't fall into the PTSD category.

Doris: So you set out to create something that could also help other people working in war zones, like the NGOs, aid workers, missionaries...

JP: That's right. They also go through the same stuff trying to readjust to life in the US when they're coming back. One of the things I really like about using MBTI is that it's something stand-alone, not a unique military-endorsed program, but already very well-established, popular, and reliable. If people really understood it as such, my hope was they'd take the time to look at it again and be open and think this really could be useful.

D: How did you find participants for the book?

JP: For the research, I started asking questions, sending emails to members of my local Association of Psychological Type International (APTi) Chapter, and getting in touch with CPP and the Center for Application of Psychological Type (CAPT). Some of my contacts happened to have been in the military or military brats, so they were very familiar with the challenges and really encouraged me to go ahead and write it up. Sandra (Krebs) Hirsh eventually put me in contact with her daughters, Katherine and Elizabeth. We met a few times for coffee, and the more we talked, we started to prepare a proposal, look at some numbers, and decided to go for it. We split up the work, they wrote the bulk of the Type information, I've added to the intro and case studies, and we went back and forth for a bit. I had lots of colleagues and friends to bounce ideas off of, we still have people out in the field, some people coming back from Afghanistan in July... Writing is not as easy as I thought!

D: Welcome to the club! How long did it take from inception to completion?

JP: I think we got the final go-ahead in August, and the first draft was ready in January, and then published in May.

D: That's your second anniversary this year then, congratulations. Any one story that stands out in your mind?

JP: What we found is that ISTJ just "soldier on", so to speak. They come back home, file that experience away, and don't look at it again. Or I know one guy who's an ISTJ, and he just signed up for multiple tours, and kept going back and deployed over and over. He probably spent more time in Iraq and Afghanistan than any other guy I know. He just fit into the framework over there and was content.

D: That probably goes to the SJ temperament need for belonging and structure, it helps to know who you are and where you fit in. You belong to a group, there's a camaraderie and you trust them with your life. And these shared intense experiences create strong bonds.

JP: Indeed. Another contractor and I left Iraq on a C-130 aircraft, a military plane, and we flew out with a young soldier who had been killed that day. His body bag was in the back of the plane with us, and that was just such an emotional way to leave the country. Realizing that the young soldiers who were helping us out there, keeping us safe, were in danger and we had no idea who that person was. About five years later I realized that both the contractor and I ended up both doing some research independently to find out who that was. We found that he died due to an accidental discharge, it wasn't hostile fire, but he was dead just the same. He was from a town in Wisconsin about 100 miles from where I live. The contractor and I both also found a website that had been set up to honor him and other fallen soldiers, and we had both posted a message. (note: read Jim's message here.) That was a very moving experience. We had a couple of other close calls under attach in Iraq, but until then I never really thought about it. After that, I did.

D: You've been abroad three times, how were the reintegrations similar - or different?

JP: I spent about 5 years in Saudi Arabia, my family was with me, and when I came back, I moved into a new job with a new team and new responsibilities. I spent 8 years in Japan. Again, my family was with me, and when I came back, I moved into a new job with a new team and new responsibilities. Four months in Iraq left a much greater mark. I went alone, and I came back to my familiar job.

I tell people, that three or four months I was there was so much different than the eight years I spent in Japan for two reasons. One was the intensity of it. And then the second reason was, my family had been with me in Japan and Saudi, but from Iraq I came back alone, and I had no one else to share those common experiences with. I brought back a lot of stuff from Iraq, but it's like somebody else has been there, because I can't really talk about it in a way that others would understand.

The tour I did in Iraq was the first time I really felt plugged in and able to help people directly, not only in a roundabout way. It was very rewarding for me to see how the little bit that we were doing really made a difference.

D: In closing, what advice would you give someone coming back after a tour of duty?

JP: Recognize that going abroad changes everything. Once you make that first move - it's going to change everything. Coming back and readjusting is a process, and it takes time. Work through it. The more aware you are of yourself, the better. Type helps with that, and not just for you, you'll also be more aware of other people around you.

:-) Couldn't have said it better myself.



Bringing you all the way home

Jim Peak, co-author of the Introduction to Type and Reintegration manual, is a soft-spoken, intelligent, humble, and compassionate man. He grew up on a farm in Alabama, wanted to be in aerospace, never thinking he'd ever leave the State. He joined the Army Corps of Engineers, and his first assignment took him to Saudi Arabia. Both of us attended the 2011 Association for Psychological Type Conference in San Francisco, but we didn't connect until a few months later, when I started writing about Type and Reintegration. He generously shared his advice and experience about what it's like to come back home after spending time in a war zone. Our email exchange helped me work through some of the questions I had, and I was thrilled to now interview him and learn more.

Doris: What's your connection to the military?

Jim Peak: I'm currently the chief of a construction branch, managing all construction projects in our district. I've worked for the corps of engineers for 38 years, many times on civil works projects. But about half the time has been with military projects, which is where I worked alongside military guys, many times living on an Army installation. For example, we lived in Japan for eight years on the Army post, and all our neighbors were active-duty military. I've also working in Saudi Arabia for five years, partly on military projects. Sometimes I feel like I'm translating between the two military and civilian cultures.

D: I can imagine that can be quite challenging! So, how did you get started with Type?

JP: It's really a hobby, a passion, something I love, and it started probably in 1990. The Army corps offers a lot of leadership training, and sometimes we [civilian engineers] participated. We took the questionnaire and I remember thinking 'wow, this is really neat!' and it opened up a whole new avenue to understand not just myself but other people, too. I had the engineering training and all the technical stuff, but I found myself more and more interested in the people-side of things, which once I got into management became really useful. Now I bring in Type knowledge to work whenever I can, especially in terms of team building and mentoring young employees, for example.

Type knowledge also helped me understand the cultures I'm working in - engineering and military cultures are very STJ, or ST especially. My preferences are INFP, and it really helped me understand that situation. I was the type that always loved the "touchy-feely" stuff when other engineering colleagues or military personnel couldn't make sense of it and just wanted to get on with work. I can recognize other NF people in the room now.

D: When did you have your idea for combining Type and reintegration for service members?

JP: A friend of mine is a pastor and army military chaplain. He was doing a lot of work supporting members of the National Guard who were coming back. He knew I was involved in the Type community, I had just gotten certified, and he invited me to do a weekend seminar for military personnel and their spouses with him. Working with those groups I just realized that the MBTI was such a great tool, because you could use it for relationships, decision-making, career goals, communication - all those things that as you're dealing with when you're coming back. You have to reintegrate in your work environment, your teams, your family, you're probably facing some big decisions, like do you want to stay in this job or leave the military, and this helps figure out how to face them.

I could really relate to the National Guard guys, and the Army Reserve guys, because they for the most part deploy in small numbers. Not like a large group. And once they come back, they come back to their own individual offices. It's not like being part of the active Army and coming back to a major Army installation. They have all the support groups to plug back into, but these guys are expected to go back to their old jobs and just get along.

D: What reintegration support did you receive?

JP: The corps has a holiday program and award ceremony every year, and there were eight or nine engineers from our district who had gone to Iraq. They encouraged us to give a presentation at the ceremony, show slides, and present a summary of what we did. That little bit helped kind of get things out on the table and made other people aware of the kind of stuff we were doing while we were there. The corps in general is trying to offer some support, but on the civilian side they're kind of limited in what they can do, because you can't require these people to attend. The corps and the Army is offering much more these days, some of which is mandatory, so that helps remove the stigma of asking for help.

For example, my friend the chaplain was one of the founders of the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program, that is now nationwide. When we left, you would answer questions on an automated form, 'what did you see?', 'what did you do?' - and at that point, everyone is anxious to get out and just answered 'yes, no problem'. The soldiers did that, too. That's why they started mandating 30, 60, and 90 day follow-ups. Because what they realized is that it's usually about six months until any issues start popping up.

D: Do you have some examples?

JP: A lot of it came in the form of risk taking. Young guys going crazy on their motorcycles. Doing sky-diving. Just trying to do all sorts of stuff that would match up the levels of adrenaline they had when they were there, I guess. And if they couldn't do that, then it usually lead to a depression. But your perspective simply changes. Now the question is, what's the worst that could happen? All the stuff you've been too afraid to try, now you just go for it.

D: New-found courage can be a very positive outcome.

JP: That's right. The key is, if you can turn your experience - no matter how bad it is - into a positive, everything can be a learning experience. Again, Type knowledge is helpful because it can help you channel that into something useful.


Part II of this interview tomorrow, thanks for joining us!

To connect with Jim, you can find him on twitter @peaktype or on the web



Reintegration 101

Merriam-Webster online

The concept of home

Home can be a concrete notion, e.g. a soldier returning from war, or a repatriate returning after an international assignment, or a student returning from university or boarding school.

Coming home may have different time values attached to it. You can come home for the holidays, for a visit, or indefinitely.

Home can also be something intangible, in a sense that you may be returning to find yourself after a period of not being who you wanted to be or who you were meant to be. For example, you might be redefining yourself after a divorce, or a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Are you ever the same again after life-changing events?

Well, by that definition, no. A life-changing event changes your life.

Either way, I don't think staying the same is the point of living.

I believe all of us continually forge a "new normal," integrating our experiences from what came before. With a little introspection, we can learn to recognize how those experiences have impacted us. This will help us acknowledge and accept the change. Some changes are harder to accept than others, and some we may reject altogether.

But when we're ready to step into our new normal, we have to learn how to reestablish connections with people we knew from before.

Home-coming challenges

One of the challenges is reestablishing connections with people we knew from before if they have not gone through a similar transition. Someone who has never lived abroad or who has never been sent into battle has little concept of what that's like.

For repatriates, it can be difficult not sounding like a spoiled brat when recounting exciting exotic vacations or international adventures and mishaps to the folks who stayed back home.

For veterans, it can be difficult putting words to the things they have seen and done. More than that, you may not be allowed to talk about any of it to your family or friends. If that is the case, I hope you take advantage of mental health support that should be available to you. According to this Forbes articles, 22 veterans commit suicide every day. Don't be a statistic, call the Veteran Crisis Line.

Either way, the challenges of returning into a supposedly familiar environment after having broadened one's horizons are often underestimated. Consider the example of a disaster relief worker, who spent 12 months helping people on the other side of the globe survive. Upon returning home, none of her interactions had the same urgency or life-or-death aspect. This is also the case for many soldiers - once you get used to having adrenaline-filled days, standing in line at the local groceries store can be underwhelming, and disconcerting.

How can you deal with these challenges?

Approach your reintegration process the same as you did that of moving out. They are not called a process for nothing: it will take time and practice to feel at home again. If you like to plan, make a list. If you like to learn from others, contact your local vets center, or other repatriates from your company. If you like to read, consider any of the books (affiliate links).

Forging a new normal takes conscious awareness. You can only work on what you're aware of. If you don't think you need support in reintegrating, fine. But if you're the only one who feels that way, and you're receiving consistent feedback telling you otherwise (either directly in the form of verbal suggestions, or indirectly in the form of nobody's calling to hang out anymore) - maybe it's time to take a deep breath and think this through.

More on how to do that tomorrow.



What Soldiers and Expats have in common

landmines sandboxOne fearlessly accepts a challenge, moves to a foreign land, learns to dodge bullets, not step on landmines, and is afraid for his family's well-being, and the other is a soldier.


Both go abroad

Kidding aside, I'm not going to equate avoiding cultural landmines with avoiding actual ones. Still, many expats find themselves in so-called crisis posts or on hardship assignments. Depending on how sensitive you are to change, the adrenaline rush may even be comparable.landmines visual

Leaving your friends and families behind to serve your country or your corporation is a tremendous change process. You'll be cut off from your usual cultural cues, your living arrangements will be different, you may not speak the local language, you may not have access to your favorite food or entertainment items.

All of these changes contribute to brain shock. First, you'll have a reaction to the external differences. Then, later on, you may find yourself wondering about how you are the one that's different on the inside.

Both need training

Soldiers I've spoken to received an overview of local customs. Granted, their missions may not always involve connecting with the locals, but thankfully, e.g. the US Army is recognizing the importance of understanding your enemy at a cultural level. The following are quotes from the CNN article, "'Smart power': Army making cultural training a priority":

While physical conditioning and live-fire exercises certainly help prepare troops for deployment, they're culturally blind if they don't understand the people among whom they'll be fighting. In the 21st century, when the U.S. is at war with ideals as much as -- if not more than -- foreign armies, this blind side can be as dangerous as your M249 jamming.


Currently, anthropology, language and 10,000 years of heritage are squeezed into troops' curricula a few weeks before deployment, what Dowling calls "cultural training on steroids." Between pre-deployment paperwork and drills, they are handed a small pamphlet outlining some history and cultural no-nos to avoid.


Col. Jeff Broadwater said efforts to craft a more culturally savvy Army is an effort to foster more symbiotic relationships across various regions.

(...)The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated how cognizance of cultures, ethnicities and religions was essential to understanding the source of conflict, Broadwater said.

Dowling added that the training alone can help a soldier better understand the lay of any land. Even if troops received cultural training specifically for African nations, it would be better to use that unit in the Middle East than troops who weren't culturally aligned at all, he said.

"Anthropologically, socially, economically, they'll have to reset what the answers are, but the right questions will already be in their mind," he said.

Most corporations also understand the positive impact cultural awareness can have. The following are figures reported in the 2012 Brookfield Global Relocation Survey:

  • 81% of companies provided formal cross-cultural preparation. 44% on some assignments; and 37% on all assignments. Where cross-cultural preparation was offered only on some assignments, 51% made it available based on the type of assignment; 28% based on host location; and 21% based on other criteria.
  • Where cross-cultural training was offered on all assignments, 60% provided it to the entire family; 27% to the international assignee and spouse; and 8% for employees alone. There was an 11% increase in offering cross- cultural training on all assignments from the 2011 report.
  • At companies where cross-cultural training was offered, it was mandatory at 24% of companies.
  • 85% of respondents rated cross-cultural training as having good or great value.

As you can see, we're still far away from 100 %.

Both will face Reintegration issues

And this is what I want to take this week to explore a little further. I'll reference the "Introduction to Type and Reintegration" book by Elizabeth Hirsh, Katherine W. Hirsh and James Peak.

Thanks for joining me.



Introduction to Type and Reintegration

Elizabeth Hirsh, Katherine W. Hirsh, and James Peak have co-authored this manual, subtitled "A Framework for managing the Transition Home." Speaking with the authors at the recent Association for Psychological Type International Conference in San Francisco, Elizabeth explained they had service members and their families in mind. Coming from the expatriate background, I cannot help but notice the similarities in experience. Every repatriate also has unique challenges, preferences, and coping mechanisms for reintegrating into their home country after an international assignment.

I look forward to participating in the APTi e-Chapter organized webinar tomorrow! There's still time to SIGN UP if you're interested.