Former military wife uses counseling to impact thousands of Idaho military families

February 23, 2012, 5:23 pm

When Chandra Salisbury’s husband was deployed with the Idaho National Guard in 2004-2005, there weren’t many programs and resources in place to help Idaho military families with the challenges of reintegration after deployment. And they could have used some of those resources; Chandra was six months pregnant with their youngest daughter, their son was 18 months old, their oldest daughter was five years old and getting ready to start kindergarten, and they were all facing a long 18 months without their husband and daddy while he was deployed.

“No soldier comes back from deployment exactly the same person,” Salisbury said. “And you have to find a way to come back together after you’ve lived separate lives for a year or more. You’ve got to find a ‘new normal’, and it can be really challenging.”

Salisbury couldn’t have guessed then that just a few years later, she would have the opportunity to make a major impact on thousands of Idaho’s soldiers and family members through her Master of Science in Counseling program at Northwest Nazarene University.

During a counseling internship with the Idaho National Guard, Salisbury and fellow third-year counseling student Ryan Newby heard about a relatively new initiative called the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, a series of events designed to offer help and resources to Idaho military families facing the unique challenges of reintegration after deployment. Salisbury asked a simple question: Could the NNU counseling students help?

we had no idea how big this project was going to become

“When I asked that question, I had no idea where it would lead. We just wanted to help fill the gap– we had no idea how big this project was going to become,” Salisbury said.

Working with NNU professors Dr. Lori Fairgrieve and Dr. Michael Pitts and Idaho National Guard Director of Psychological Health Penelope Hansen, Salisbury helped coordinate the efforts of more than 40 NNU counseling students to develop curriculum, lead group therapy sessions, and lead children’s and teen’s programming at the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program events for recently deployed military families all across the state of Idaho.

“Through this experience of working with the Yellow Ribbon project, I’ve seen firsthand how NNU professors really do take a vested interest in every single student. Dr. Fairgrieve and Dr. Pitts were incredibly supportive and even incorporated this project into classroom assignments. Without their support, I don’t know that we could have gone very far with this project,” Salisbury said.

The Yellow Ribbon events took place basically every weekend between the end of October and the end of January and reached more than 2,100 Idahoan service members and families in the Boise Valley. The NNU counseling students volunteered 700 hours of service to help with the events, and Salisbury personally logged 150 volunteer hours to coordinate the events.

“I saw a lot of heartbreaking things happening in Idaho military families after the last deployment when these programs weren’t in place,” said Salisbury. “I have such an appreciation for military families and the challenges and stresses they’ve experienced, and also a respect for the strength and resiliency that comes out of what they’ve gone through. I was so happy to be able to help—the work was definitely worth it.”

Salisbury said that her experience in the NNU counseling program and her emphasis in grief, trauma and crisis counseling was, in some ways, the final tool she needed to be able impact Idaho military families in such a broad way.

“My previous work experience, personal experiences as a military wife, knowledge base and counseling education all came to a culmination in this project,” she said.

“I have this picture in my mind of who I was when I started my counseling education three years ago. It’s almost hard to recognize who that person was as I’ve grown so much personally and professionally—and I credit a lot of that to my NNU professors and all they’ve invested in me,” Salisbury said.

The Idaho National Guard recognized students from NNU’s Master of Science in Counseling program on Thurs. with a certificate of appreciation for their work.

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