Well. Deployments suck.
Handling deployment is tough. There’s no good way to say how terrible deployment. The lonely nights. The sudden schedule change. The sudden silence. And no one to open the jars that are screwed on so tightly. So how do we handle them? What makes it better? What makes the days go by faster? Sigh. It takes a conscious effort to keep busy. The first few days are usually spent binge watching a new show on Netflix with my good friends Ben and Jerry. Yeah I know, super healthy, but I don’t even care at that point. I cry randomly for a few days so I try to stay home as much as possible for the first week so I don’t look like a crazed emotional mess. If you’ve seen the movie “Tammy”… I may or may not resemble her for the first few days of most deployments, minus the crazy cursing and drinking.
I’ve been through many deployments/rotations. My mourning time frame gets less and less every time. It went from a month with the first deployment, to a few days by my 4th and so on. The most heartbreaking thing about deployment is the silence; the deafening sudden silence of not having your spouse around. There’s no one to ask a question too, to cuddle with, to help you grab that bowl from the top shelf, to help you rearrange furniture. Many times there’s no one around to talk too who even remotely understands what you’re going through.
When my husband leaves on deployments, it might be days before we can talk again. I might get a text here or there, a phone call before he made it down range. It takes days to get processed and settled. In the meantime he’s flying roughly 7,500 miles (roughly 24 hours), 14 of those hours are over the ocean… talk about a nervous mama. I hate flying (and the thought of it) so it makes me nervous to have my love flying for that long over the ocean! Insert Malaysia Air Flight 370 here… ugh. I just can’t even think about that.
To make it through any type of TDY or deployment there are many practical things that you’ll need to manage. On the practical side is a list below. I keep all these things in a binder, in sheet protectors, in a safe, but accessible place. I keep the hard copies/originals in a strong box that is fire and waterproof and lockable. You can get a strong box at Target, Walmart, Costco for less than $30.00 usually. Here is the link one similar to mine.
What to have in your binder:
1. A General Power of Attorney (This is possibly the most important thing to get anything done).
2. Insurance cards (health, auto, house/apartment etc).
3. Copies of the whole family’s military ID (Spouse ID, Cac Card for your spouse, Children’s ID’s if applicable).
4. Copies of the whole family’s social security cards.
5. Copies of birth certificates for the whole family.
6. Copies of Life insurance papers for everyone.
7. Copies of living will and last will and testament for all adults.
8. Copies of all passports for everyone.
9. All online accounts and passwords.
10. Current phone numbers for your soldier overseas (if available) in the case of an emergency stateside.
Your local FRG (family readiness group) can help you compile documents that you need to have on hand and up to date. Use them as a resource. That’s what they are there for!
The emotional side of deployments can be rough. You can have your binder and make it color coated with tabs and dry erase markers and everything and that’s great. But that’s only great if you are emotionally prepared to handle your spouse being gone for months at a time and having virtually no contact at times.
You’ll feel like you’re a single parent or at least single again if you don’t have children. You’ll be depressed and morose, but there are a few, dare I say, nice things about deployment. Like these:
-You get the whole bed to yourself! So sleep in the middle if you want!
-You get to run your own schedule. No more trying to make sure schedules line up with transportation and babysitting.
-You can take bubble baths alone!
-You can stay up late and watch movies that you want to watch!
-You can go to the gym whenever you want, or take up the whole living room doing a workout DVD.
-You can go get your nails done while the kids are in school and not feel like you’re abandoning anyone.
-You know that anything you set down will still be there the next time you go back for it.
-You get to manage the household so you know what’s going on and when (your rule the calendar!)
Now, these lists aren’t exhaustive. Not every deployment is the same, especially if you’re active military and not a contractor. Those rotations are very different. Either way, your spouse is gone, in a hostile environment and communication sucks. My advice is this, if you don’t get anything else out of this post, hear this. KEEP BUSY! At least for the first few weeks, it helps the transition time.
Try going to the gym often to work out the emotions. Get an easy part time job. Take some cooking classes or lessons. Redecorate a room or two in the house. I love doing this. I made it a personal challenge to see how cheap I could do each room (thank you Pinterest)! Try your hand at cooking for a month at a time! Take a class in something that you’ve never done before. Find a Mops, Mugs or Mom2Mom group in your area (usually found at a local church or community center) and meet other moms who you click with and plan to meet again. Take some college courses and obtain a certificate or degree in something you love to do.
It takes a conscious effort like I said! I love my mom2mom group. It’s not really my style… I don’t do crafts often nor do I find it “fun”. But I love socializing and sharing “those darn kids” moments with them, especially over coffee! They can relate to that! They might not understand what it’s like being spouse-less for months at a time, but on some level, you can identify together. It’s a step! I attend a bible study at my church as often as I can; I also meet some ladies for coffee most Thursday mornings. It’s been a lifesaver for me while my hubby is gone. I work out at least once a day for 30-45 minutes and sometimes if I’m bored or feeling a little…. fluffy, I might work out twice in one day! It depends on the day. I love at-home workout programs like Piyo, Bodybeast, TurboFire, Insanity etc. It’s cheaper than having a gym membership; however, I can appreciate needing to get out of the house at times.
My point is deployment suck. My other point is, use this time away from your spouse to become a better version of yourself. Try riding your diet of gluten or grains, or go paleo! We can always improve on ourselves. It’s a great time to go through the hard part of changing and improving ourselves. Our spouses don’t have to see the trial and error of new things! Because seriously, ever try a detox? The hanger that ensues is dangerous! There isn’t going to be a better time to save your spouse from that raw primitive emotions!
I had the pleasure of talking to several family friends who have been deployed over the years. I asked 3 questions to each of them. They all basically said the same thing surprisingly. I am paraphrasing the answers.
1. What helped the most during your deployment? Handwritten letters and phone calls! Also, DVD’s, something from the real world to lose yourself in for a while and bring in some sense of normal.
2. What helped the least? Basically, you need to research a good care package. Don’t throw your leftover randomness in there. Take the time to see what the guys need! You can never go wrong with homemade cookies. Another safe bet is also current books and movies.
3. What would have been more helpful (something that you needed or would have liked, but didn’t get)? MORE HANDWRITTEN LETTERS OR EMAILS. Just because we’re gone and you’re busy doesn’t mean we don’t want/need to hear from support back home.
My thoughts on these answers:
1. Never underestimate the power of a wonderful handwritten letter. It’s a lost art! I know my husband truly appreciates getting physical pictures of our kids and seeing something that I’ve taken the time to handwrite and mail over. Granted, all the info in the letters is outdated by weeks, but that’s not the point. I took the time to show I cared. You know what else? It takes time! Spend 30 minutes a day writing a letter to your soldier. Recap your day, they want to know! Even if the contents are mundane enough that you have to state what you had for breakfast. It’s appreciated, I promise.
2. My husband always appreciated healthier options of food that were nonperishable. I often sent him bulk bags of nuts (www.nuts.com), dried fruits, granola bars, and those tuna salad crackers kit things, he loved those! Homemade cookies are always a safe bet. They don’t spoil easily and they’re not an MRE. Books and magazines are fantastic care package stuffers also. Even if they can get their hands on them, they’re usually double the price.
3. Emotional support is huge. Even if we can’t do much we can go to the Dollar General, pick up a .99 cent card, write a little note and send it off. Here’s my point, though; the longer our letters are the more cathartic it will be on both sides. First, it gives you an emotional outlet of telling your loved one about your day. Second, it takes time! It will help you pass the time until they return. Lastly, it takes your focus off yourself. It allows you to focus on your loved one’s needs/wants/desires. Ultimately that’s what Christ wants us to do with everyone! Look beyond yourself and fulfill those around you. It’s going to be tough. You’re going to have bad days, but the more we focus outwardly on others the more the Lord will bless us during those times of deployments and rotations.
I need to put this caveat in there as well. If you’re having relationship problems, put them on the back burner until you can speak face to face if at all possible. It’s easy to think that you can solve all your relationship problems over Skype. Rarely does that work well. There are just some arguments that you have to put a pin in and wait until your soldier gets home. Through the dark moments of deployment, the “D” word can dance around in your head. Divorce will seem like an easier alternative than making it through a deployment physically alone. Trust me when I say it’s Satan trying to infiltrate your marriage and tear it apart. Marriage is so very sacred and any weak areas you have will be attacked by the great liar! Pray for your marriage through your deployments, do devotions together if possible. Read through a couple’s devotional book and write letters after each chapter of what you got out of it! You might not have time to talk together on the phone but sending snail mail letters can be just as heartfelt and eye-opening, to each other, if you’re honest. Divorce is not the answer to handling deployments better. You made a commitment to love and cherish through sickness and health, hard times, and awesome times. Trust in the Lord to keep your marriage safe.