(Photo credits: Photo Pin)
Early in 2010, I turned out the light and my husband pulled me close for what I thought was just a pre-sleep snuggle. The words he spoke next changed my life forever. I could never have imagined we would spend our 24th and 25th anniversaries apart even though I knew deployment was always a possibility. But we had spent many years of our marriage in peace time. Shortly after he told me, we found out our oldest son would be deploying with a different unit at the same time. This conversation instantly changed how I understood our military commitment.
There is a world full of military acronyms which most spouses can speak fairly well. I probably don’t really know that many. There is also an unspoken language between families who have their loved ones serving. I can’t imagine being surrounded by people on a daily basis who know both of those languages well like living on a base would provide. We are a National Guard family and we’ve never had the opportunity to live on a base. In fact, we’ve lived in the same small town for twenty-one years.
Pre OEF (Operating Enduring Freedom), it was even easy to forget we were a military family. Until my husband went full-time a few years ago, he donned his ACU’s (not to be confused with BDU’s because we had those too) once a month and left us for two weeks every summer. He was activated for flood duties. He missed many kids’ and family events which always jarred my lack of military commitment back to the front of my brain. Our friends and family have always eagerly forgotten our commitments until the military got in the way of plans. Our son enlisted when he was twenty-one and followed his dad’s footsteps into the National Guard. Shortly after our son returned from AIT, they both received their orders for year-long deployments to Afghanistan.
The next six months we spent preparing for their departures. I had absolutely no idea how I was going to survive. My other four sons and daughter-in-law would see me through and we would band together. And I would stand strong and take care of our house and our finances. I didn’t feel strong but I had no choice but to behave strongly. But I had thoughts. Thinking if something happened I would have to sell our house because I wouldn’t be able to manage alone. How I would manage emotionally? How would I manage at all if the worst happened?
The following list only comes after making it through and having a year to readjust and reflect. Here are my Top 5 Tips for Surviving a Deployment Away From a Base:
5) Have your list of important military related phone numbers ready.
I had two FRG (Family Readiness Group) contacts.I didn’t know anyone in either of the FRG groups.The soldiers from my husband’s unit were pulled together from across our state and we really didn’t know any of them.And my son’s base is four hours from our house. So while I knew I had people to call, they were a distance from me, and I needed to have my phone numbers very handy for my own peace of mind.Have the list saved on your computer or phone so they are with you wherever you go.But, also, have them printed off and maybe even tape them to your fridge.As the year moves along, you may become comfortable and slightly more relaxed, so having them where you know they are is very important.I also found that the stress of preparation and the sending ceremony messed with my memory.So get those numbers ready while you can still discuss the list with your soldiers.It is possible your FRG leader may supply you with a list which you might wish to adjust for your own needs.But make sure you at least have your FRG leader’s number handy for any military related help you may need.As it turned out for me, I never needed them.But knowing I had them and where I had them gave me great peace of mind.
4) Be prepared for comments made by friends, family, and people in your community.
Okay, let’s be real.This is a tough one.And I write this with all respect of people who don’t understand what it’s like to be a military family.But most people who don’t have family members or friends in the military don’t really understand what it’s like or know what to say. It’s just too scary for them.In the beginning, it’s kind of like you have a really bad illness.People come rushing to your aid and they have all the care and compassion in the world.But then, as time moves on, their lives keep them busy and they forget that you are still enduring the deployment… until they see you.They aren’t surrounded by soldiers in uniform.The military life is foreign.And now they aren’t even occasionally seeing your soldier in uniform.When they see you, you are now a reminder to them that we are at war.And then they say they don’t know how you do it.I don’t know if I’ve ever really had a good answer for that one.I have wanted to be sarcastic many times.But knowing it’s hard on people to be faced with the reality of war, I usually just say I took it one moment at a time.People also commented on my strength.I’m only strong on the outside.On the inside, I depend on my faith.But, sometimes my anxiety about the whole thing took over.I also experienced people’s political views whether I solicited them or not.And I also experienced one person asking me if I heard about the attack one particular morning and the soldiers that were killed.That moment turned into an angering day for me. I thought that person should have been more sensitive to me. But I recovered.And I learned to just understand where people were coming from.Just don’t be surprised.I always felt, and still feel, like people mean well.The comments still come even though the deployment is long over. Most people are afraid my soldiers will have to do it again.The answer to that is as long as they are enlisted there is always that possibility.And we just live with that without thinking about. I imagine living on a base would eliminate most of those types of conversations and the conversations between fellow military spouses would be unspoken and just understood.
3) Know who your handy-man is or be your own.
Before my husband deployed, we went around the house and I took instructions and made notes.I also asked lots of questions. Most things I should have known but after almost 25 years together we had settled in to who took care of what and were quite content.I learned how to change the furnace filter and what size I needed.I learned where to shut off the main water to the house.I learned about which gas can was which in the garage.Most of that stuff I promptly forgot until I was forced to know it again.As we all know, there is the deployment curse.I’m glad I didn’t know about the curse before he deployed.I definitely learned about it while he was gone.We had multiple major car issues including an accident.We had a fire in our kitchen and a flood in our basement.And our furnace quit working twice.I knew who to call around town.I also had two handy-men who lived down the street.I am also very handy myself.One day I found myself looking through my husband’s tools and I decided to just organize my own tool box.So the next time I was at the home-improvement store purchasing a new lawn mower, I purchased a tool box for myself.I also take great pride in knowing I assembled the lawn mower in our living room while I watched William and Kate’s wedding!I am a true mix of a tom-boy and a girlie-girl which serves me well as a military spouse.
2) Keep your evenings and weekends busy.
During the weekdays, it was very easy for me to keep my mind occupied and pretend he was at work just like any other day. Homeschooling our youngest son also kept my days highly occupied. But supper time would near and no one would arrive home. Evenings would last forever if I was home alone. Sundays were also a particularly rough day because it’s our family day. My part-time job was working as a server in our local sports bar.And that job proved to be invaluable to me through the deployment because I worked a few evenings a week. Many of my regular customers were so good to me and became great support. So did my co-workers.Be proactive in your activities and don’t wait around for people to ask you to do something. Do the asking yourself.We also tried to find extra things to do on Sundays to keep us away from the house. That seemed to make Monday come back around a little bit quicker.
1) Be prepared to change.
I feel things even more deeply than I did before the deployment.I can’t watch a soldier coming home without knowing just exactly what their loved ones feel like.I can’t listen to our national anthem or see a flag half-staff without choking up. And I most certainly view our VFW and American Legion members in a different light.I get why they so willingly march across a football field or ride in a parade carrying our colors. Last week I saw a mom in our town whose son was leaving for Afghanistan and the unspoken language passed between us.I know now if anything were to ever happen to my husband, whether military related or not, I am strong enough to take care of our house by myself.And although I’ll never experience a PCS, I probably know a few more acronyms than I did before.I am forever changed.
I am most certainly not the naïve military bride that I was 27 years ago when my fiance enlisted.We have sometimes had regrets that we didn’t go full-time and experience being moved from one base to the next.But we also realize it’s not the journey we were supposed to take with our military career.I proudly hung my two blue star flags in my window for all to see while my soldiers were deployed. If I have to, I’ll do it again. If we never experience it again, I most certainly know how to support those few families I see around me who are going through deployment.