I remember going through my first deployment with my husband. We were married only three weeks before he departed.
The day he left, he dropped me off at the San Diego airport so I could catch my flight back to Chicago. Because he was in his flight suit and planned to head to the airfield and the waiting jets, he couldn’t get out of the car. We hugged, tears streamed down my face, and my arms and legs turned to rocks-I couldn’t imagine opening the car door. Finally, like one who stands on the edge of a diving board above a cold pool, I just jumped. My arms and legs moved reflexively. There I stood outside the airport and watched his car pull away, (amidst happy couples and families readying for vacations and general happy-go-lucky travel) and it felt as though the world was spinning around me and I was the only thing standing still.
2,000 miles away from base and far too many thousands of miles away from him, those initial days were exceptionally rough. In the beginning, there was resentment: most couples return home together from a honeymoon, I thought. They start their life together, move in together, get on with life…together. Instead, back in my city apartment, I stared at boxes of unopened wedding gifts, not able to bear unwrapping anything. My life was no longer permanent in Chicago and the glasses, picture frames and small kitchen appliances seemed safer in their original packages. There was hope: the next time I opened them, we’d be together, PCS’d to the east coast– a fuzzy version of the future.
I relied upon that fuzzy version to emotionally ‘survive’ that deployment. But, I also relied upon my busy work schedule, my energetic and lovely friends, supportive family and yes, even–especially my sweet dog, Gilda.
Everyone’s survival mode looks different, but there are some tips that feel universally helpful. We reached out to some smart and deployment savvy spouses to share their best tips on getting through a deployment. Some of these are emotional, and others practical-all are helpful. We can’t wait to share them with you!
Be intentional about asking for help. Even if “help” means ten minutes of adult conversation over a glass of cheap chardonnay. Deployment is isolating; we have to reach out to stay sane. -Reda Hicks, 2014 Armed Forces Insurance Army Spouse of the Year
2. Keep a stocked supply of mouse traps!
Gather important phone numbers (1st Sgt, chain of command, etc.) and make sure you have a system for paying bills! Get a POA, talk with your service member about expectations on when you’ll hear from them once they’re OCONUS and don’t become a news junkie hoping to hear something about where they are! And last, set goals for the deployment (lose 10 lbs, train for a 5k, complete a certification or training course) Joy Draper, Air Force Spouse
3. My deployment trick was to find my umbrella before my husband left.
I say that figuratively, because when it rains it pours during deployment. Find those friends and family that you can call in emergency, someone who you know will not hesitate help or expect the favor returned. I found my umbrella with my neighbors in a new city. When my two-year old son was hospitalized for week, I couldn’t take care of my nine-month daughter at the same time. I called a neighbor, almost a stranger to me, to help. She took my daughter for three days until I could fly my mother in to help. No joke. When it rains it pours during deployment, so grab your umbrella now. -Stacy Allsbrook Huisman, Air Force Spouse
4. Use it as a time to feel empowered!
Make decisions on your own without second-guessing; take on that redecorating you’ve been dreaming of in your head; plan a fun night out with your girlfriends and get a sitter! Instead of feeling lonely, feel strong. If you can run a household by yourself for months on end…you can do anything! -Ashley Jacobs, Marine Corps Spouse
5. Write down little things that happen over the day…
…or keep a running memo in your phone so you can remember to tell your spouse when you get to talk to them or email: scores from the kids’ baseball or soccer games, something small or special that happened that day. No matter how inane it seems at the time, I found my spouse wanted to hear about the normalcy of family life. It reminded me how much he missed us and it helped him feel connected. His last deployment (a year) was austere–we were happy if we got a weekly phone call and absolutely no video-chat, cell calls or texts etc. It was difficult to feel connected, so I wrote him a lot of emails and letters and tried to include little details like that. -Jennifer McDonald, Air Force Spouse.
6. We put together care packages for his unit but asked what they really needed each time rather than going by the common ‘lists’.
They had different requests each time and we loved shopping for that and feeling like we were really helping! -Jennifer McDonald, Air Force Spouse
7. I have learned to never put life on hold until he returns– especially with kids.
There are certain things like birthdays that we will celebrate again once he returns but life is still happening here at home each and every day. -Michelle Aikman, Air Force Spouse
8. Small bucket list items:
What have you always said you wanted to do? For me it was write for this publication and work on my book, take guitar and singing lessons, move to a better home and have it redecorated and complete by the time he gets home to see it for the first time. Things you always say for years you want to and never do, oh and take up Spanish again. Lastly, counting down doesn’t work for me…fast forwarding does. So it’s September 3rd, wow it’s already almost October! – Cassandra Bratcher, Marine Corps Spouse
9. Don’t feel guilty having fun or creating fun for your kids.
You need those light moments! -Jennifer McDonald, Air Force Spouse
10. Resist the urge to press the pause button.
It sucks to have precious moments without your spouse, but your kids never get those months/holidays back so you have to live them. And Jake has since told me that when we were having those moments of joy it gave him peace of mind that we were okay, even while he was far away. -Reda Hicks, 2014 Armed Forces Insurance Army Spouse of the Year