Technology has certainly changed the way that many military spouses communicate with their service member during deployment. We talked to four spouses who experienced deployment communication before Skype, over static land lines, and after the invention of the smart phone. How has communication for the military spouse changed over the past three decades?
“He wrote me a letter every single day, and I wrote him every day but one. The plane dropped mail and picked it up twice a week, and sometimes letters would come in clumps. If I got three letters at a time, I’d read them all at once. If he got three letters at a time, he’d read one a day to space it out. On weekends, I’d record a cassette tape of the boys and we’d mail that.”
Thirty years ago, Luba Munter and her two boys were living with her mother while her husband spent a year deployed in Iceland. They were granted one phone call a month through MWR, and Luba felt she could hear the ocean in the static as her husband’s voice traveled thousands of miles via underwater cables.
“He’d be standing in a hallway in Iceland, screaming through the phone so I could hear him, and I’d be standing in my mother’s kitchen in Michigan, shouting back through the static. It was frustrating-we would wait so long for a chance to talk, and then we’d have a bad connection.”
Luba’s deployment experience is familiar to today’s military spouses: frustration, lack of connectivity, miles and miles of separation. The connections may be better, and there may be video chat, but separation is just as painful.
Amanda Ellithorpe loves the romance of written words: “Personally, I prefer e-mail and love notes. In the past, my husband sent me gifts and sometimes would send love notes remotely to our printer,” she says, “so when I woke up in the morning there would be a special note waiting for me.”
Amanda’s husband deploys annually to Antarctica. The recent separation was her first with video chat, and the upgrade was, unexpectedly, not entirely positive. “I missed the romance of the non-Skype communication,” she reflects. “It was hard Skyping this deployment, because now we have an infant daughter. Most of our conversations had to do with her. We lost the dialogue between the two of us that we usually had…. sometimes he is his most romantic when he’s deployed. It’s a silver lining and something I actually look forward to when he deploys, though I hate to see him go and be without him.”
Amanda, like many of us, has a smart phone – so she can check email and video chat anywhere and any time, even during travel or night feedings with their daughter. For many this is the new normal.
A smart phone didn’t mean daily contact for Mary, however. When her husband deployed to a war zone, she had to wait patiently for whatever messages her husband could send.
“During the first 12-month deployment, we communicated primarily through e-mail. Occasionally we were able to speak on the phone. The phone calls were more frequent during the second half of deployment,” she said. “I received a lot of e-mails [at first], and although I could not hear his voice, I still appreciated these very much.”
Separation is hardest during significant events. Mary’s husband was deployed during the birth of their daughter, though he did get to visit after their daughter was born.
“There were times when all I wanted to do was hear his voice, but I had to wait for him to call me,” writes Mary, “and we had to make sure we both did a good job communicating in the amount of time we had to talk. There is nothing quite like a miscommunication with thousands of miles between us!”
“It wasn’t until the second deployment (in our marriage) that I learned to assume the ship had cut off the internet and phone lines, and not that I was being ignored.” When Bernadette’s husband is deployed aboard ship, video chat (or even internet) is only available in port. In other words, communication was rare.
KEEPING IN TOUCH
Military spouses always come up with creative ways to keep in touch. Amanda found that video chat was best for her family. “[Our daughter] stops what she’s doing, smiles from ear to ear and practically jumps through the computer screen, giggling and cooing at him!”
Mary sent DVDs of her pregnancy ultrasounds to her husband, and then sent him videos of their daughter’s milestones. Bernadette had her boys to add their own items to care packages so they felt connected: “[the] care packages … helped me feel like I was doing something to make his life a little more cheerful,” she remembers. Luba recorded cassette tapes of her two young boys answering questions about their week. The boys also received tapes from their father, who also sometimes sent a collection of pictures of his life on deployment.
Yet, no technology makes up entirely for distance. “I think a lot of people take for granted the importance of a simple e-mail just to say ‘hello’,” Mary reflects. “There aren’t too many times in my life that I’ve been as excited to receive a little message in my inbox.”
All spouses know their service member will, or at least might, deploy. Luba laughs and says, “I told him if he deployed again, I’d get a divorce!” She laughs because she knows she’s lying. She loves her husband. So like her modern-day peers, she took control of the deployment distance, and made the communication happen.
Because while there is no substitute for having the one you love back home, there is always opportunity to grow closer across the miles.