My spouse led over 100 combat mission on one deployment. His platoon was responsible for route clearance, meaning they cruised the Afghan roads hunting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) with (sometimes) functioning equipment. He detonated explosive devices day in and day out; the things others avoided (IEDs) he went looking for.
When he was out on a mission, I was in a constant state of panic. I’d spend my lunch hour throwing up in the ladies’ restroom. I’d start crying hysterically when attending a civilian social event. I hated days he was “running the roads”.
On days he was back at the “safe” Forward Operating Base (FOB), I’d finally be able to relax–or so I thought.
During one of our weekly phone conversations, he was joking about the latest platoon prank, when I heard an explosion, and the line went dead. I turned on the TV to CNN, which was running news that a suicide bomber had detonated on the FOB my husband was at.
I didn’t hear from him for three days after. Turns out he was in proximity to the suicide bomber, and had been immediately activated to clear routes near the insurgent cell identified as responsible. For the rest of the 12-month deployment, I was no longer able to relax—regardless of whether he was leading his platoon across the Afghan wilderness, or on supposed R&R at the FOB.
As a military spouse, deployment will impact all aspects of your life. The unique challenges and stresses that accompany deployment will make both personal and professional demands. It’s tough. While there’s no easy way through it, here are a few tried and true tips to keep your life on track while your spouse is deployed:
Pre-deployment, sit down with your spouse and have the “money talk”. Discuss household budgets for the upcoming months. Make sure you have the logins for all joint financial accounts and reoccurring bills. Consistent availability to secure Wi-Fi will depend on where your spouse will be stationed; not all military installments provide reliable internet access to service members. Even if your spouse is usually the money manager, his or her availability to do so while on deployment may not be guaranteed. You need to be prepared to handle ALL family financial matters alone. Have the money talk, commit to a budget plan, and make sure you have access to all joint accounts.
Spending day in and day out in constant fear that the one you hold most dear will die wears on you. You can’t sleep, you worry constantly, and your body begins to react to the constant stress. The mental effects of deployment upon military spouses is a far too often a “taboo” topic within our communities. War affects everyone involved—those on the front lines, and those on the home front. Seek professional counseling and group support to assist with stress management during your spouse’s deployment. Don’t try to “go it alone”. Military service is all about community. Your spouse has his or her unit to provide a shoulder to lean on when the stress gets to be a “little too much”. Who do you have?
Nothing about my spouse’s deployment was 9-5. Running missions on the other side of the world meant the occasional static phone calls at 3 AM and month old snail mail. Deployment forces a couple to adapt inconvenient modes of communication. The difficult communication demands and distracted nature of deployment will affect your professional pursuits. My professors and supervisors made critical comments when I seemed distracted or disengaged on projects at hand, and said “no” to my taking a call from my soldier while on the clock regardless of how many weeks it’d been since he’d had phone access. Communicating during deployment may not be easy, however, establishing a routine helps. Try to commit to a regular time/day of the week in which you and your service member will e-mail, chat, skype.
Know Your Rights
Military family members do have special rights and protections specific to deployment and homecoming events. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides military spouses that have been employed for over one-year duration approved (though most is uncompensated) time off for leave, homecoming, and other deployment-specific challenges. Talk to your HR department, and schedule a sit down with JAG. Figure out what type of provisions you and you’re family are eligible for when facing the challenges of deployment before you need them. It’s important to know your rights, and plan accordingly.
Commit to a Goal
There’s no politically correct, Betty Crocker approved way of describing it–deployment just sucks. You’re going to be lonely. You’re going to be stressed. You’re gonna feel like your life has come to a screeching halt. Commit to a few goals—personal and professional—to pursue while your spouse is deployed. Such objectives will help manage stress, facilitate supportive relationships, and encourage healthy self-esteem throughout this extremely stressful period. For me, deployment presented an opportune time to train for my very first 5k race and start a grad degree. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn a new hobby, or become conversational in a second language. Maybe finishing a professional certification has always been in the back of your mind, or maybe you’d like to compete in cycling. Whatever floats your boat, identify your goals—one personal and one professional—and commit to investing the time while your spouse is deployed into seeing them through.
Deployment effects everything—personal and professional. Your life feels as though it’s been put on pause, while everyone else’s is moving forward. Many parts of deployment just seem like a bad dream for all parties involved—loneliness, nightmares, panic-inducing headlines.
When that fateful letter arrived in the mail, notifying my husband who was currently enrolled in graduate school, of impending mobilization for deployment, I knew it was going to be tough. Twelve months apart from the one you love is hard enough, but knowing that the person who means the world to you will be in harm’s way, day in and day out, so all your nonmilitary colleagues can continue with their uninterrupted “normal” lives is a hard pill to swallow. Follow these five tips to help keep your life on track while your spouse is overseas.
This post is sponsored on behalf of Lincoln Military Housing.