How is it that the large tree in the yard with the decay-hollowed trunk had the sixth sense to know just when to topple over into your beloved home’s new roof? Or, how the bottom of that nine year old water heater rusted out at precisely the most inopportune time? Or, how that antibiotic-resistant bacteria managed to take up residence in the lungs of your sweet five year old daughter? The answer’s plain and simple, my dear. Deployment.
Deployment (or similar separations such as TAD, det, TDY, etc.) is the cousin of Murphy. Yes, that Murphy. The Murphy whose raison-d’etre is to take your entire sense of having a handle on the life we military spouses are forced to swallow, and yank the table cloth out from under it….but slowly. You know what happens when you yank the table cloth out slowly, right?! Your sanity crashes to the linoleum floor in so many weepy pieces. And that is precisely when Murphy’s favorite cousin, Deployment, in all his hideous glory, will waltz into your world and attempt to prove to you that you do not have the tight grip on this involuntary separation from your spouse that you thought you had. Murphy has a problem with your calm demeanor, your sense of comfort, your satisfied feeling that you have things under control. Deployment doesn’t want any of your separated time from your spouse to be easy or tolerable. And these two jackasses work together in an absurdly destructive and antagonistic manner. Believe me when I say this, as I have experienced plenty of their torment!
So how, pray tell, does one manage to get through the six, eight or eighteen months of separation without curling up in a ball on the still-damp bathtub floor and crying until your mate comes home? Please, wipe away the tears and read on…
1. Expect the unexpected
There aren’t many ways to prepare for the infinite realm of horrific possibilities that swirl in the universe of Deployment. And since Murphy is a crafty one, we have no way to know what to expect. However, you CAN be somewhat prepared to respond to the things that MAY happen. The list of ways to get ready for deployment is long and glorious, from getting Power of Attorneys, to ensuring you know all the log-in passwords for your accounts. In fact, many places, including some Fleet and Family Service Centers, several military lifestyle blogs, and even etsy.com offer versions of deployment binders to help you through the deployment preparation process. Some are free, some are not. Even some military commands put out their own preparation booklet of some sort, providing you with the important numbers, addresses and resources specific to your area. One of these variety of organizing tools may help you, so be sure to check them out, as a lot of experience lies within.
2. Embrace your network
No matter how introverted you are, EVERYONE needs someone. I really mean this. In my experience, having someone who is also a military spouse and can more likely understand the lifestyle challenges that you will experience is helpful. I literally have my BFF of forever, who I’ve known for 30+ years, and I have my Navy BFF who I’ve known for almost 15 years. Both of them fulfill and support my emotional needs in different ways, but the one with the military lifestyle exposure has a perspective that is unique to this crazy life! She, too, has experienced the awful reality of solo parenting through a stomach flu or a lonely Christmas far away from family. The benefit of having both besties, is that the non-military one can also remind me that there will be days ahead when we retire and return to civilian life, and will leave at least one of the antagonists (Deployment) far in the past! Unfortunately, Murphy is a civilian, so he’ll probably still show up from time to time. (eye roll emoji)
3. Utilize the resources
The military community does do a LOT to try and ease the burden and strain that Deployment brings upon families. There are classes offered regarding the reunion of families and married partners, there are briefs before deployments and before that deployment’s respective homecoming, there are MWR trips, sometimes places like the Navy Exchange does care package making events for the children, etc. There are even community businesses and nonprofits that will host events related to deployment and military lifestyle subjects. So there is legit NO REASON for you to sit at home, alone in a dark room, shoveling mac-n-cheese in your mouth and watching Game of Thrones reruns the entire time! I get it, Jason Momoa is hot in that rugged barbarian sort of way, but he dies pretty early on in the show anyway! If I had to pick the one that I would recommend as the most well-rounded method of taking advantage of a resource, it would be the Family Readiness Group (FRG) for the command. Some of you may be cringing right now, because some FRGs have a bad reputation. But stand by me here for a sec….the FRG is a group for all the command families, regardless of the service member’s rank, that provides support, activities and information via the Ombudsman (official command appointed liaison who provides really important information, such as port visits and homecoming dates). This group can be very beneficial. And as a member, you will have a say via voting as to what sort of activities they offer-family related holiday parties, adult-only nights out, etc. Really, check it out and be an active member to help make this group what you need! And if nothing else, misery loves company, right?
4. Don’t leave!
Often, a spouse will make the decision to go back home to be with family while their mate is deployed. I can definitely see the logic to this…familiar people, a support network, a distraction from the loneliness. It does kinda makes sense. But I say, don’t do it!! Here’s why. It is most definitely true that family may provide you with the most familiar or comfortable emotional support…they have had years of getting to know you and probably at least sort of understand how you operate and what you may need. However, the military network of people you will come across offers a whole different, and I would argue more valuable, type of support, and for a litany of reasons. Regardless of what phase of a military career and its military spouse life experience, there is something truly unique to the wisdom and experiences gained by military spouses and living in the world of our support resources. Whether a person is a young 20-something newlywed, a second spouse joining the lifestyle mid-career, or an old salty dawg (hahaha, like me!), people in each phase have knowledge and perspective to offer that cannot be found outside of the military community. We milspouses become very crafty in finding ways to survive, and even thrive, in our government imposed celibate, solo parenting roles. Like any civilian community, military ones have book clubs, wine clubs, knitting groups, etc…to meet needs and to enhance your life. But in addition to other crazy wise and resourceful milspouses, remaining in the military community while your spouse is gone will also offer you access to groups that are a wealth of knowledge and completely unique to the military lifestyle:
Family Readiness Groups (FRG) for social camaraderie and activities
Spouse groups for social camaraderie and activities
Fleet and Family Support Centers (FFSC) for countless resources
Morale Welfare & Recreation for activities and tours (MWR)
Child and Youth Programs (CYP) for affordable childcare, youth sports and after school activities
COMPASS courses to teach the basic nitty gritty of this lifestyle
Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS) for budget counseling and emergency assistance
Continuum of Resource Education (CORE) workshops, seminars and events to empower Navy spouses
I would never be one to judge your choice, especially if going home is what helps you cope with the separation of Deployment (and he is a monkey that will be one your back whether you go home or stay put, there is no escaping him!), but I encourage you to give it a shot staying where your service member’s career took you and soak up some of the invaluable experience and insight that you’ll find there! There is much to learn from others about how to embrace the lifestyle and make it a great adventure!
5. Stay busy
Probably my last tidbit of unsolicited advice would be to stay busy! Find things to occupy your time, and keep your mind from going down the dark rabbit hole of loneliness. Do things you love or even just like…maybe you’ll find a new favorite hobby. Register your kids in activities to keep them busy, as well!! There’s no denying that it’s hard to adjust your family dynamics when the service members leave, but if you intentionally create positive distractions in your life, the time will go by SO. MUCH. FASTER. I promise.
This ride can be amazing if you don’t let yourself sink into the negative. And when you do, as we all do occasionally, you’ll have others around you that really understand, and are going through similar trials, to prop you back up once in awhile! Now, get out there, make your own fun, and kick Deployment’s ass!
Cheers and love,