Today’s post is a part of my Deployment Truth series where fantastic military spouses (and maybe even a service member or two) share what a deployment is really like from their perspective. I’m so excited to have Lizann of The Seasoned Spouse share how deployments have gotten easier for her, giving hope to all of us new milspouses out there!
We are currently going through our 6th seven-month Marine Corps deployment. That sounds terrible, and on some days it is. But I have to confess something: things have gotten much easier. That’s not to say that deployments ever become easy. Walking away from him will never be easy. Carrying on without my best friend and soulmate will always be a challenge. But at the same time, after 13 years of deployments and trainings, some things have definitely gotten easier.
For me, each deployment has been its own beast, with its own unique challenges. No deployment will be like your first! The learning curve is huge, but after you have been through the first deployment, you start learning what to expect and how to manage. So, to save you the heartache of going through 6 deployments, I’ll share my experiences.
The first was to Iraq, in 2003. I was a girlfriend with no connection to the military community. This was before Facebook (gasp!) and before cell phones. And because I was spending a semester studying abroad (in Paris!), our communication was pretty limited. Letters took at least a month to be delivered. I didn’t know that the unit communicated with girlfriends, or that I could attend Homecoming. I also had ZERO preparation for PTSD and what to expect after combat. So the period after deployment was pretty rough for both of us.
He returned to Iraq for 2 more deployments. In 2004, he came home early, wounded by an IED that had blown a hole in his foot. I was terrified, but also extremely grateful that he survived. He used crutches, then a cane, then made a full recovery and went back into battle the following year. Then came the Afghanistan deployments, when we were married and had children. I gave birth to our 2nd child just weeks before his 4th deployment, and I had our 3rd child in the middle of his 5th deployment. During all of these, he was on the front lines, without computer access. We had no Skype at all (even for the birth), and I was used to getting about 1 phone call a month. He once had to walk 3 hours roundtrip to make that phone call!
Our current deployment is a MEU, the first time my Marine has deployed on a Navy ship, and my first deployment with 4 kids. This one is (hopefully) his first non-combat tour. The ship has internet, which is an amazing luxury to us. We are about halfway through, and so far things are going well!
So, how do Deployments get easier? In so many ways!
- Email, Skype, Facetime, and other apps now bridge the distance. Mail and Care Packages arrive faster. Major events (births, Christmas) can be celebrated ‘together’, and important life choices can be discussed. Not to sound old, but anyone under 30 probably doesn’t realize what an amazing blessing this technology is! I was happy with 1 phone call a month! (Of course, those in WWII had it much harder than that).
- Facebook groups provide quick answers and support. Online communities are available to anyone, even girlfriends and fiancées, no matter where you live. Getting to know the military community and making new friends has been a great help.
- Increased rank means increased access to communication. When I tell my husband that I feel guilty for our constant communication opportunities now, he reminds me that we put in our time of no contact. After 15 years in the Marine Corps, he has a desk and a computer. Deployments get a little easier each time he gets promoted, because there are less restrictions and more privileges every time.
- You know what to expect. There is a emotional cycle to deployments, and it starts before he even packs his bags. Once you know the rhythm and the stages you will go through, you understand that this is temporary and that you will recover. You have learned how to manage the house, and the bills, and your job on your own. You also know the way you will communicate, and how things work with the unit. That provides a certain amount of calm during stressful situations. You’ve been there, done that!
- Develop a sense of humor and a positive attitude. During the first deployment, any little thing that went wrong really stressed me out. Then I learned to look back and laugh at them. Once you accept that things are going to go wrong, you are better prepared for them. If you can laugh about it and share your experience with others, it makes trials much easier to handle.
- Set reasonable goals. I have learned to treat each deployment as an opportunity for personal growth. I look forward to pursuing some things I wouldn’t do with him, and that helps me stay positive. I have learned just how much to challenge myself to get a lot of pride and satisfaction.
- Learn your own strength. After weathering his combat injury, and giving birth alone, I know what I am capable of. I can handle sickness, home repairs, car problems, and almost anything that comes my way. And I know that our love is always there at the end of it, so that rock gives me courage and strength to face everything. Keep track of all your little victories, and you will start to realize that the deployment cannot keep you down because you are strong.
Military support systems:
- Family Readiness Programs. These have come a long way in recent years! The unit FRG, FRO, or Ombudsman is a full-time position whose job is to communicate with families. They can answer questions and provide help. The unit provides free classes and meetings to help prepare spouses for deployment. And some units provide free activities like bowling and beach parties during the deployment. Don’t stay inside alone! Get out and try some of these free activities, meet some new people, and you will feel much better.
- Resources on base: Funding for many base resources has increased in the last 10 years. Whether you need health check-ups, discounted tickets, something notarized, help writing a resume, new baby classes, a quick loan, or a lawnmower for rent, you can find what you need on base. Learn what resources are available and who to ask for help.
- In some ways, children make deployments easier. They are exhausting, yes, but they get you to focus on something besides yourself, and that makes the time fly by. Having a family also requires that I be strong for the kids. That has prevented me from getting depressed and throwing a pity party. I tell them, “we’ve got this, and we will do it together.”
- With each deployment, the kids get older! I finally don’t have a newborn. The kids can all feed themselves, and the oldest 2 spend time in school each day. So this deployment with 4 kids is actually easier than the deployment where I had 2 kids. Because those 2 were both in diapers and pretty helpless.
So if you have just gone through a deployment, and are facing another one wondering how you will survive, I am here to tell you that things definitely DO get easier. You are getting wiser and stronger all the time. Each year that passes, there are improvements in the military, and in communication technology. It may be hard now, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. You are going to be so much more prepared next time around! Think about it-what is the biggest thing you have learned from your previous deployment(s)?
Gosh, Lizann has so much knowledge to share! I love that she can compare experiences from six different deployments. I need to get better at taking advantage of on-base resources for sure. If you liked this post, make sure to check out Lizann’s blog or find her on Twitter and Facebook. If you’re interested in contributing your deployment truth, please shoot me an email!