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6 Things I Would Change From My First Deployment

Deployment brings a huge learning curve with it. This is the first deployment advice I would give to a younger version of me.

No matter how much deployment advice you take in, there is almost certainly a lot of learning that happens during your first deployment as you figure out what works for you and your relationship. That learning curve can feel overwhelming in the moment and sometimes for months after homecoming. It’s why you sometimes need a bit of distance from deployment to process all that you learned and what you’d do differently.

My husband deployed 4 times in 3 years: talk about a whirlwind! The deployments came so quickly and so close together that I never had a chance to catch my breath in between them. I never had a chance to reflect on what went well, what went not so well and what I wanted to do differently.

Now that our op tempo is much slower (hooray for shore duty!) I’ve spent quite a bit of time reflecting on those 4 rapid-fire deployments and have mixed feelings. While I am, without a doubt, proud of all that I accomplished during that time and how strong our relationship is as a result, I can’t help but feel that I would do a few things differently, especially for my first deployment.

Here’s the deployment advice I’d give much younger Rachel before her first deployment.

Ask more questions
To say I walked into my first deployment a blank slate would be a complete understatement. I literally knew nothing…and didn’t know that I knew nothing! My first deployment was filled with a lot of worry, primarily because there was so much unknown. If I was granted (forced to have?) a do over, I would definitely ask more questions, not just of my husband, but of other military spouses.

How can you put this into action?
Ask questions before your loved one’s deployment! If your loved one isn’t the best at sharing or answering your questions, it’s completely ok to look for answers elsewhere. Luckily, most of the time, there are plenty of resources to help. Go to pre-deployment briefings, join your FRG, ask for emergency contacts, join deployment support groups online or in-person. If you’re not sure of something, ask! Trust me, you could not possibly have a question that someone else hasn’t asked or thought of already.

Connect more
When I’m going through something difficult, I do an excellent turtle impression. I hunker down with a “just get through it” mindset and shut out a lot of other people, including those I’m closest to. While that works out really well if you’re studying for a midterm, it doesn’t really do you many favors when going through a life-altering experience like having loved one deploy. If I had a do over, I would try to be less isolated and more social.

How can you put this into action?
This is definitely more of a personal decision than any of my other suggestions, but it’s one worth considering. It’s certainly important to know and accept your own personal limits with this, but when you’re tempted to say “no”, pause and consider whether you’ll really don’t want to/can’t go. Or are you saying “no” because it just seems easier? I challenge you to try accepting invitations to join others at community events, meet up with friends or visit family.

Accept help
Accepting help has never been one of my strong suits and my husband’s first deployment was not an exception. Something in me was convinced that I needed to handle every.single.thing myself while he was away to prove that I could make it in this lifestyle. Older, wiser Rachel recognizes how ridiculous this is, mainly because all that it accomplished was to make me very very very tired. If I had a do over, I would accept help when it was offered to me and fit my needs.

Looking for ways to help a military spouse during deployment? Check out this blog post.

How can you put this into action?
Accept that offer of help if it’s going to make life easier/better/fuller for you! You don’t need to work, raise the babies, go to school, clean the house, cook gourmet meals, have a lawn straight out of a Home Depot ad and train for a half-marathon all by yourself to prove that you’re a “good” military spouse. Last I checked, that award doesn’t exist. Having someone cut the grass or clean the house or watch your babies is ok and something you should accept!

Keep in mind that for some people, offering help comes in the form of inviting you to do things with them. That’s where the “connect more” piece of advice can be especially important!

Celebrate mini-milestones
Deployment can be feel like an endless slog through really thick mud. Even though you know time is passing, you don’t actually feel like you’re getting any closer to your goal: homecoming. This is the wrong approach and can definitely leave you feeling deflated early on. I know that’s what happened to me and, if I had a do over, I would be better about celebrating mini milestones.

How can you put this into action?
Make a list of a key moments in your loved one’s deployment. Include birthdays, holidays, special occasions, goals…the list is up to you! As you get through each one, have a mini celebration: go out for lunch, get a pedicure, buy yourself a bottle of wine, whatever is enjoyable and rewarding to you.

Stop reading the news
Sometimes knowledge is power and sometimes ignorance is bliss. Deployment can definitely fall into the latter category: sometimes you can know too much. While I’ve never been much of a news junkie, during my first deployment experience, I definitely gave in and Googled a bit too much for my own comfort. If I were to do that first deployment over again, I would stay far away from Google and cable news. I would also ask friends and family to respect that boundary.

How can you put this into action?
Only you know how much information you can handle without worrying. Once you determine that limit, stick to it and, more importantly, share that boundary with well-meaning family and friends. It’s important (although definitely difficult) to remember that no news is good news!

It’s ok to miss him
If I had a dollar for every time I mentally beat myself up for missing my then-boyfriend during deployment, I could probably take a vacation. Whether it was telling myself other people had it worse or berating myself because I missed him during a big moment or special occasion, I did it all. And only felt worse as a result. If I did that first deployment over again, I would extend a bit more grace to myself. I’d allow myself to be sad, feel frustrated, be resentful, but then also allow myself to feel joy.

How can you put this into action?
When you feel those tears well up because you miss your loved one, acknowledge them! It’s ok to cry, it’s ok to feel blue, it’s ok to experience a sense of sadness because your loved one is missing something important. But rather than working to never feel those feelings, work instead to have them be just a moment instead of your entire experience.

The first deployment you experience involves a huge learning curve! Be sure to take advantage of the knowledge other military spouses and significant others along the way.

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