Deployment: Underwater Edition

When your spouse calls and says “Hey, so change of plans…,” you can probably feel the dread building up inside you. That’s exactly what happened to me as I was packing up my car to move to Virginia with my husband. He told me he was leaving two days after the move to go underway – a Navy term for at sea. While it wasn’t his first underway, it would be our first where I wasn’t close to friends and family. All underways or deployments, however long or short, aren’t easy. If your spouse is a submariner like mine, there’s certainly a unique set of challenges and emotions that come with the job.

There’s a reason they’re called the “silent force.” Everyone sort of forgets about submarines. Trust me, I get it, they’re not as cool as fighter jets and helicopters. And when they’re underway, communication is very, very minimal. There’s a lot more unknowns and a lot more silence. Days or weeks can go by without a single phone call. Even as spouses, we aren’t allowed to know where they are or where they’re going next. A lot of times it’s just a guessing game when your next communication will be. They’re literally silent, underwater planes.

During underways, the primary form of communication is email. Sometimes they pull into port and you’ll get a quick “Hi, I can’t tell you where I am, but I’m safe. Bye”. Then they’re off to sea again. Of course, this type of communication in the 21st century is difficult. It’s easy to feel alone and disconnected from each other. It’s also VERY easy to feel alone when you’re in a new state where you don’t know a single soul – which is my situation for this particular underway.

There are also a lot of mixed emotions that come with your spouse being on a submarine. The first two days after my husband went underway were obviously rough. It’s always the initial change or shock that’s the hardest to get through. By day three, I knew I had to start pushing forward and making the best of the next few weeks. I had some down time before I started a new job so I knew I wanted to  prioritize myself with my newfound free time. There had been a lot of little things I had put off because “I didn’t have the time.”  So I jotted together a list to focus on.

I was travelling, working out and just living life as a normal person. One day, I was at the beach soaking in the sun after a week of thunderstorms, and I began to feel guilty. Here I was, just enjoying something so simple – the sun – which my husband hadn’t seen in weeks. It was a mixed pot of emotions; I was proud of my husband for what he does while also feeling lonely and guilty.

I learned a lot about myself during that underway and grew as a person, too. I realize there are a few things I take for granted. Mainly, I appreciate the fact that I don’t have to be underwater in a metal tube for weeks or months on end. I became a lot more independent and confident, and I realized how incredibly proud I am of what my husband does – I cannot even imagine the amount of courage it takes to do what he does. Despite not having a ton of communication, I learned how to make each interaction we had valuable.

When your spouse is gone it is hard, regardless of their job or branch. Each one has their own set of adversities to overcome. Even each time they leave is a different experience. It’s so important to treasure every phone call and email – and to remember that it will all be worth it the second they come home! What deployment challenges have you had to overcome?

Air National Guardsmen from the 113th Wing, D.C. Air National Guard, fold an American flags at the Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va., April 11, 2014. A group of approximately 40 service members volunteered to fold flags. In four hours they folded approximately 430 American flags. (left to right) Senior Airman Amanda Feyen, Tech. Sgt. Antonio Lanzo, Airman First Class Cayla Clark, Airman Basic Lindsy Mason, Staff Sgt. Jenna Geronimo and Senior Master Sgt. Susan Clark. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Nathan T. Wallin/Released)

Two Forms to Know: DD form 93 and the Family Care Plan

Sometimes adulting is hard. It’s taking a right to go to work instead of taking a left to go to the beach. It’s paying bills on time, cleaning the house because we know no one else will do it, making all those well checkups at the clinic, and paperwork — so much of adulting is paperwork. Two such forms in the military world — DD Form 93 (Record of Emergency Data) and the Family Care Plan — aren’t necessarily widely known among military spouses, and they don’t get a lot of mention between service members and their spouses.

My theory on why these forms don’t come up more in military marriages is that they cover one of the worst parts of adulting — the unthinkable, the military spouse’s worst nightmare. That doesn’t exactly make for light dinnertime or date night conversation. But, it’s so necessary. Ignoring the topic doesn’t make it less likely to happen, it just makes us less prepared in the event that something ever does happen to our service member. It’s crucial to ensure that your service member keeps these forms up to date like insurance — they’re no different than the insurance you have on your car or home. You have this insurance not because you expect something bad will happen — quite the opposite, you hope nothing happens, ― but you have the insurance just in case because it’s responsible to plan for unlikely scenarios to make sure we’re taken care of.

DD Form 93: Record of Emergency Data

You’ll hear this form go by a few different names: DD Form 93, DD 93, Record of Emergency Data, or RED. This form has two purposes: to designate who should be notified if a service member is injured, missing, captured or dies and to designate beneficiaries.

If the unthinkable happens, this is where casualty personnel will look for names and addresses for notification. Because so much of military life is moving, the address listed for the military spouse is constantly changing, which means this form should be updated following every move.

This form also has a line for each of the service member’s children. So, if you have a new baby, it’s time to update the Record of Emergency Data to include the new family member. Service members can also list parents and opt not to inform certain people for ill health.

The second part of DD Form 93 is designating beneficiaries for death gratuity. This can include more than one person ­— like spouse and each child or both a mother and father if parents are divorced. Service members give each beneficiary listed a percentage of the benefit up to 100%.

DD Form 93 is applicable to all service members, whether they’re married, divorced or have never been married. Ideally, this form would get at least a scan annually, making sure that everything is still up to date. At the very least, this form should be updated with milestones like moves, deployments, marriages, births or the death of a family member listed on the Record of Emergency Data.

Family Care Plan

Information covered in DD Form 93 is mostly clear cut, but the Family Care Plan (often just referred to as the FCP because the military loves acronyms) gives us the chance to designate two caregivers. This person (and the alternate) is the one we would want next to us at our very worst — from hour one — if something were to happen to our service member. This person needs to be local (or able to get to you in a matter of hours — even better if it’s only a matter of minutes) and someone we know well and trust to respect our best interests. The caregiver would be emotional support and the bouncer at the door — keeping anyone we wouldn’t want to see away. This is the person who would be what we need even when we might not know what that is.

The person we list as our caregiver wouldn’t just be for us but for our kids too. If we are lucky enough to have that friend at a duty station who our kids consider that honorary aunt or uncle, we have a good caregiver candidate.

Because we (military spouses) would be the one depending on this caregiver, it makes sense that we would have the ultimate say in who this person is. Each time we PCS (or our named caregiver PCSes), this form needs to be updated.

Major Takeaways

The responsibility to update either of these forms ultimately falls on the service member, but that doesn’t mean that military spouses can’t bring them up or be a part of the updating process. We should have a say in who would be sitting next to us in that hypothetical worst moment of our lives.

Our service members update these forms electronically, but we can access older versions of DD Form 93 and the Family Care Plan online so we know exactly what needs to be updated. In general, this means full names, dates of birth, phone numbers, and addresses for named beneficiaries on DD Form 93, and full names, phone numbers, addresses, and emails for named caregivers on the Family Care Plan. Providing all of that information to your service member removes one excuse for not updating the forms.

While it’s preached that these forms should be regularly updated, they tend to become backburner material because they are “just in case,” and that brief due in the morning, flight prep, or training for the PFT often rank higher in priority because they have hard deadlines attached. I know the topics covered on these forms are scary. It’s easier not to think about them at all and pretend nothing like this would ever happen to us, but bringing these topics up once a year or once a PCS, at the very least, keeps us on the same page as our service member. Wouldn’t you rather have a plan and never need it than have no plan when you need it the most?

A military spouse stands in the moving truck.

Adjusting After a PCS Means Unpacking More Than Boxes

How long does it take to get settled at a new duty station? Does it happen when the last box is unpacked, when the pictures are hung, or when you can finally find your way around town without the GPS? The truth is that moving is a long process which often takes military families several months to complete. Moving isn’t just a physical exercise in unpacking and finding a job. It is also an emotional journey for the whole family.

After moving, the service member may have a few days to unpack boxes and set up the house. Then they check into their new assignment and resume familiar routines of military schedules and responsibilities. For the military spouse and kids, however, the moving process may look quite different. They must find new schools, jobs, friends, activities and support systems. Their daily schedules and routines may feel unfamiliar for a while. This can lead to a feeling of “Post-PCS letdown” or depression.

Military families have a lot of baggage to unpack after a PCS move. In addition to the physical boxes that quickly fill up the garage, families must also unpack layers of emotions related to the move. Resolving these issues can take several months. Give your family time to unpack emotionally after a PCS move.

  • Spouses and children often miss the friends they had at the last duty station.
  • Family members may feel lost or overwhelmed in the new town.
  • It’s common to suffer an identity loss after changing jobs, moving schools, or quitting favorite hobbies and activities.
  • Some people feel angry at the service member when they are forced to PCS.
  • Children may shut down or struggle in school because of different curriculums.
  • Spouses may feel resentful to lose their supportive networks or nearby family members.

All these emotions are common after a PCS move. The more a military family is aware of this emotional baggage and willing to discuss it, the faster they will be able to work through the layers of emotion. Gradually, even the most unhappy spouses and children can learn to accept the new location as home.

Ways to help your family adjust after a PCS move:

  • Take an orientation class on base. Each branch has a different title for these classes, but most installations offer a free orientation class for newcomers. You don’t need to be a new military spouse to benefit. You can re-take the class at each base to learn details about local resources, where to find things, specific discounts, and general military information. Plus, you can connect with other spouses and make new friends. Check with your base family center for details.
  • Ask questions and listen. Each family member will process a PCS move in their own way. Some children may be more outgoing and jump right into new activities. Others will be slower and angrier, needing months before they feel settled. Both responses are normal. The important thing is to keep communication lines open. Check in with your spouse and kids every week to ask how they are feeling about the new location. Discuss highlights and challenges they are facing, then brainstorm solutions together. Try to avoid blaming each other. Instead, focus on getting through the move together, as a team.
  • Explore the local area. Every military installation feels strange and foreign at first. As a family, drive around base and through the local town. Check out local restaurants, park or points of interest. Try to make the move an adventure, so family members can see the positive side of their new home. Stop by your base ITT (Information, Tickets, and Tours) office to learn about local attractions and military discounts. Then plan a family fun day from the list of nearby activities.
  • Join a club, team or activity. The sooner you get connected to the local community, the sooner your new base will begin to feel like home. The fastest way to meet locals is to participate in regular events. Join a gym, visit churches, search for Facebook pages related to your hobbies, and connect with parents at your child’s new school. If you or your children participated in sports or clubs at your former duty station, then find similar teams in your new area. This will help the whole family feel more settled and less lonely.
  • Talk to a counselor. If you are feeling down or depressed after a move, try discussing your struggles with a professional counselor. They can also help if your child is acting out and resentful after a move. Military One Source offers free counseling to military families on a variety of topics. You can talk to a counselor over the phone or by video chat, so you don’t have to leave home. There are relationship counseling tracks designed to improve the bond between a couple or between the parent and child. These are especially helpful for families dealing with a stressful PCS move.

If your family is struggling to adjust after a PCS move, don’t get frustrated with them. Instead, give them time to unpack all their emotions. Moving is a process that often takes several months. Use these tips to grow closer as a family during this stressful time.

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