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?