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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?

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  • Is videocalling prohibited even with the wife?

  • Yes sometimes can be 8 months

  • Deleslie Sercye Hunt says:

    I have never experienced this type if separation but I’m reaching out because the mom in me is speaking. I find that when I go through new challenges my church family has become a source of comfort. There are women in the congregation that have gone through or going through what you are dealing with. The church family can become your secondary family when you need a support system. I will pray that God send you someone to encourage you and help you right now. Stay strong.

  • Jesse says:

    I was on an SSBN in the mid 70’s. We didn’t communicate out since we were supposed to be an undetectable mobile launch pad. We received 5 ‘family grams’ and they were very simple 20 word communications. I left letters on the tender ship to be mailed at chosen intervals. We were submerged for 70 plus days.

  • Patti Lounsbury says:

    In over 20 years of Naval service, my husband had 18.5 years of sea duty and since we were EOD and not part of ship’s company we were usually left out of the information loop. The way we made it through was a strong sense of being a team. Our guys were a team, supporting each other and the wives and SOs pulled together to be the home support team. We kept the flow of communications going between us and it was usually the wife of the leading chief or OIC that ran interference with the command if there was a problem. We were lucky in being surface warfare, but that didn’t guarantee good communications with them but it did make it easier on everyone in that no one had to feel alone.

  • Jim Stinson says:

    Imagine my wife, pregnant and due in July of ’80, when I told her that I had been told that I was going to have to report aboard my 1st submarine (deployed to WestPac) in June and that my request to stay until after baby day was denied because I was NEEDED on board immediately. Just reported to Hawaii and still living in hotel.

    Squadron support people were AMAZING and all came out well, but talk about concern!!

  • Allan Sabillon says:

    Steal boats real men… as a submariner I can tell you that leaving our loved ones isn’t easy. It’s a sacrifice that we do or did and I would do it all over again in a heart beat. It takes a strong woman to stand beside you and give you courage; its a choice we make as kids but soon realize what cloth we really are cut from down there with King Neptune. Be proud and remember jets are cool but we are like astronauts, we go where no man has gone before. Last, there are only two types of boats are there submarines and targets.

  • When I was a little boy, my father was a radarman on a radar picket ship and sometimes he would go to work on Monday morning and I might not see or hear from him for 2 years (18 months on picket duty, in port overnight followed by another 6 month deployment. There was no email back then.

  • Im new to having a Military relationship , its been strange to me and new. He is a Air Force Soldier , in Iraq . i felt so alone and in a que until he contacts me. It’s a feeling of despair. Im on edge and contiguously worried. I rely on prayer so hard and faith ! I love him so much it makes me sick….and full of Anxiety. Be sure you are a strong enough to handle this kind of Relationship.

  • Can a submariner ask to get moved to another base due to getting married and the wife needs to be near her medical doctors? or does he have to finish up his contract where he currently is?
    Thank you!