My husband is deployed – but not to a combat zone.
Non-combat deployments are a fairly new concept, as much of our recent past has been a post-9/11 world. Americans have been conditioned to assume that all deployments are to Iraq or Afghanistan. I grew up as an Army brat during the height of these wars, so I certainly empathize with these knee-jerk conjectures as my dad did tours in both locations.
As peacetime eases in, it is becoming the norm for service members to be sent on deployments to locations other than solely the Middle East, though it seems few people outside the military world are aware of this notion. The Department of Defense defines a deployment as “the movement of forces into and out of an operational area.” Today, troops can be deployed to all parts of the world including Asia, Africa, Western Europe and even to the U.S.-Mexico border.
My husband is deployed. He left four weeks after our daughter was born and will return when she will be nearly 1 year old. He will miss birthdays, special celebrations, promotions and many holidays, but more importantly, he will miss so many of our daughter’s “firsts” in her first year of life. He will miss her first laugh, her first time rolling over, sitting up, walking and every precious snuggle in between.
When family, friends or strangers ask where my husband is, I explain that he’s deployed. “Oh, Iraq or Afghanistan?” is the immediate follow-up question. Since he is not in a place people are used to hearing matched with a deployment, my sadness is usually discounted or belittled.
I’m usually told I could easily go visit or he could probably come home for a long weekend. Unfortunately, neither of these are true.
The conversation typically ends with someone conveying how lucky I am he “isn’t in any serious danger.” This is followed up with being told I should be grateful “this isn’t a ‘real’ deployment” so I shouldn’t be too sad he is gone.
I am extremely grateful and lucky – but for different reasons. I’m grateful my husband is around a great group of people performing a job deemed necessary for our national security. I’m lucky to have a community of families back home counting down the days until we are all together again. I am thankful to live in a day and age where there is an abundance of technology that allows our family to stay united while thousands of miles separate us. However, my newborn missed out on the physical connectedness with her dad and there is no amount of technology that can replace this.
I believe many of these opinions and questions stem from the fact that non-combat deployments haven’t been seen or talked about for an entire generation. For half of millennials and all of Gen Z, we don’t know anything other than tours to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Knowing there are monumental life milestones your loved one is missing is heartbreaking. In some sense, it doesn’t matter where Uncle Sam sends our service members or where those boots are planted. The common thread through every deployment is that regardless of where those boots are planted, a part of our heart is missing, and we are all just counting down the days until they are home again.