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The Real Deployment Cycle

 Posted by on August 29, 2016 at 07:00
Aug 292016
 
Kristi

Kristi

Welcome to deployment — be it your first or 50th (bless your resilient heart), you are in the company of some extremely strong stock. Deployment isn’t for the faint of heart — serving overseas or at home.

You’ve no doubt heard a lot of encouraging pep talks about how “you’ve got this,” and I have no doubt that you do. But, I remember the whirlwind of that first week of deployment (the highlights anyway). I kept coming back to a feeling that I closely associate to the one I had during childbirth: Why wasn’t I warned?

To be fair, I know I technically was warned, on the big stuff — the gist, childbirth and deployment are not times I want my sources to skimp on the details. I remember one predeployment brief in particular where they sat me down at a table among friends and showed me a PowerPoint slideshow of the phases of deployment — your basic denial-acceptance-grief-coping-excitement cycle (that is likely out of order, don’t quote me on that).

But no one pulled me aside, friend to friend, looked me square in the eyes and translated what those phases would look like in living color. Had they done that, it would have sounded something like this:

  1. You will wear only sweatpants and pajamas for a time. I can say now without shame that I went to a movie with my group of deployment buddies one evening, and I realized when I got home that my fly was down the entire time. That’s when you know you’re out of practice with any pair of pants requiring a zipper.
  2. You will get lax with hygiene. That first deployment, I think I changed my razor blade three, maybe four times — which I’m only just now realizing was incredibly icky. To my defense, that deployment overlapped with winter, so some of that was seasonal.
  3. Your diet is going to get weird. If you and your spouse don’t have kids (which was our situation the first time around), you might find it easy to scrap cooking altogether. I reverted back to the diet of my bachelorette days: chips and dip, popcorn, delivery pizza, drive-thru, etc. My diet got so weird, in fact, that I unintentionally cut out red meat, and eight years later, I still don’t eat it. If you have kids, you’ll probably start eating a lot of mashed or nugget-shaped foods — depending on the age of your kids. That second deployment was a lot of smoothies, mashed sweet potatoes and hummus for me and the kiddo.
  4. You will become furious with people for reasons you can’t understand just because they complained about missing their spouse for the weekend. Oh no, you didn’t.
  5. You will find superhuman ambition. That first deployment changed the course of my life forever — bear with me through the cheesiness of that line. I lost the teaching job I was offered due to budget cuts, so I was bored out of my mind — nothing to do for the first time in my entire life. So, I took a nod from a friend and pitched a column about my military spouse experience to our local paper. They bit. I wrote that column the entire deployment and two and a half years more. It led to the writing job I’ve held more than five years — which includes this blog you’re reading now — it’s the reason I’m going to grad school. And it all started because I was bored. That’s my story, I’m sure yours will be equally unexpected and incredible. Never underestimate the brilliance and strength of military spouses with time on their hands.
  6. You will be the bearer of bad news. It’s the Murphy’s Law of the whole situation: Something will go awry on your watch. You’ll likely have to give bad news over video chat, email, phone call, penned letter, carrier pigeon, etc. It’s not fun. The best advice I can give is grit your teeth, roll up your sleeves and deal with it (whatever it is). When you report the details across the miles, be confident. You handled it — no big deal. I always try to keep things in perspective: Yes, the dog got out and I had to chase her down the street and my son’s diaper leaked all over everything, but at no point was I in danger. Life is stressful — believe me, I get it, but don’t make each conversation with your deployed spouse negative. Find a balance that leaves you both looking forward to your chats.
  7. You will have to do it yourself. This is a good point to pause so you can go do whatever that is — fish your car keys out of the toilet, change a tire, be mom and dad, etc. Then, come on back and start back at number eight.
  8. You will get sappy. Have you ever teared up at a movie and then couldn’t believe you let yourself get so emotional? I cried at a Journey concert over the lyrics “I’m forever yours, faithfully.” My circle of friends hasn’t let me live that down to this day. I’m not a public crier, but sometimes deployment is driving and we are just the passengers.
  9. You will feel guilty for having fun. Eventually you have to liberate yourself from the sweatpants and have a little fun. Maybe it’ll be 24 hours, maybe two months — the length of your phases is your call. But you will find yourself laughing and spending time with friends, but guilt may be your plus one to the fun. Give yourself some slack. Laugh with your friends, do something on your bucket list — even if you’re flying solo. Go out to lunch. Travel back home to see your family. Get a pedicure. You’re doing a lot for your family (whether it’s just you and your spouse or you, your spouse and some adorable kiddos), so you deserve some “me time.”
  10. You will get downright giddy as you round the corner to homecoming. I cleaned, grocery shopped and cleaned some more for 48 hours straight leading up to homecoming day (part one). I envisioned the grandiose reunion, the ticker tape, the jazz band, and I was ready for it all.
  11. Your reunion will feel a little anticlimactic. You have your spouse in your arms, and at the end of the day, that is literally the only thing that matters. That is what you waited and wished for every day for months. As happy as the reunion will be, it’s worth mentioning that it won’t look like that scenario playing out in your head. It can be delayed (prepare yourself in advance for that). It might be dark. It may be cold. You might have a cold. Your spouse may have some readjusting to do. You need to slow down, ditch the vision of the ideal reunion and focus on reintegration. Love each other. Respect each other’s space and routines. Be patient. Be together.

That’s every last detail — the real breakdown of your deployment phases. They may not happen in that order, and you may come back to the sweatpants (or any other phase) a few times. But, that’s OK — because, one phase or another, you will get through it.

Life Hacks: How to Survive the Holidays Away

 Posted by on December 7, 2015 at 08:00
Dec 072015
 
Julie

Julie

Shhh…(read this in a whispering, nature-show-host Australian accent). Right over there — look between the hobby-store shelves — you’ll see the first Nordic land elves tending to candy cane fields and rows of evergreens. Crikey — I witnessed those elves frolicking in the hobby stores this August! That is just too soon. I can’t deal with it. I savor the holidays with my family, and seeing the decor so early in the year makes it seem like it’s an everyday occurrence. Military families don’t always get to spend holidays with one another or their extended families.

With each new deployment date announcement, my mind raced through the calendar to see which holidays we were losing. I’m not typically such a negative nelly, but spending birthdays, anniversaries, federal and religious holidays alone is a big deal, especially when you are stationed overseas or across the country from your extended family. It’s something you have to prepare for mentally and plan out to make it through without falling into the pit of depression. For those of you who’ve been there, you know I’m not being melodramatic. It really is a big deal and it is best to face it head on.

Unwrap it

From experience, I can tell you that the best place to start is in your own mind. Whether you are the one leaving on deployment or the one left behind, you both need to readjust your thinking and expectations of the holiday. Take a moment to whine and complain to one another and get it out of your system. It isn’t what you want, but you can’t change the situation, so change how you think about it. It will be tough, but you can make the holiday special if you work together and plan ahead.

Reframe it

Focusing on what you can do to make the holiday special within your current circumstances is the best use of your time and efforts (verses wallowing in the pit of gloom). It will be tough, but with planning, you can make it memorable and fun. Whichever holiday(s) you are planning for, you can use the following life hacks and just tweak them to fit your situation.

Keep traditions

Brainstorm (or make a list, for all you fellow type A’s) with your family about what traditions really make the holiday for each of you. Include food, drinks, games, songs, events, etc. Then look through the list and have everyone pick out at least one thing they can’t live without. That will be the basis for your plans. Find ways to keep or observe and share those key family traditions wherever you are located.

  • Take pictures, voice memos or videos to send to one another (including family and friends).
  • Email pictures, voice memos, videos, letters and eCards to stay connected and involved.
  • Mail picture, voice memo, videos, letters, cards, baked goods or wrapped gifts early.
  • Purchase, wrap or pack gifts with deployed member before they leave.
  • Set up a contact near home and in the service unit to help you surprise your spouse on holidays.
  • Use real-time video call applications to watch each other open gifts or be part of some activities.
Add new

Just like you learn to distract a toddler from an impending tantrum, you have to distract your mind a bit — or at least give it something new to look forward to. One way our family has found to do that is to introduce something new into our holidays each year (kudos to my uncle for the idea). This started out with adding a new dish to our family meal and morphed into trying new activities for the day.

  • Play a white elephant gift exchange (Google it for the rules). The gifts tend to be anything from gag gifts to useful or just fun. Some gag gifts (we call them bombs) continue to turn up year after year. We adopted this during Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it works for any occasion.
  • Invite others without local family to your holiday table and activities. Be the family and support that your friends need. Include them in your activities and involve their favorite traditions too. This is really where the military community is at its best, when we look out for one another.
  • Arrange a progressive dinner with other military families. Brunch and parade watching at one house, then everyone travels to the next house for a late dinner and football or board games, and later, everyone heads to the last house for dessert and enjoys a group game like white elephant.
  • Adopt new traditions from your host country if you are living in a foreign land. Do a little research about the particular holiday, and try out one of the customs. For the American-specific holidays, you can still include customs or recipes specific to the country in general. Change it up!
  • Go to events and volunteer before, during and after the holiday. Make a week of celebrations and helping others instead of focusing only on the one day. Take in a movie, parade, concerts, and serve at the food bank, homeless shelter, animal shelter or other community organization.
  • Create your own activities if there aren’t any around that suit your tastes. An ugly sweater party, board game night and silly games you see on late-night comedy shows that you turn into neighborhood tournaments should help jump start your creative ideas for entertainment.

Embrace the change. You’ll be surprised at what you enjoy and will want to continue to do year after year. We’ve adopted some of the new food and activities into our family traditions. Holidays away from family can be tough, but with planning, you can have memorable and fun-filled celebrations that connect you across the miles.

You Can Do Anything 2 Times, Right?

 Posted by on October 6, 2015 at 10:56
Oct 062015
 
Guest Blogger Julie Green

Guest Blogger Julie Green

Blogger Biography: Julie GreenI am mom to one hot mess of a toddler, wife to a Navy sailor, and dedicated mosquito slayer (I am on the marketing team at an outdoor pest control company.) I love writing about life, whether that’s being a working mom, a military spouse or just being a woman — beautiful chaos and hilarity ensues with all of that.

 

The days and nights leading up to a deployment can be the hardest on your heart. There is a clock above your head that ticks louder and faster as the date draws near. Sometimes you aren’t sure you can handle the pressure, but you do. The date comes…and then goes. You watch the plane take off, you watch the ship sail away or you drive away from the base wondering how you’re going to get through this deployment.

The first couple of months actually fly by, and I sit back and think, “Man, I can do this. I’ve got this.” I let myself free float out of protection mode and into automatic pilot. And while I do in fact “have this,” I hit a mental wall a few weeks ago. I find myself feeling very lucky because I have a job I adore and an insane 2.5 year old that keeps me busy — very, very busy. From the time he wakes up in the morning until I lay down at night, my days are full. Of course, I think about my husband all the time, but I’m going 100 miles per hour. I’m distracted. And for the first couple of months I put my son to bed and find anything and everything to do to keep moving. You would think my house would be spotless, right? Ha. I wish. Turns out my after-hour distractions do not include cleaning or laundry. I digress.

One evening I check the mail, and I have a letter from that sweet husband of mine. I’m reading and smiling because he starts telling me all the things he misses about me. He misses earrings not making it to the jewelry box, soda cans all over the house and the string of clothes on the floor that stretches from our bedroom door all the way to the shower. (He must love me if he is misses my annoying habits.) But in the letter he asks me, “What do you miss most about me?” I read this, fold the letter up and immediately go about distracting myself.

This nags at me for a week. I find myself thinking about it driving, in the shower, on my lunch break. What do I miss most? I come home one evening and after getting my child to bed, I pour a glass of wine and revisit the letter. I come to my answer, get out a pen and a paper to write him a letter back — and the floodgates open. Thankfully I have an amazing sister who sits on the phone with me and lets me ugly cry my way through the first “I miss him so much I am physically hurting” night and then has me laughing hysterically by the end of the conversation. It happens, but it passes.

These are times it is important to lean on the support system you have. Sometimes these people aren’t the family you’re born into —they’re the connections you’ve made along this journey. Maybe that connection is another spouse from the command, with whom you have lots in common, or the coworker who has been through umpteen deployments. Maybe, like me, it is your sister who has no idea what you’re going through, but just loves you and lets you vent.

If you’re wondering what I miss most — to answer the big question — it is being his wife. I miss the quiet moments in the evenings spent with my legs draped over him on the couch— me on my tablet and him watching yet another military movie. I miss waking up in the night and hearing his slow, steady breathing, and cooking dinner at the stove when he comes up behind me and wraps his arms around my waist (while sneaking food off the counter).

It isn’t fun to think about (especially when you have six months of the deployment left), and I don’t even make it through the letter that night. But, while sharing a cup of coffee with a veteran spouse and telling her about the letter and my fears, she asks me if I had blogged about it. She reminds me that writing is cathartic for me and says maybe I should consider it. It could help not only me, but others going through the struggles of deployment. So here I am, deleting and re-writing, inserting, and copying and pasting my way through a really hard blog post.

That’s life though, right? Trying to delete, re-write, and copy and paste things so they look really pretty when, in fact, life sometimes just isn’t really pretty. Some days are good and some days are rough. Yesterday marks three months, and my son and I are doing awesome. If we made it through the first three months, we only have to do that two more times, and you can do anything twice. Right? I feel blessed that I found that husband of mine to love and miss — even if he comes with a side of deployment.

 

 

Time After Time

 Posted by on December 16, 2014 at 12:00
Dec 162014
 

I watched the TV show, “Major Dad,” when I was little – hopefully that’s not one of those confessions that’s going to show my age. Anyway, the lead character, Major Dad, was what I believed all things military to be: strict, punctual and annoyingly organized.

Kristi

Kristi

I began to suspect I’d been misinformed when I was dating my husband. He was weeks away from earning his gold wings, but he was still scrambling to finish flights, and your guess would’ve been as good as mine whether he was getting orders to Japan, North Carolina or California. Selfishly, I was concerned with how this uncertainty was going to affect my future. Should I go ahead and splurge on that dress for the winging? Should I start learning Japanese? Did I even need to be worried about these things since he seemed more concerned about gold wings than he did a gold ring?

This military time – and timing – was already getting on my bad side.

Spoiler alert: he did earn his wings…on time, we got married and the books I secretly bought to teach myself Japanese were tossed into the donation box when he got orders to North Carolina. I earned some serious wrinkles and gray hairs from that stressful phase, but no one else seemed to think it was that big of a deal. If you have a red flag, wave it now.

I’m reminded – almost daily – why no one thought all the last minute near misses and changed plans were a big deal. Time after time, it proves to be the norm in the military.

Deployments and homecomings are postponed every day. Schedules change. Parents in uniform miss the birth of their kids. We visualize all the scenarios for our future while we wait for orders, only to learn that we have another month to wait because a board met later than expected.

Then, one day, when we’re crying crocodile tears over a burnt casserole dish or kicking ourselves for getting excited about orders to X when we ended up with Y, we finally accept something:

Military time is not the rigid 0700 that Hollywood thinks it is, but don’t get me wrong, they do – as a whole – get up early. It’s fluid. It’s tentative. It’s the kind of friend you can only take in small doses, rather than the kind of friend you would trust to fall into.

Learning not to blindly trust a military schedule is a tough lesson that every military family member learns on his or her own time, but there’s a fine line between setting realistic expectations and becoming a Debby (or Donny) Downer. I, myself, flirt with that line on a daily basis:

Husband: “My flight was 396052_621366155841_1509259722_ncanceled.”

Me: “Of course it was.”

Husband: “My homecoming date slid to the right.”

Me: “Why am I surprised?”

Husband: “Still no news on orders.”

Me (in my best Debby Downer voice): “Wah-waaaaaahhhh.”

Being a military spouse and raising little military brats (I know it’s a term of endearment, but I’d like to state for the record that my kids aren’t actually brats) has helped me cool it a bit on the forward planning (depending on who you ask, but I can see growth). Somewhere between waiting for that first set of orders before I was even an official military spouse, the two-day delay of my husband’s first homecoming (that I learned of the morning he was supposed to come home), canceled nights out, and the day-to-day he said, she said process of waiting for new orders, I learned to be patient and expect sudden changes and disappointments. Then if everything happens according to plan, I’m not only pleasantly surprised, but you’re likely to see me skipping down the street singing “Yankee Doodle.”

So, from my flexible military family to yours, keep everything in perspective, make the most of where you are and remember that you’ll laugh about it later. If you can do those three things, then you’ll snap back from the challenges you face in the military community.

Guest Blog | #MyMilFam Always Flexible

 Posted by on November 28, 2014 at 09:30
Nov 282014
 

Guest Blogger:  Faith St. Thomas

Semper Gumby. As an Air Force brat, who married a sailor, I know with a certainty that flexibility is the secret sauce of military life. My husband is a Chief Petty Officer who had deployed five times in Panama and in and around the Strait of Hormuz, before we met. Then, we married and had the luxury of an assignment in Washington, where my husband came home for dinner every night.

It is the point of military readiness: be prepared when duty calls. If I needed confirmation of that point, I got it just weeks after we found out I was pregnant with multiples. Tony got new orders to deploy. I moved in with his parents, who were career Army. They knew how to see me through what would be a very difficult pregnancy. It would give us all our beautiful little Isaac and soon after he was born, we would join my husband at Yokosuka in Japan.

Two years later, it’s a strain on my family to be so far from Isaac during developmental milestones, but he has settled right in and moves effortlessly through Japanese culture. It is a charmed start to his life that will no doubt pay incredible dividends as he grows older.

As for me, I am a former Navy civilian employee. Jobs for spouses stationed in Japan are scarce and childcare is scarcer still. So for now, I am content to raise Isaac and mentor the wives of new petty officers who arrive on base. We founded a spouses club at Yokosuka some months ago. Serving alongside these women is a tremendous honor. They are smart, hard-working and so resilient it can be easy for them to take themselves for granted. If my work and history are to carry a message to them, it would be that Semper Gumby doesn’t mean Semper Solo. Not only is there an accidental but strong support network of spouses always available in a pinch or in times of stress, there are military services created to help nurture emotional stamina. Military family wholeness is a critical foundation for military readiness. Taking care of ourselves – and asking for help when we need it – is our duty as we support the service members who serve the nation.

 

Guest Blog | #MyMilFam Staying Connected

 Posted by on November 25, 2014 at 16:02
Nov 252014
 

Guest Blogger: Carmen Puckett

My contribution to the Military Family month reflections comes as my husband, Rob, prepares to deploy to Okinawa from our home at Camp Pendleton. Rob is a Marine Staff Sergeant who has deployed before in our three year marriage. He is a Marine Corps brat. I grew up in Wisconsin as the daughter of civilians and grand-daughter of service members. We have a one year-old son named Noah, who was born during one of Rob’s deployments.

Having Rob away during those milestones is something I expect as part of my family’s service, but when I think of the unknown that my grandparents endured, I realize how blessed this generation of military families is. Families who served in conflicts even as recent as the Persian Gulf War relied largely on slow-moving communications by mail. Months could go by without word. Families could only trust that their loved ones were out of harm’s way. So many family milestones, birthdays and holidays were marked only by a photograph to share with a service member who was deployed.

Today, we have satellite phones – even cell phones – email and Skype, which allows us to stay connected in real time and hear each other’s voices. It is a comfort. Rob may not have been in the delivery room when Noah was born, but he got to watch Noah come into the world on FaceTime. He was part of the experience.

The ease offered by electronic communications has changed the face of family service and no doubt the readiness of a fighting force who no longer has to feel quite so removed from the comforts of home and family.

Guest Blog | #MyMilFam Service Is a Choice

 Posted by on November 24, 2014 at 12:33
Nov 242014
 

Guest Blogger: Claudia Chavez

If there’s a quality about military families that I want the country to internalize, it is our strength. We hear frequently about the sacrifices of military life — and there is no denying we make them. But I fear that sets up the idea that we are struggling.

Let’s be clear — there is no draft. Military life is our choice. It was my husband’s dream. Neither of us came from military families. Their lack of understanding – and often their fear – fed our determination. We are high school sweethearts and we married one year after my husband enlisted. He serves as a Gunnery Sergeant, who missed the birth of our twins when he was ordered to serve a one-year tour in Camp Fuji, Japan in 2002. Even though I was surrounded by family, it was a lonely and difficult time for me because I needed my husband, but no one ever knew that. I had a high risk pregnancy with a condition that dictated that my babies Bailey and Giani needed to be delivered early. They weighed barely four pounds. Giani suffered a lung collapse and was transferred to a hospital away from his brother. I shuttled between hospitals – keeping my husband updated via email and Red Cross message. They’re now nearly young men at the age of 11 and they have a seven year-old brother. As our boys have grown, my husband has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and is currently deployed to Kuwait. Of course, we miss his presence, but we are conscious to never leave him out of life at home.

We use our iPhones and iCloud account to share pictures with each other. We have an album titled “Family”. We snap pictures of happy milestones and upload them to the album. Everyone gets a notification through the family sharing network and everyone has the ability to comment or like the pictures. For example, Giani recently took pictures of all of his school exams with scores of 100% to show his dad. When my husband woke up the next day, he saw the pictures and told my son how proud he was. Also, yesterday my youngest son, Rey, came home with a paragraph he wrote in school about his hero and it happened to be about his dad. I snapped a photo, uploaded it to the album, and my husband saw it when he woke up. Little opportunities like these keep us strong and unite us while he is gone.

Deployments are not easy to endure, but they’ve given my boys an independence and strength I’m not sure they would have developed in civilian life. All of the boys demonstrate personal responsibility and they are my biggest supporters as I continue my college journey. The boys are always asking me if I need help with anything — they don’t need to be reminded of chores — the twins protect my youngest son and look after him. The love they have for each other is incredible.

Military life has not only made my boys strong minded, they are more open minded, too. Their exposure to other cultures and the uncommon things in life causes them to think about greater possibilities for themselves and others. Military families think a good deal about extending themselves to each other and to society at large. We have been richly blessed with this life and I want young military families – especially those who have no prior military history – to recognize the opportunities that await them, especially the opportunity to develop strong family bonds.

All materials copyright Military OneSource, 2012. Blog content held jointly by writer and Military OneSource, with shared rights to republish with appropriate attribution.