This guest post is part of the #ThisisDeployment series, where a variety of military spouses share their deployment lessons and experiences. Here, Julie Martinez shares her first deployment tips learned during her Army fiancé’s deployment.
My husband and I got engaged right before he deployed for the first time around two years ago. I wasn’t really in the Army life yet, as we had only been dating for about six months at the time. I was a college student and lived in a college town, so most of the people I knew were in that same stage of life.
I didn’t know any military spouses or families or even other military girlfriends. And while I had family and friends who were sympathetic towards me while I was going through the separation of deployment, I didn’t have anyone to relate to.
It was a challenging time in life because I didn’t know anything about the “Emotional Cycle of Deployment” or “Deployment Meltdowns.” I’m not a very emotional person, so I didn’t expect deployment to hit me so hard. After all, we weren’t married yet, and I was keeping myself busy with school and work and extracurricular activities. I was honestly taken aback by how quickly I could go from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other.
Things I didn’t know about the first deployment
I didn’t know that a missed phone call could totally ruin my day and miscommunication could be so difficult to correct from 7000 miles away (how was I supposed to know daylight savings wasn’t a thing in the Middle East?)
I didn’t know that casual conversations could be so painful – like a girl in class complaining about seeing her boyfriend too much lately.
I didn’t know that other’s attempts to be encouraging would sometimes be heartbreaking. I would find myself cringing when friends and acquaintances alike would be so happy and excited that I was engaged. Didn’t they know I was struggling? Getting engaged before deployment was absolutely the right choice for my husband and I, but it was still one of the most long and trying years of my life.
First deployment tips
The good news, though, is that I survived, and my husband and I were married three months after he returned from that first deployment and we will celebrate our one year anniversary this month (June.)
As a result of my fiancé’s deployment, I learned a lot about the military, about my now-husband, and about myself. I think that experience allowed me to make a smooth transition into being an Army wife.
Deployment taught me to be an initiator.
One of my biggest regrets from the first deployment experience was failing to initiate spending time with friends. Some days I would be so lonely, but I would just sit around hoping someone would call me, or send me a text, or ask me to hangout. In the end, I concluded that, while even though most people aren’t going through the loneliness of a deployment, many people are going through loneliness.
I decided that if I was hoping others would invite me to hang out, there were probably others who were sitting around hoping for the same thing. So, I began reaching out. I started to plan things. I spent more time with friends, I invited others to join me for lunch, and I went home for the weekend more often. Once I began initiating interactions with my family and friends, the deployment seemed to go by more quickly, and my outlook became so much brighter.
Deployment taught me to talk on the phone.
I’ve always kind of hated talking on the phone. But that changed when a phone call was the closest I could be to my fiancé for almost a year. And now that I’m living far from home, my new found ability to talk easily over the phone has become a necessity to stay in touch.
Where I felt awkward and uncomfortable talking on the phone before, now I love talking to my family and friends on the phone and I could easily spend hours on the phone. I learned the importance of having a conversation without distractions and focusing on really listening to the other person. That can be really hard to do, but when you focus on truly listening and understanding the person you are talking to, even a brief conversation can be fulfilling.
Deployment taught me not to take my frustration out on my fiancé/spouse.
It is so tempting to just vent about all of your separation/deployment/military anxieties to your significant other, and I did that more than I care to admit during that first deployment. Please learn from my mistakes and find different ways to vent your frustrations. It adds stress and tension to your relationship, and it can be really difficult to separate frustration towards your military member from your frustration toward the military in general. I am always willing to sympathize with my husband when he faces sudden changes in plan and instability at work, but I don’t ever want to add extra stress to an already stressful situation.
You’ll find more support and first deployment tips in my book, “Open When: Letters of Encouragement for Military Spouses,” which is now available on Amazon and wherever books are sold online!
Deployment taught me to be flexible.
Plans change. The military is the most bipolar employer you’ll ever have. I am a pretty easy going person, but I do like to have a plan, and I like to stick to it. I’m still learning to get over that, because with the military, that’s just not likely to happen. There are a lot of variables that military families face and a lot of changes that are inevitable in a military career. That’s the nature of the job, and I knew that from the start, but the last two years have given me a lot of practice adjusting to the inconsistent lifestyle of the Army. And I’m sure this is a lesson that I will continue to learn for the duration of my husband’s military career.
Deployment taught me that friendships are valuable no matter how brief.
During my last year of school while my soon-to-be husband was deployed, I hesitated to invest time in building new friendships. I knew that I would be moving at the end of the year, and I didn’t expect to make any lasting friendships during those last two semesters. But this exacerbated the loneliness I was facing.
Many of my friends from the year before had already graduated and moved on with their lives, and I was planning the next stage of my life too, so I felt a bit out of place, even before moving across the country.
But despite being hesitant to build new friendships so soon before moving away, I did make one really great friend. She was a constant source of encouragement to me, and still a very close friend despite us living so far from each other.
Now, I know we won’t likely be at our current duty station for more than a year or two, but I’m not letting that limited timeframe prevent me from investing in friendships. When I first moved, I was eager to befriend other newly married spouses, and learn from those who have been around the Army much longer than I have.
I think having this open attitude about making friends is something unique to the military. We’re always moving and making friends as we go. I was so surprised by how quickly I found genuine, like minded friends after moving. And while I know it’ll be hard to leave my new friends behind, I also know that it’s those friendships that make our lives so joyful for the time that we are here.
The most important thing that this first deployment has taught me is to value the people who are in my life for each season. My husband and I have found so many sweet friendships and had so many adventures that we might not have otherwise had and will surely have many more to come.
Deployments can be so discouraging and Army life is certainly trying, but there are also so many joys and sweet gifts to enjoy if we look for them.
This is a guest post from Julie Martinez. Her blog is: juliaauburn.com