Your service member hasn’t called for days. Your stomach is in knots. Your anxiety is going crazy. Part of your brain wants to believe that everything is okay and this is nothing to be worried about. But the rest of your brain is going CRAZY coming up with wild scenarios and dangerous “what-ifs.” You’ve never gone this long without hearing from your service member, and you just don’t know what to do when your service member hasn’t called during deployment.
I’m here for you, and I can definitely relate to this frustrating worry that is keeping you awake and distracting you all day. First, let’s pause and take a few deep breaths together.
Seriously. Pause. And breathe.
OK, now let’s talk about this.
When your service member hasn’t called during deployment, it’s natural to feel worried and upset. And unfortunately, the one-sided aspect of deployment communication options often means that you don’t have a sure way to get hold of them for everyday concerns. You have to wait for their call, their text, or their email. And that waiting is HARD, especially when you were used to being able to text throughout the day prior to deployment.
Deployment communication can be infrequent and unpredictable
First, it’s important to understand that the “normal” methods of communication during deployment are going to vary greatly between different military branches, different geographic locations, and yes, even among different ranks or job descriptions on the same deployment.
It can take time to establish your normal communication routines during deployment. Just because you had a friend whose husband called every day during deployment, or your neighbor’s spouse is able to Facetime them every morning doesn’t means your service member will have those exact options. If your service member hasn’t called but another family in the same unit has heard from theirs, there are many explanations.
It is best to discuss a communication plan before they deploy so you can each share your expectations and be on the same page. Ask questions from the unit leadership about what technology will be available. And take steps in advance to get the correct phone plan or SIM card, or buy a wi-fi puck if they need it. Try out new apps ahead of time so you can get comfortable with any new technology. You can read more about your deployment communication options here.
When should I hear from my service member after they deploy?
When the service members first deploy, many spouses and significant others don’t get a phone call for several days, or even up to a week. During that first week, the service member is flying around the world, possibly taking several flights or drives to get to a remote location, dealing with jet lag, and then taking time to settle in at a new base or camp. They may be expected to work long shifts or to train alongside the outgoing unit. So it isn’t always easy for them to get to a phone, find a wi-fi signal, and reassure you that they have arrived at their new location.
It’s frustrating, and it’s so hard to go without hearing from your loved one. But if your service member hasn’t called at the beginning of a deployment it is –unfortunately– quite common. If you do get a call during those first few days, it may be very brief and matter-of-fact, without any time to share stories, joke around, or be sweet with each other. Your service member may be waiting in a line or surrounded by other people, so it isn’t easy to have a private conversation.
So if it’s the very beginning of deployment and you are waiting to hear from your service member, please try to be patient. Believe me, I KNOW that those first few hours they are gone can feel like days, and you miss them like crazy! But many military spouses adopt the saying that “no news is good news.” If something horrible had happened, you would have heard about it by now.
So try to put your brain at ease and seek some comfort in the fact that not hearing from them is good news, because it just means they are busy doing what they are supposed to be doing. Once they are settled, you will hear from them!
While you are waiting, make mental notes of anything important you need to ask them, something you can’t find, or fun stories you want to share when they call. You could write a letter or work on their first care package. Make sure whichever electronic device you will use is fully charged and has the volume turned up so you won’t miss their call! Then, when you finally hear from them, you can cover all the essentials and enjoy the conversation.
My deployed service member hasn’t called for days
What if you had already established a deployment communication schedule with your service member, and then… there’s silence? This is a different situation, and it can feel even more frustrating if it comes out of nowhere without warning. I know how worrying it is when your service member hasn’t called and they are in a dangerous location (my husband did five combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, back when our only communication was one satellite phone call per month!) But sometimes even this stressful situation has an innocent reason behind it, so don’t let your mind jump straight to the worst-case scenarios.
First of all, it’s always possible that there is a simple explanation why your service member hasn’t called. Your service member may be tired from switching to a different shift. Maybe they were doing extra work or traveling to a new location.
Or, they just didn’t feel like they had anything interesting to say, so they didn’t bother to call home. There is a mental strain that comes every time a service member pulls themselves out of a “work” environment to focus on family and personal emotions back home. And sometimes, service members want a break from that.
If that’s the case, be gentle with them when they do finally contact you. Let your service member know you were worried and frustrated, but don’t make it a personal attack. Ask if they want to adjust the deployment communication schedule, or when they think would be a reasonable time to talk again. Focus on compromises so you can support each other’s needs throughout the deployment.
Are there communication blackouts during deployment?
During deployment, a military unit will sometimes shut down all outgoing communications like emails and phone calls for several days. Often, this is for a routine training operation, or added security measures, so it’s nothing for the families back home to be worried about. The unit may be changing locations or partnering with another mission, so the communication blackout is for their troops’ safety. The Navy and Marine Corps refer to this time period as “River City,” which stands for Reduced Communications. Only official military communication is allowed for a few days until River City is lifted.
You typically won’t get a warning when River City is going to happen. But if you check in with other families from the unit, and NONE of them have heard anything for a day or two, then it’s likely the unit has gone into River City. It is very stressful and frustrating, because no one ever knows what happened or when it will be lifted. So try your best to avoid rumors, distract yourself with work or social events, and focus your mind on positive events.
Even though River City is often used for routine training situations, there are scenarios where a unit will declare River City because of an injury or death that occurred in the unit. They want to make sure that the service member’s immediate family is contacted first by official sources, before hearing about an injury from word of mouth or from a news story.
If this is the case, there will usually be a news article within 24 hours that shares information about the event but doesn’t include names. This is always sad and upsetting. But please take comfort in knowing that you would have heard from authorities if anything had happened to your service member. The names will be released a few days later, and that’s when River City is lifted.
How to keep calm when your service member hasn’t called during deployment
I’ve had many people tell me that I always appear calm–as a mother and as a military spouse. This always makes me chuckle, because I don’t feel very calm on the inside. I get angry, and frustrated, and sometimes yell, just like anyone else. But after two decades with my Marine, I have learned to be flexible and roll with the difficult situations the military often throws our way. So when I am feeling anxious or out of control–or when my service member hasn’t called– here are some of my calming strategies for military life:
- Focus on what you can control. In a world of uncertainty, it’s helpful to focus on small things around you that are within your control–whether that is your schedule, your next meal, a coloring book, or just taking a shower. You can read more about this de-stressing technique here.
- Have go-to daily routines. Everyone can benefit from relaxing rituals like walking outside, petting a dog, drinking tea, doing crafts, or taking a bath. Discover the short routines that relax you when you’re stressed, and focus on them during this difficult time.
- Think about the good. Don’t get caught in “what-if” worries or worst-case scenarios that will play through your brain in an endless loop. Remind yourself that they have trained for this, they have excellent equipment, and their battle buddies are there to help them through. They are strong, they love you, and you will hear from them soon!
- Read a good book. Whether you need a fantasy romance to take your mind off your troubles, or a helpful nonfiction to teach you something new, reading a book may put your mind at ease. I recommend my book, Open When: Letters of Encouragement for Military Spouses, which contains short, inspiring letters for challenging moments just like this! You can buy it on Amazon or directly from the publisher.
- Phone a friend! Sometimes, you need a voice a reason to talk you down from a cliff of anxiety. It’s important to have friends both inside and out of the military community who respect you as a person and can comfort you when you are concerned. Make sure you have contact for these friends before deployment even begins, and get their permission to text them in the middle of the night! It’s reassuring when you have a calm friend to turn to any time.
I’m sorry that you are struggling with the current lack of communication from your service member. But if you keep your mind in the right place, you can remain strong and get through this challenge. If you want deployment support from fellow military spouses, I recommend my positive and supportive Facebook community called Handle Deployment Like a Boss! Join over 7,000 fellow military spouses and loved ones as we all go through deployment together!