What is the hardest thing about military deployments?
Deployments are tough. Almost everything about them is difficult–from the emotional turmoil, to the constant worry and stress, to the frustration of maintaining a house or vehicle or keeping small children alive all by yourself. Sure, there are good days and bad days, ups and downs. On the good ones we can feel strong, like we are in a routine and getting things done. But on those bad days–just getting out of bed and eating without crying can feel like impossible tasks. If you’ve dealt with your spouse being deployed for more than a few minutes, then I’m sure you know what I mean.
Deployments are not easy. They will challenge you in more ways than anyone can imagine. But I also have a secret weapon to get through them, which I’ll tell you about in a moment.
I was recently asked what is the worst part of deployments, and I had to stop and think about it before I could answer. Because let’s be honest–it’s hard to pinpoint which part of deployment is the hardest. During our first deployment, it was the lack of communication, not hearing my boyfriend’s voice for six long months. During his combat deployments, the worst part was the constant fear and concern for his life, knowing that he was on the front lines. One time, my biggest deployment challenge was the week that all four kids got sick at once and were vomiting everywhere. Another time, the worst part of deployment was when I had to give birth alone. The holidays are difficult, the demands of solo parenting are exhausting, and the frustration of broken appliances can be overwhelming. How can I possibly choose one thing that is the worst?
But when I thought about it, I realized that most types of deployment challenges have one thing in common: we stress when we don’t know what to expect. The hardest thing about deployment is facing the unknown.
“The hardest thing about deployments is facing the unknown.” ~The Seasoned Spouse
The worst part of deployments is all the unknowns
Communication can be stressful because we never know when our service member will contact us, or how long it will be until we hear from them again. Even on deployments with regular communication, they can lose wi-fi or email abilities without any warning.
Fearing for their safety is stressful because we don’t know if they will be injured or make it home safely. Every military spouse and significant other has a question in the back of their mind during deployment that starts with, “But what if…?”
Solo parenting is exhausting because we never know what to expect from the kids, when they will throw a tantrum, who will make the next mess, or if anyone will actually sleep through the night.
Deployment Murphy days are challenging because we can never predict when something will break or when someone will get sick. We never know how those problems will throw a wrench in our schedule until they happen.
Holidays are difficult, because no matter how much we prepare for the emotional shock, we never know what simple memory or moment will reduce us to tears, and we are always wondering if our service member will be able to celebrate this same holiday with us next year.
Deployments in general are overwhelming because of the unknown. Even if you have been through a few deployments and think you know what to expect, each deployment will have its own unique challenges and new situations. Each time I face a deployment (I’ve been with my husband through seven of them now!) I feel a little more confident that I can handle it. Yet every time, it’s the surprises and the fear of the unknown that gets me down.
I think the unexpected challenges and the unknown outcomes are the worst thing about deployments. If you have been through a few before, you probably know where I’m coming from. And if you’re facing your first deployment, the entire thing probably feels like one giant scary gray cloud that hangs heavily on your shoulders and just won’t go away.
I’m not telling you this to scare you. I’m writing it because it’s true, and because you are not the only one feeling terrified and uncertain about how to get through deployment. I think on some level, every military spouse and significant other feels the same dread of deployments. We just don’t always discuss it. We put on a brave face and tell each other to stay strong and “put on your big girl panties.” But I think there is a better way to face the uncertainty of deployment.
The one thing that makes deployments easier
The only thing that’s certain about a deployment is that it will challenge you. You may not know exactly how you will be stretched and worn down, but you can expect that it is going to happen. What kind of weapon can you use to fight the stress of uncertainty? I’ll tell you my secret weapon.
The best way to fight fear is with confidence. Before deployment, do everything you can to build up your confidence and your own self-assurance. Being confident in your ability to take care of yourself, the kids, the house, etc will go a long way towards reducing your deployment stress. You can build this confidence in several ways.
Get organized. Being prepared takes the worry and stress out of deployments. If you don’t know how to handle certain things on your own, like paying bills, car maintenance, or home repairs, then practice those routines ahead of time. Discuss them with your spouse so you can feel confident that you won’t be neglecting important things. Gather paperwork, passwords, and a budget so that you won’t get locked out of important accounts and you can continue to run things smoothly in your spouse’s absence. It’s helpful to gather everything into one binder so it’s all easy to locate.
Make a plan. You can’t predict when an emergency will happen during deployment. But you can prepare for emergency situations ahead of time. Gathering paperwork like a Power of Attorney (PoA) and a Family Care Plan will help you handle unexpected situations. Collecting phone numbers for insurance, locksmiths, car repairs, and general handymen will help you deal with the crazy things that break during deployment. If you are going to have a baby during deployment, have several plans for getting to the hospital, who will stay with your other kids, and how you will manage the newborn on your own. When you have planned for an emergency, you can breathe a little easier, because you know that even if it surprises you, it won’t get the best of you. That’s why I have prepared 28 pages of checklists, resources, and questions in my Ultimate Deployment Guide.
Get informed. Take the fear and mystery out of deployment by talking to other military spouses or significant others who have been through them. It can be a huge relief to learn that you are not the only one facing certain challenges. In fact, many things that we worry about turn out to be “normal” deployment problems. While your deployment experience may be different from someone else’s, it’s always encouraging to hear from someone who has been through it and survived and can give you some positive motivation from the other side. It’s also helpful to ask detailed questions of your unit and your spouse so you know what to expect regarding communication, local resources, and where to go to handle certain challenges.
Build your support. Before deployment, it’s important to spend quality time with your service member and treasure your time together. But too many people make the mistake of only spending time with their service member. Then the deployment begins, and they feel alone and isolated without anyone to call on a bad day. Take time before the deployment to invest in yourself, by building local friendships and connections. Have a few friends or neighbors you can call if you need help. Know some of the resources around you. Yes, you can find deployment resources even when you don’t live near a military base! You can also find supportive milso and milspouse communities online. That’s why I built a Deployment Support group on Facebook so you can always get answers to deployment questions and find a sympathetic ear when you’re having a bad day. It’s included for free in the Deployment Masterclass.
The Deployment Masterclass is all about building your confidence, organization, and general deployment knowledge so that you can feel less stressed during an upcoming deployment. It’s a toolbox of resources that will give you that confidence and peace of mind to handle anything deployment throws your way. You can learn more about the Deployment Masterclass here.