In this day and time, if you are the spouse of an Army soldier, you have either already dealt with a deployment or will be dealing with one in the future. In the past, many Army spouses were able to make it through an entire enlistment without enduring a deployment separation. Today, with continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan with no end in sight, it is not likely to happen.
The best thing you can do as an Army wife is to prepare for the deployment and the many obstacles it can deliver. There are emotional stages that are common for Army wives to endure during the separation from their spouse. Although these stages are the most common, do not be alarmed if you either skip a stage or stay in one stage for a longer period than stated.
It should also be noted that if you are having a difficult time functioning through the deployment to the point where you cry for days on end, you cannot get out of bed or it dramatically interferes with your ability to handle day to day tasks, you should seek the help of a professional.
The unit chaplain is always available if you need to talk. Tricare also covers counseling with the possibility of having eight visits before needing to be referred by your PCM (Primary Care Manager). Check with your regional Tricare office for specific information for your case. You can also contact www.militaryonesource.com for a referral.
First Stage: Learning of the Deployment
Depending on your husband’s unit, you could have months of notice before they deploy or as little as a few hours. Your first reaction could very well be shock, disbelief and a feeling of helplessness. You may have thoughts run through your head about flying off to another country and disappearing. Although this is common, it’s NOT recommended! They will find you and then not only will he be deployed, he will probably serve jail time as well and have pay and rank stripped from him.
Back to emotions….it is not uncommon as the deployment nears to have separation anxieties. In some, this can cause you to cling to your spouse in every available moment. In others, you may find that you are fighting with your spouse more than ever. Both of these situations are normal.
You may also find yourself preparing a long honey-do list for your spouse. It can be very intimidating to think of all of the things your husband typically handles that he will not be around to do. Make yourself a list of these things and sit down together to discuss the best way to handle them.
Your soldier may actually even be looking forward to this deployment. This is, after all, what he has been training for since he entered the Army. As an Army wife, it can be very hard to hear that your husband is looking forward to the deployment. Remember that he is looking forward to the chance to utilize his skills; he is not looking forward to being away from his family.
It is very important that he has a bond with the other soldiers in his unit. He may begin spending more time with these soldiers before deployment and this can cause tension as you generally want this time to be just for your family. Just remember unit cohesion and morale is essential to their success.
It is also normal for you to get to the point of just wanting him to leave so you can get on with things and get the deployment over with as quickly as possible. Do not feel guilty because this thought entered your head – it is normal!
Second Stage: The Day He Leaves and The First Weeks That Follow
This can be by far the most difficult stage. Saying goodbye to your spouse knowing that it will be the last time you see him for a prolonged time period is emotionally and physically exhausting.
Understandingly, many also have the fear that their spouse may never return home alive or at the very least will be a different person upon his return. While you shouldn’t dwell on these fears, it is normal to have them. One thing that was somewhat comforting to me was an article I found comparing how many people in the United States died each day in car accidents.
Now I know you’re thinking how can that be comforting? Every life lost in war (or any other time) is a great tragedy and one I hope I don’t have to endure. But statistically, you have a greater chance of being killed in a car accident while he is deployed than he has of dying during the deployment. If the news exploited each car accident death as they do the death of each soldier, none of us would probably ever drive again.
During this time period, you can expect to experience emotions from one extreme to the other. You may be sad one minute, inconsolable the next and angry at him the next. You may be in denial about the deployment and still wait for him to walk through the door each night. You may have trouble sleeping and you may be anxious about your personal security, particularly if you are living by yourself for the first time in quite some time. This happened to me.
After my husband deployed, I realized I was living alone for the first time ever. I went from my parent’s home to sharing apartments with roommates in college to getting married and living with my husband. It was quite an adjustment for me. Just about any emotion you have during this time period is normal. Give yourself time to adjust to the new situation and get yourself into a routine.
Third Stage: From Month One Until The Month He Returns
This stage can also carry a variety of emotions but at the end of the first month, you should begin to find yourself in a routine and functioning through a normal lifestyle. In fact, during this stage, it is not uncommon to feel guilty that you are able to continue to do things you enjoy while your husband is deployed.
You’ll find that while he is still on your mind and of course in your heart, you aren’t pondering him twenty four hours a day as you most likely were in the first few weeks. By this time, you should begin to have some communication with him, whether by phone, email or mail. Email is a great asset to deployments as you are able to communicate with your soldier as often as you would like rather than having to wait on a phone call from him.
Many spouses say that one of the most frustrating things surrounding deployments is that phone calls must be initiated by him.
This can give you a feeling of having to be trapped in your home and a missed phone call can be absolutely devastating.
I highly recommend investing in a cell phone and instructing your husband to always call your cell phone. If this is not possible, place call forwarding on your phone for just a few dollars a month to ensure you won’t miss his call.
When you do communicate with your spouse, do your best to keep things positive. A bad conversation during deployment can cause negative feelings that last a long time. And the fact is, you have no idea when he may be able to call back.
While you should be open with your spouse, try not to overload him with problems that he cannot help to fix. I am by no means saying to hide these things from him, but if possible address them quickly and then move on to more pleasant subjects. Make the most of the time you have on the phone with him.
During this time, it is important to communicate as often as possible whether through phone, email or mail. And don’t forget those care packages. While in many locations, the soldiers have access to a PX to buy essentials, it is nothing compared to receiving a package or even just a card from home. Don’t let your soldier be the one who isn’t receiving anything while he is deployed.
Packages do not have to be expensive to put together. The post office offers priority packing materials for free that you can even go online and order to have them shipped to your home. They also have two priority flat rate boxes. No matter how much these boxes weigh, the price to ship them will be the same. Use this to your advantage and cram it full of your soldier’s favorite things! Your FRG should be able to give you a list of things that are acceptable to send to his specific location.
It is very important that you have support in one form or another while he is gone. This can come from others with deployed spouses (which in my opinion is best), from family and friends and through your FRG. Be sure to go to every FRG meeting and ensure they have all of your contact information at all times. You don’t want to miss out on an important announcement because they can’t find you.
Many FRGs have a variety of activities and events that you can participate in while your soldier is gone. The base also has volunteer opportunities available. No matter what you decide, be sure to have that support and let people know when you need their help. Many people are more than willing to help but just don’t know what to offer. Let them know what is best for you!
During this time period, one of the most damaging occurrences to morale is the rumors. There may be rumors that the unit is coming home earlier than expected, that a deployed soldier is cheating on his spouse or vice versa. Do not participate in the rumor mill. If you hear rumors specifically about his unit, contact your FRG leader to set it straight. Rumors will only cause negative feelings in the long run. Do not feed into them.
Redeployment: Last Month of Deployment
You’re in the home stretch now. It won’t be long before you see your husband walking (or running!) towards you with open arms. That will be a moment and an experience you won’t soon forget.
Unfortunately, this can be the most stressful part of the deployment for many spouses. Personally, I would rather go through him leaving again than the last month of deployment. The range of emotions will be back – but in a different way.
You will be nervous, excited, and anxious all at once. You may get to the point of just being angry and frustrated as the days just seem to absolutely drag. This is one time during the deployment when it is critical that you keep yourself busy.
Many wives begin to look at the list of the things they wanted to accomplish while he was gone and say where did the time go? If you’re in the beginning of the deployment or haven’t endured one yet, you’re probably thinking “yeah, right” but it will happen!
Don’t stress yourself out too much about trying to cram everything into the last month. Your husband wants to see you and your family – he will not care that the hardwood floors have not been stripped and redone. Promise!
Everyone feels differently about this next part. I will give you my opinion on it. When your husband returns, you need to decide what type of homecoming he is going to have. It has been my experience that the simpler it is, the better.
If you would like to have a big blow-out when he comes home, save it for a few weeks after he returns and has had time to acclimate to his surroundings again. He may want to avoid crowds, he may just want to stay home or he may be ready to go – you just don’t know.
Also, when my husband returns, I am always the only one there to meet him. I feel it is very important that we have at the very least a few days with just the two of us to get to know each other again and to readjust. Only after this period, do we begin inviting family over or going to see them. I let him do this on his schedule – not mine.
The other part of this is that in the first few days of his return, it may not even feel real to you. You may actually wake up in the middle of the night and be a bit scared at first when you realize someone is there with you.
Also prepare yourself for the fact that your house will most likely look like a tornado hit it when he returns home. Mine always does and I’ve just learned to deal with it for a few weeks before I start asking him to pick his stuff up and help out around the house.
You may also find that your husband is one who needs to get right back into the routine. He may be one who needs to know he is needed and one way to help him with this is to let him help with things around the house. If he was walking the dog before, let him start doing it again. Let him know he has been missed!
Regardless, enjoy this time with your husband and reuniting again as a family. Be proud of yourself for making it through the separation and hopefully surviving this deployment with an even stronger marriage than you had before the deployment.
How about you? Do you find the roller coaster to be true for you? What tips would you offer to survive a deployment?
Check out these books about deployment.