Random, I know. But this Veteran's Day seems like a good day to re-post the lessons I learned during M*'s deployment that I had on my deployment blog. Years and have come and gone, but even now, looking it back over, I think anyone with a deployed loved one can learn from this. :)
1. You’ll have plenty of time to cry after he leaves, and each time after you hang up from every phone/Skype call from 11.5 time zones away. Not only is it a waste of time to sit around teary-eyed in the days, hours, minutes before he departs, or in those precious minutes on the phone, it does neither of you any good to send him off to theater or to the next mission with any grief/pain/sadness/worries/doubts. So just don’t do it. Happy times, always.
2. Go with the flow and make use of technology (email, Facebook, pictures, Skype, IM, etc.). Use the time physically apart to get to know one another in a new way and learn how to communicate with each other in a way that not many people ever have the chance to develop.
3. Separation is less about geography and more about communication. When he’s at drill, training, or deployed, he’s only as far away as the next telephone call, email or text message. If they come several times a day, he might as well only be an hour from home - that's what it feels like, like he's right there! But deprived of communication for 3 weeks, he may as well be on the moon, with no hope of return. Also, the old adage that “no news is good news” provides zero consolation when you’re on the receiving end of silence.
4. But, no news actually is good news. If there’s a blackout and you haven’t been contacted, that’s a good thing. Really. So while as tough as it is to not hear from him, the longer that blackout lasts, the better the odds are that your soldier is safe and sound. Without going into too much detail, the Army is pretty good at contacting NOK and those on the soldier's contact list. 48 hours, 72 max... if that time passes and you haven't heard, he's okay. He's okay.
5. Turn off the news. I know you're voraciously curious and want to know what he's going through and experiencing day-to-day, but suck it up and get that information from him and him only. Do not search the internet for reports of fighting/attacks/casualties in the province(s) he’s working in. And don’t even think about going to icasualties.org to see how many were lost yesterday, and compare his province to other provinces to see just how dangerous his really is. You’ll drive yourself crazy. Oh, and if he's in the Kunar Valley, don't even think about watching Restrepo. Especially don't watch it twice, or three times. And not at work, where you might get caught paralyzed staring at your screen, white-knuckling your Starbucks coffee....
6. Don’t spend energy wondering if you two will grow apart or focusing on how much the situation stinks. Stand up straight and walk through the experience a little bit everyday. Above all, keep moving. Like a friend of mine once said, “If you’re going through hell, don’t stop, keep on going!”
7. Dealing with deployment is at times, a very one-sided seeming experience because a man at war doesn’t have the luxury of catering to your every womanly need. Don’t get too hung up on your “rights” – what you’ve chosen to do will at times be nothing more than an act of selflessness. It in no way equals the selflessness it takes to put your life on your line for another soldier – so pull up your big girl panties and be grateful you are the one safe at home, eating at your favorite Hillstone restaurant, working out in an air-conditioned gym, drinking Zinfandel and getting pedicures.
8. Always try to remember that no matter how hard it is for you, that he probably has a lot of the very same loneliness that you do, except he’s also in a combat zone. Strive to accept these rough patches with womanly grace, not the grief of a child. The world doesn't revolve around you, sweetheart.
9. Don’t sweat the small stuff or every detail of his communication pattern with you or the lack thereof when those times come (and they will). Relax and rest in faith that you WILL have the opportunity to talk to him again, and the grace of another opportunity where he's recovered from being outside the wire or whatever event caused the blackout and is now "back to normal" again so that you two get back on course. I say this because you’ll see many others panic in the sometimes choppy seas of deployment. Ride out the waves, sister, just as you might if you were lost at sea, and remember that kicking and screaming when you think you are going to drown only brings you that much closer to doing so. Try not to lose your head, know what I mean?
10. Stay busy. It’s useless to pine away for him while he’s gone when there’s so much you can be doing to challenge and improve yourself. Train for a marathon. Take a class in a random subject that interests you. Read a huge ass novel or join a book club. Try out some new crafts. Make new friends. Start a dinner party group with existing girlfriends. Develop yourself professionally. I did all these things. Don’t let the Army life define you; define yourself.
11. Plan for the unplanned. If you're living this Army life, you're already familiar with the delays and cancellations Army life brings. But deployments bring it to a whole 'nother level. For instance, I don’t believe he’s really home until he’s standing… on the ground… in front of me. Expect that you might hear phrases as, “I’ve been extended one more month,” for fourth months in a row. Expect that you might have to cancel everything from a homecoming party to plane tickets to wedding venues as a result of this mysterious military life you lead, so expecting the unexpected tends to be the safest bet.
12. Every time you feel like you want something from him to fulfill something missing inside of you, think instead of what you can do for him and the voids he must have being so far away from the colorful landscape of America. If you feel unloved or ignored or sad, do something that you think will make him feel loved, wanted, less alone. Instead of focusing on what things are like for you, try to think about walking in his boots a little bit every day.
13. Listen to him, accept him, encourage him, appreciate him, and remind him that he’s strong, he's got this, he'll be home soon, you're there for him, you're proud of him, you're not going anywhere, send him lots of cookies and all of his favorite things in care packages, give him a break, and don’t weigh him down with unrealistic demands that he somehow be the kind of partner he could be if he were here in person. Concern yourself with how you can be his “best friend.”
14. Know that you too are a soldier of sorts. Take pride in knowing that very few women are woven from the kind of cloth that shrouds you. It takes a very strong, independent, secure, adaptable, emotionally wise woman to handle this life. You were made strong when you were made for him. If I only had a dollar for every time I’ve heard "I could never do that…" or "I could never be with a man who..." Just like our soldiers are part of a brotherhood, we too are our own sisterhood. It's why, in a way, we're both welcoming of new girls and intolerant of the cry babies - we know you won't make it if you don't toughen up fast. We do what we have to do for the people we love. I didn’t seek out this life, but I fell in love with a man who did. When I hear these types of comments – innocent as they are – it makes me wonder what choice I really had, or what kind of woman wouldn’t keep her commitment. Well, ok, I suppose I could’ve said, "Nope, sorry, I’m out!" when the orders were cut or things got too tough, but my commitment – our commitment – always ran deeper.
15. The honeymoon phase has an end. Coming off the homecoming high to the realization that life has gone on without him is a tough pill to swallow for your soldier. Something as silly as a piece of furniture being in a different place could upset him; he wasn't included in the decision, after all. You have to switch back in to couple-mode, meaning you’ll find he’d like to see you home from work before X hour, whereas you had the freedom to come home whenever you wanted while he was away. There’s another person around to have to “deal” with and get used to having around and sharing space with again. You’ll learn to anticipate this transition period, though, so while still difficult, approach reintegration with greater sensitivity for each other.
16. No. It doesn’t get easier. Every deployment is hard. Every school is hard, every training exercise is hard. Heck, every day he goes to work can be hard. And PTSD is a very real thing, but there is help (confidential, anonymous, will-never-touch-his-military-record-help) available for both your soldier and his loved ones to help him manage it. But your minds and hearts are resilient when they need to be.
17. When you can’t touch him, sleep next to him, talk to him, laugh with him, or tell him you love him, pray for him. There is a real power to sending those good vibes out into the universe.