Getting through this deployment ~ Reflections
First, I have to say that I absolutely ADORE this photograph. I’m such an old-fashioned girl and I love vintage/40’s/50’s stuff. So great. I love how even in photography now, you see the same types of shots for engagements and weddings. So great.
Anyway, the real reason I’m making this blog is multi-faceted. I am one week away from the love of my life being closer to home and two weeks away from having him back. It’s an overwhelming thought. I have so much on my mind and so much to reflect back on. Secondly, I received a great comment from another reader whose fiance is leaving for a TOD and would like some perspective on getting through a deployment. So, the two go hand in hand. I am so happy to share my story and what has worked for me. The ups, the downs, and everything in between. I know many of you have also been through a deployment or separation of some sort, so please…feel free to comment and share your story or leave us the link to your blog about your deployment.
First, I have to give a minor disclaimer but don’t let that steer you away from my story. The FH and I were not dating prior to his deployment. I didn’t have to go to an air field or packed gymnasium and say goodbye. I didn’t have to feel the intense emotions that come with sending someone you love to a war zone. So, I can’t tell you about how that felt for me. My goodbye did come though when he came to visit me for R&R, well after our relationship was established and we had determined where we were headed as a couple. More on that later.
It’s hard for me to establish a “starting point.” That determining moment when I knew I cared. I have always been supportive and loving of our troops so naturally, when I found out he was going I was eager to do whatever I could to get him through his time overseas. Even when he came home for leave and let me know he was in town, I kinda brushed it off as no big deal. Didn’t even see him. Maybe it was because I was in an ending relationship at the time and was in New York City for a vacation part of that time also. Looking back, it was a stupid mistake. It all ended up working out just fine…but given the chance again…I would have done it.
For him, it was the moment he got the first care package from me in March when he knew. For me, it took a little longer. I was busy carrying on with my own life and not wanting to entertain the idea of a new relationship. I had ended things with said boyfriend on Christmas Day. I had sworn off love, relationships, and men. There was no changing my mind this time. But, I couldn’t help but notice my concern every time it took days for him to respond, my absolute sadness when I missed his phone call, or my eagerness to receive messages from him. Then, when the first verbal “I love you” came…I knew. I froze. I felt it through every cell in my body and when I said it back…I knew I meant it. I was done.
So here I stand. Loving a soldier. Trying to understand this crazy Army life. What was an ACU? A MOS? AN AO? All of these terms and acronyms. I was confused on what he actually did over there. Could he even tell me? Was he allowed to? Brigade, unit, platoon? What’s the difference? He was so patient with explaining every last detail and I admit, I had to study that message many times over to finally get it right. Quiz me now, and I could rattle it all off to you in a second.
I have every single one of his messages saved from the very beginning. It’s so funny to look back on things and see how it all developed and how truly clueless, but insanely supportive that I was. Only after he came for R&R in September did I realize he was “boots on the ground” every single day for the first 6 months. By that I mean, outside the wire…missions…in sector…daily. Only then did I realize how precious each of those e-mails were to both he and I. I understood why the silly care package I first sent full of things he probably never used meant so much to him. That in between everything he was saying, there was an exhausted soldier literally fighting for his life and our freedom. It’s overwhelming.
I can tell you to turn off the tv, but even sometimes you can’t help but be curious. Everyone tells you to and I highly recommend it. I used to be a news junkie. The only thing I ever had on was Fox News. I had it as background noise. I noticed that once I started dating the FH, it was turned off. To this day, I probably have only watched it a handful of times since. Even if you hear of a bombing in some place other than where your loved one is, your mind STILL wanders. Could he have gone that far? Where is he? What is he doing? I often played that game. Wondering if he was hurt, hungry, happy. If he was out policing the streets or safe on base. Was he thinking about me at that very moment?
The old deployment cliché is true…keep yourself busy. Very busy. If you’ve had your thoughts about joining the gym, taking a cooking class, or taking up a new hobby…now is the perfect time. Really. I mean it. Do it. Volunteering is another amazingly healthy and helpful way to get through. Soon after FH and I started getting serious and my move to DC was complete, I knew I wanted to get involved with the Army. I was blessed to have opportunities at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital. Not only did it thrust me into the Army atmosphere, but it enabled me to meet others who understood, and offer me the ability to give back. It was perfect. The USO has chapters all over the country so even if you don’t live near a post, base, or hospital…there are plenty of troop support organizations like the USO that you can work with.
Find a great support system. I got dialed into Twitter which at first I thought was super silly. Tweeting to nobody soon turned into almost 700 people listening to what I had to say and personally following about twice that many. There is an INCREDIBLE amount of people on Twitter who are there to support you and who understand. They are my “Twitter Family.” I may never meet this people but our relationships go deeper than just some messages back and forth. For some, it has turned into all day/all night BBM fests (one of which I’m having right this moment) and I even met my new best friend Reina through Twitter. I was tweeting with her and then realized she lived about 30 minutes from me. Her and her FH have helped me tremendously through this deployment. Without her I’m not sure how I would have done it. Twitter is just one option.
If you can get plugged into your loved ones FRG (Family Readiness Group) do it. I was so excited when my FH passed my email address onto the husband of his FRG leader. He was too cute about it. Thought I’d be upset about it but I thought it was super sweet he thought to include me in all of that. Another sign for me it was rapidly approaching something serious. FRG’s meet in person during and after deployments. They offer activities and support to the wives, girlfriends, and family members of service members. They are FABULOUS. I don’t have the luxury of being near my FH’s FRG, however…they are great at sending regular e-mails and helping us to feel included.
One of the most important things is educating yourself. Perhaps you come from a strong military background and need no further help. For me and most girls I know, this is an entirely new experience. It’s overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be. I did PLENTY of google searches trying to find out as much as I could about Army life. I consider myself a pretty tough cookie so I even went as far as watching documentaries on the Iraq war. I don’t recommend this to you unless you’re just one of those people. I’ve always loved documentaries and old war movies. Gone With the Wind is one of my favorites. I’m a history buff. Yes, now I had more of a risk…a vested interest in someone living this life…but for me…I wanted to get as close as I could to feel what he was feeling…to see what he was going through. I will never understand and I will never know, but this has prepared me to be very realistic as to what he’s gone through. Again, not for everyone but for me it was a tremendous help. I know FH really appreciates the vested interest I’ve taken in his career. If you’re an Army girlfriend/fiance/wife/etc. you can take free classes online through Army One Source called Army Family Team Building (AFTB). It’s basically an Army 101, covering everything from rank and deployment cycles to FRG’s and how to prepare your kids for school. It can be done at your own pace and it’s really fabulous!
Another great website I recommend is The Experience Project. I stumbled across it and they have many different “support groups” of sorts for all different life experiences. They have MANY for Army Girlfriends, etc. Tons of girls going through exactly what you’re going through.
Each service members deployment experience is different. It will depend on their branch, their location, and it will change every single time. If nothing else, learn that nothing stays the same and you can’t make plans. Anyway, if your soldier is able to get internet in his room…it’s a huge blessing. They pay about $100 a month for it and if given the option, make sure your soldier knows you would like for him to do it if he can. This makes life so much easier. Be sure to have Skype and a webcam. So many computers have them integrated now, but they are so cheap nowadays…it’s an absolute MUST. Don’t waste any time. Skype has made our deployment 1,000 times easier. Getting phone calls was great. Yahoo chat was fabulous. But nothing compares to Skype. Being able to see each other without the camera freezing every two seconds was awesome. Don’t get me wrong, Skype has it’s issues every now and then…just bc of where they are…but it’s AMAZING.
Be understanding. Nothing irks me more than to see girls who have unrealistic expectations of their boyfriends/husbands deployments. Yes, it’s hard to wrap your head around and never having been there, we don’t know what life is like. Be flexible. A very good friend of mine has the motto “Semper Gumby,” basically translating to always flexible. You are NOT going to get a phone call everyday. You’re just not. You can’t expect them to do that. If you’re lucky enough to have that, great. Never expect it. It’s rare. When you do get a phone call, do your best to stop what you’re doing. Smile. Be happy. Be cheerful. Make those minutes count. If you’re having the most miserable day possible, take yourself out of it for a moment. It’s tough, but suck it up. It’s our job to help keep them focused on their mission. Drama has no place here. This is one of the hardest parts of deployment. We have issues that need to be taken care of right? And who do we turn to during those times usually? Yep. It’s different now. This is where your key support system comes in. Whether it’s your Twitter family or your real-life family…make sure you have them in place. This doesn’t mean you keep your soldier in the dark about everything, but some things just aren’t as important as you think they are in the grand scheme of things. You have to be realistic again. They are over there fighting and experiencing things we will never have to. If you want to complain and gripe about your job…write a blog or tell your support system. If you got a parking ticket and your fuming, don’t do it with your soldier. Save it. This is the part where Army Strong comes in for me. We have our moments of weakness where we forget this unspoken rule, and that’s okay. But just know and understand going into it, some of the things we find so important aren’t anymore when you’re fighting to live. Reality check. If you’re stable and secure in your relationship (which I hope you are) you know they love you. You know they want to talk to you every waking moment of the day. You know they think about you all the time and you know there is nowhere else in the world they’d rather be than with you. Remind yourself of this when you’ve gone on day four with no contact. It’s hard. I know. But believe it and hold it close to your heart. Know that whenever they have the chance, they will contact you. They know it not only helps you, but it helps them too.
Be supportive. Tell them you are proud of them. Often. Tell them they can talk to you about ANYTHING they are feeling. That you will listen because you love them. Tell them how great they are and believe me, they will NEED to hear this.
Connect with some of his battles (aka the guys he’s deployed with). I say this with caution. This doesn’t mean sneaking behind your soldiers back or any other childish shananigans. I hate that I even have to mention that, but I fear some people don’t understand that. I doubt it’s any of my readers, but I feel the need to offer a disclaimer with that one. Thanks to Facebook, I’m connected to every single one of the guys in his room and a few others in his group. I don’t chat with them often but when I do it’s great and it’s also helpful to have them. One incident arose where I really felt the need to check with one of them to see if FH was okay. He had been acting wierd and I wanted to know if they could offer any insight. I didn’t end up needing to contact them because we figured it out together…but it’s still nice to have. When one of them friend requested me for the first time, I ran it by my FH first. I knew he wouldn’t have a problem with it, but it’s a respect thing and I wanted to make sure. Do the same.
Care packages! So exciting to put together but after a while, you run out of ideas. I have written MANY a blog entry about them so hopefully you can pull some ideas from my blog and others I reference. They boost morale and can be that one thing that gets them through a rough patch. My soldiers base had pretty much everything he could need so care packages weren’t a necessity, but it helped me feel closer to him. Realize that it takes anywhere from 10 days to a month to arrive. Plan ahead. Don’t feel terrible if you don’t send one all the time. I only sent four during the entire tour. Use the USPS flat rate military boxes. Ask for them if you don’t know what they are. It’s about $13 for whatever you can squeeze into the box. Fabulous.
Another fun thing I wish I would have done more of is video journaling. I have an integrated webcam on my computer so before he came for R&R, I recorded about a 15 minute video of me talking about what I was feeling and what I had hoped for us. I did another after he left and put them onto a CD for him to watch when he got bummed or just wanted to hear how I felt about him. He knows, but after a long and tough day…I know it helps. He loved it.
Be unapologetically proud. I have been accused of being too proud and being in love with the uniform. You’ll hear it all. More than likely, you’ll never hear it from someone who lives this life. If you’re Facebook page turns into a PRIDE FEST…who cares!?! BE PROUD! If your “friends” don’t like it, they can delete you…and you can delete them from your lives. I have an Army sticker on my car. I wear his dog tags wherever I go. I don’t need a cute sweatshirt this winter because I have his super sexy army green oversized fleece. HAHA. Do I sometimes feel ridiculous when I walk through Target in it…sure…but it makes me feel great. Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve never washed it. I won’t.
If your soldier is open to it and does have the time to sit and chat for long periods of time, buy a book of questions. They have so many fun ones out there. If you’re planning on getting married or are engaged…there are some great ones for that too. We would sit around for hours asking questions and just communicating. It was GREAT for our relationship. We talked about all of the important issues and some fun ones too. Even if you don’t get a lot of “face time” perhaps you can include it in an email each time. You can also pick up couples devotionals and do them together.
This life isn’t for the timid, the faint of heart, or the unwilling. Our soldiers depend on us for the strength to make it through. The fact God blessed you with the love of a soldier isn’t a curse. It’s a blessing. Perhaps it’s in disguise at first when you get the news of an impending deployment, but the pride you feel knowing someone you love is keeping you safe…is incredible. It’s not the end of the world. Deployments do suck. Nobody LIKES them. But we get by. The past year has FLOWN BY for me. There were times I never thought it would come. Even now, it seems like it’s not happening. But you can get through it and you will.