An Army Spouse’s Guide to Surviving Deployment

“I’m getting deployed.”

Two years ago, Aaron said those three little words to me, and I cried for days. Actual days. Pretty much non-stop. It was sudden, we didn’t have much notice, and it was going to be our first deployment and a long one — 9 months in Iraq. We were both fairly new to active duty army life, as Aaron had just been in for just over a year, and was fresh out of IBOLC. Aaron is light infantry — which means in combat, if he were to be in combat, he would be on his feet, with his weapon(s), and well…that’s about it. Think Band of Brothers. It’s pretty freakin’ scary. (I mean also pretty badass.) But more so, scary AF.

Mia and Aaron Pre-Deployment
Aaron and I the day he left for his deployment.

“I’m getting deployed,” are the three words no military spouse never wants to hear — and that I personally would never like to hear again. And they’re the three words I just can’t get out of my head lately.

My friend’s husband is deploying next month. A friend of Aaron’s is deployed. And right now, Aaron’s at JRTC — Joint Readiness Training Course. It’s a once-per-year training that certifies he’s ready to deploy in a combat zone. And while there’s nothing on the calendar for him right now, there are always whispers of it…mentions of it in passing…and that never lets you take the option of deployment off the table 100%. So I guess, it’s always in the back of my mind.

And so, it feels like the right time to write this blog. Whether he’s gone for 9 months or 9 days, I find myself in the same routine: First, immediate sadness and crying. Then, solitude in being alone. Then, excitement for his return.

mia waiting for soliders to be released
Photo by Whitney Erin Photography

Since Aaron’s homecoming, I’ve received hundreds of messages from military spouses asking “how did you do it?” So, now, I’m going to tell you. And some of it, you probably won’t want to hear. But if you’re preparing for your significant other’s deployment, or you’re stuck in the middle of it and feel hopeless, this blog is for you strong, beautiful, amazing babes.

Alright, so, prepare yourself…

The first month and the last month are the hardest. In that first month, you’re getting used to everything: waking up alone, the time difference, the new schedule, dropped calls and no calls…and my favorite — constant fear and anxiety of the unknown. But, if you’re a military spouse, you’re probably used to this, as nothing is ever set in stone. So hey, nothing new here.

And remember that unfortunately, this is your new normal. So buckle up. This is the part of deployment this blog focuses on.

Good news — it isn’t all bad! The last month, you’ll feel a sense of excitement you’ve never felt before. But that means that the days are going to go by slow. Like, the slowest ever. Like, think about waiting for Christmas as a child and multiply that by at least 4,000. And then right when you think they’ll be home, the army will probably change that at least 17 times in 72 hours just to keep you on your toes.

last-day-of-deploymen

So, it’s time to get your hair done. Clean the house. Stock the pantry. Find your homecoming photographer. Oh, and finally shave. That might take a few days.

Okay —now, let’s get back to talking about that “new normal.” That middle part. The part I always refer to as “the blur.” Whether it lasts three, six, or nine months — you can get through it…and here’s how.

Keep yourself busy.

As a person, just in general, I have the tendency to stay so busy that I avoid the things that are bothering me. I’ve done it for as long as I can remember. Stressed? Work more. Work out more. Write more. Do whatever I can more often so I totally don’t focus on the fact I’m freaking out.

This came in handy while Aaron was deployed. I worked three jobs — my main 9-5 at Finalsite, filming weddings with JPod films, and I also taught yoga 2-3 nights a week. On top of that, I traveled — for work and pleasure. I joined CrossFit (and hated it, lol). I ran for hours every weekend. And we had also bought a house in TN that had to get built — so that helped too. Essentially, I buried myself in work and in activities so every minute of my day was filled.

mia and gina in california
Deployment is a great time to re-connect with friends who have moved far away, travel to new places, and focus on the people and things that bring you joy. When Aaron was deployed, I took a month-long travel journey from LA > San Fran > Mammouth Lakes > Chicago.

Let me tell you, when those minutes are not filled with joy, happiness, and other “things,” all you do is think about that person, miss that person, and wish you were spending your minutes with that person…and it makes deployment 10000000x worse.

Oh, and I always was in bed by 8:00pm. Sleep is the official time machine of “one day closer” to the end of the deployment.

Focus on YOU.

You will never have another opportunity like this in your life — especially if you don’t have kids. You’re in a secure relationship, but you’re alone. It’s bittersweet…so focus on the sweet part.

For the length of this deployment, you get to be a little selfish. You get to chase dreams, work on your career, and work on yourself — emotionally and physically.

That business you always wanted to start? Go for it. That body you’ve always wanted? You have time to get it without the bad influence of your husband who feeds you tacos and margaritas like your life depends on it. That hobby you’ve always wanted to take up? Go for it. That blog you always said you’d start? No excuses!

This deployment is just as much about you becoming a better version of you, than it is about your significant other becoming a better soldier.

Surround yourself with friends and family.

Oddly enough, your friends and family will be your best and worst asset during deployment. The best because they’ll support you, love you, keep you company, and keep you busy. The worst because they have no idea what you’re going through and will often try to relate and it is really, really, frustrating.

meme14

If you find yourself in a new, strange place during deployment, read my tips on making friends in a brand new city!

Don’t watch the news.

Or if you do, don’t believe 100% of what they say. Keep in mind that the media’s main goal is to get views, not to give you accurate information.

And remember that no news is always good news. I’m pretty sure the military coined that phrase.

Don’t count the days.

That’s a way to make deployment seem really, really, ridiculously long. Aaron was gone for about 270 days…a little longer than that, but about that. And in the beginning, I kept saying “honey we’re one day closer.”

I did that for about two weeks until I realized it made time pass like the second hand broken clock.

So, instead of counting the days, I decided to count care packages. I ordered all of the supplies from USPS for 9 months  — one package per month for the length of the deployment. Seeing something physically dwindle feels like you’re actually getting somewhere.

I also enjoyed counting weeks…Fridays…pretty much everything but days until we were under 100.

Speaking of care packages, send lots of them!

Part of the reason we miss our significant other so much is that we’re missing so many key components of your average relationship — from physical touch from being able to take care of one another. Care packages are the easiest way to take care of your significant other while you’re apart, and provide them with things they love from home.

I would send Aaron one care package per month, and they were themed for holidays or the time of year.

For some reason, this made the time go by quickly. I would make the care package, ship it, he would have it about two weeks later, then I’d make the next one, ship it…etc.

So, rather than counting the days until he came home, I’d count the days until I could send the next care package. I had a ton of fun decorating them, and filling them with everything he loved from home. It somehow made me feel close to him, even though we were so, so far apart.

Also, keep in mind you won’t be able to track the package, so don’t freak out! Once your package gets to the shipping facility, you won’t get a notification until your soldier receives it…if you get a notification at all.

Be positive.

Okay, so this is one of those pieces of advice you probably won’t like. But, you really you need to hold it together. Don’t cry on the phone. Don’t be overly emotional. Don’t be needy or pathetic. Don’t send texts like “I can’t go on without you here,” or “I really wish you didn’t have to go.” While it seems like you may be letting the person know how much you care, it’s a quick way exhaust the person you love.

Your significant other misses you just as much as you miss them — trust me. Remember — they’re deployed. They’re under a ton of stress for work. And additionally, they are in another country, either sleeping in a tent or some kind of shipping crate that was converted into a place to sleep without a window. The weather probably sucks. They’re eating watery eggs, Jell-O and MREs. They haven’t worn anything but army clothes in months.

You have your luxuries of home, delicious food, your job, your friends, sweatpants, and maybe your pets.

Your significant other needs you to be strong and positive for them, to reassure them that you’re OK, that all is well at home, and that you’re happy. Of course, you can tell them you miss them and love them, but focus on the positives — like the homecoming, the time off after the homecoming, the things you’ll do together once he/she is home!!

Focusing on the things that make you happy, rather than the things that make you sad, will not only make you feel better, but also make your deployed spouse feel better. And your relationship will be a whole lot better! Your significant other will look forward to calling to you and talking to you because you will be the best part of the day, not the worst.

Trust me on this, crying every time you FaceTime isn’t healthy for anyone.

Don’t fight.

Distance is stressful. Deployment is certainly stressful. You do not need to make it worse by fighting. And trust me…there’s nothing to really fight about. You’re making things up in your crazy little deployment brain.

Try and keep some traditions.

Whether it is waiting to watch a Netflix show or eating together via FaceTime, maintaining some traditions will make you feel closer to the person we love.

Remember that everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

 

Take comfort in knowing it didn’t just happen to you, it happens to all of us. But handle that yourself. No need to stress out your S/O.

Lightbulb out? A family of spiders crawling out of your pantry? Did someone break into your car and steal your yoga mat? Are there tornados? You got this. You’re going to be better because of it. Complaining to your significant other will only make them feel terrible they can’t be there to help you. And hey, if it was a super big deal and you’re proud…be sure to tell them after the fact.

 

Grow stronger, together.

Deployment is a test that, unfortunately, many couples fail because of the stress and distance.

Use deployment as a chance to go stronger together. Communicate with each other. Trust one another. Love one another. It will make your relationship iron-clad, I promise you.

And remember, it is worth the wait.

There will never be a hug or kiss better than that post-deployment kiss. It’s SO great, that you’ll hope it only happens once in your lifetime. 🙂

 

Mia.Homecoming-2
Photo by Whitney Erin Photography

 

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