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Advice for When a Loved One Ships Out: Tips For Surviving a Deployment

Updated on January 14, 2015

Military families face unique challenges when a service member deploys, whether or not it’s to a combat zone. As a military wife, I went through several of them and now, as the parent of a service member, I’m going through them again. They can be tough but they can be opportunities for personal growth as well growing closer as a couple or family.

My experience with military deployments

I joined the Navy when I was 22 and within seven months, I was married to a fellow sailor. Having both of us in the service presented some challenges because it wasn’t easy getting stationed together and it didn’t help that I was enlisted and he was an officer.

When we’d been married little over a year, my husband left for a six-month WestPac (Western Pacific). After he returned to California, we didn’t experience another deployment until four years later when he was transferred to a Construction (Sea Bee) Battalion in Gulfport Mississippi. By then, we’d had our first son, who was just under 2 years old at the time. Having him made the deployments both easier and harder.

Because a new battalion was being initiated, the usual deployment times were extended and adjusted. Ultimately, my husband went on three deployments with the Sea Bees; the first was 13 months long and the second was 9 months. He transferred out of the unit just a couple months into the third tour.

CJ Watt in Iraq, 2008
CJ Watt in Iraq, 2008 | Source

Now the boy who was just a toddler when his dad deployed for the first time is a captain in the Marines and is leaving in mid-Sept. (2012) for his second tour in Afghanistan. His first deployment (to Iraq in late 2008) was relatively safe. His first tour to Afghanistan was more worrisome due to the nature of his mission and location. His unit was training Afghan soldiers. The recent news of "green on blue" killings (Afghans killing NATO members) made me grateful that his deployment was without incident. This time, he'll be embedded with the (Soviet) Georgians.

Having been through a few of these deployments – first as a newly-married woman, then parent of a young child who didn’t understand why dad wasn’t coming home and now parent to that same child going through his own deployments – I offer the following tips and insights to make preparing for the deployment a little less stressful. More information and resources can be found at the government’s Force Health Protection & Readiness Policy & Programs.

Duffel bags packed and waiting by the door is a sign the day of deployment is fast approaching.
Duffel bags packed and waiting by the door is a sign the day of deployment is fast approaching. | Source

Preparing for deployment

  1. Understand that tension at home will increase in the weeks and days before the unit leaves. This is normal. The service member will be putting in extra hours training and getting ready for the deployment. His focus will be on what needs to get done. Yours might be on spending more time together. This clash is going to create conflict but remember, that extra training could save your loved one’s life.
  2. Don’t be ashamed to feel almost relieved by the time your spouse leaves. It’s just a natural reaction to the stress and the build-up to “The Day.” Then you’ll feel guilty. Don’t. Again it’s just the emotional roller coaster that occurs before a deployment. By the time you get your first call from your spouse, you will have forgotten the bad times.
  3. Keep your spouse connected to the kids. Get him to record bedtime stories that can be replayed later. It will be nice to hear daddy's voice when a call can't be made. Have her leave small wrapped gifts behind. They don’t have to be expensive, just little reminders that mom is thinking of the kids.
  4. Make sure you have contact numbers. Whether it is for the (Army) unit’s Family Readiness Group (FRG) or (Navy) Ombudsman or for the local plumber, it’s important to know whom you can call on in times of need. Our son’s battalion for his first two deployments was in Hawaii; we are in Illinois. Before both deployments, he gave us numbers to friends on the island should we need a resource there.
  5. Get important papers filled out. You may need to get a power of attorney if you anticipate selling your home while your spouse is deployed. You should strongly consider having a medical power of attorney and/or a medical directive (these are good to have regardless). When my son left for Afghanistan the first time, he left us a letter to be opened only if he were killed. Typically, these types of paperwork are discussed in pre-deployment meetings.

See part 2 for more tips on the deployment and homecoming.


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    • cardelean profile image

      cardelean 6 years ago from Michigan

      Really great tips. I don't know how you do it. And by the way, he is a VERY handsome soldier, even if he is my cousin!

    • profile image

      kdupree 6 years ago

      Great article!

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 6 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks Cara and kdupree.

      It was very challenging at times. Looking back, I can see that I kept myself too isolated and did not take advantage of the support of other women. That probably made it tougher than it had to be sometimes.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Rated it up/useful and, well-everything except funny.

      I agree with Cara-I saw his photo and thought, "he is so handsome!" I will pray, sister for a safe return. I don't know how you do it either!

      Great tips, awesome hub, and would vote it up again, if I could. Thanks for sharing your tips from one who knows.

    • profile image

      Loretta Giacoletto 6 years ago

      Will remember CJ in my prayers. Aunt Loretta

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 6 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks Dee and Aunt Loretta. He is good looking isn't he - must take after the Handlon side!

    • jagandelight profile image

      jagandelight 6 years ago from Florida

      I am not a spouse of a military person, but I am a mom of military sons. My oldest son is in the Navy and in October my youngest son will be going in the Army, and I will miss him dearly as I do my other son.

      We must always keep praying for all the service men and women that the lord will protect them and bring them home safely.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 6 years ago from Illinois

      jagandelight, it's tough to be the one left behind when a child or spouse deploys. All we can do is support them by sending lots of packages and letters and being there when they get home. I'm keeping your sons and all the other service men and women in my thoughts and prayers.

    • Ali Dawson profile image

      Ali Dawson 5 years ago from Honolulu, HI

      Interestingly enough, this article is coming in handy for me right about now! :-)

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 5 years ago from Illinois

      Yes, I'm sure it is! Glad you found some helpful info here.

    • Ali Dawson profile image

      Ali Dawson 5 years ago from Honolulu, HI


    • profile image

      KDuBarry03 4 years ago

      I must commend you for writing a heartwarming and eye opening hub :) I have the utmost respect for our soldiers and those who have served. It is great to see a close family serving proudly through generations :) I couldn't help but vote this up and share it on twitter :)

      Great Job! I absolutely love it.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 4 years ago from Illinois

      Thank you very much KDuBarry03! That's kind of you to say and very kind to share. My son is coming up on a second tour to Afghanistan leaving mid-Sept.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      Danette, interesting hub because it's a first person account. I hope your son's forthcoming deployment goes well and without incident. Your own experiences have obviously helped you to prepare for this but I expect it is still a difficult time - my best to you and yours.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 4 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks Julie for your best wishes. The best way I have to deal with it is to not think about it, haha.

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