The Military Wife and Deployment
by Kathy Batesel
Coping with Military Deployments
Being a military wife has its perks as well as its drawbacks. Coping with military deployments can be one of the more difficult challenges. Making marriage work is often a challenge in the first place. When marriage involves overseas missions, unpredictable communication, fear and uncertainty in combat zones, and readjustment challenges, it can make or break a couple.
As a veteran, a former Army wife, parent to two daughters who fell for military men (one of whom served in a combat zone herself), and sister to two brothers who have served in several combat zones, I've had a bit of exposure to what happens when a loved one is deployed.
I'll be sharing a bit about what to expect, how to stay close when far apart, and what can happen when he returns.
Have You Coped With Deployments Before?
How many deployments have you experienced as a military spouse?
Deployed Spouse Benefits
Money doesn't replace having your love at home, but one of the benefits that come with deployments is financial gain. Depending on where your spouse is sent and what his unit's mission will be, he will likely receive special pay allowances that can boost your family's income by several hundred dollars a month. Sometimes more than one pay allowance is applicable, and there may be reenlistment bonuses that grant in the thousands of dollars - all nice to have when your hubby gets back home and is ready to relax without worrying about financial stresses!
If your spouse is going to a combat zone, his unit's officers' wives may have organized an FRG - a family readiness group. (If you don't know it by now, the military loves acronyms!) FRGs are designed to support the spouses left behind as well as the troops who are gone. When I was an officer's wife, we worked to get donations to provide care packages to soldiers deployed to Iras. The care packages we sent included soaps, socks, snack items, and other creature comforts. We also visited soldiers' families to make sure they weren't struggling too much with the challenges that deployments bring.
Because the military recognizes the strains that families endure because of their military lifestyle, many permanent benefits exist for family members: Financial aid, furniture lending closets, education benefits for spouses, trips and activities through the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) service, discount tickets to local attractions, special sales through AAFES (Army & Air Force Exchange Service) are just a few that are available to all military, military spouses, and family members.
Plan for Deployment Before He Leaves
All the perks in the world can't offset the family disruption caused by deployments, though.
Once the official orders are delivered, everyone's anxiety skyrockets! You begin imagining the worst, fearing that your husband might not return safely but instead get killed or maimed in a combat zone. Even if his destination isn't in the line of fire, you may wonder about the ever-present risk that he'll develop an emotional or physical affair while he's gone. After all, you've heard about all the carrying-on that service members and spouses alike can get into during their months apart. Your regular daily routine gets thrown out of whack as he prepares to leave. He has to make special appointments, and may be home at odd hours during the day, or gone longer hours as he completes his unit's requirements.
Although it's unpleasant, now is the time to make some tough decisions and take concrete steps to ease some of the strain caused by his absence:
- Set up automatic payments for as many bills as possible.
- Ask him to establish an allotment for expenses that cannot be paid by direct deposit if you won't be paying them from your own income.
- Ask him to complete a general power of attorney that you can use while he's gone. (If you're not yet married or don't have joint finances, but expect to take over certain aspects of his responsibilities, a special power of attorney may be useful instead.)
- Ensure that his family plan and or his last will and testament are up-to-date. (Although his unit will require that he has one, I made it a practice to review ours together with my husband so we both fully understood its terms.)
- Get as much information as possible about the types of communication he will have in the area where he'll be going, and strategize how to use it best. Will he be able to carry a cell phone? Access the Internet, and if so, will he be able to use both social media and e-mail? (Make sure you both know which e-mail accounts will be used!) If he's going to be in a remote location, will there be access to a DSN (Defense Switched Network) line, and if so, how will he be able to use it? Should you be prepared to write hand-written letters and postcards? Consider time zones, costs, and personal preferences.
- Read every piece of information that comes your way. For instance, my daughter's unit supplied information sheets instructing family and friends to avoid sending alcohol to Iraq. Ignoring written information can cause delays and legal problems!
- Memorize or write down your spouse's vital information in case of an emergency. If you need to reach him through the Red Cross or his unit, you'll need his full name, social security number, his rank, branch of service, and location of his home unit.
- Think ahead about whether you'll have what you need for important events that can arise during deployment. For instance, filing tax returns may require you to have bank account and routing information. Dependent identification cards can expire when the service member is deployed, which can be difficult to replace in his absence.
- Learn how to contact the Chaplain, Judge Advocate General (the JAG office provides certain legal services for service members), the home unit commander, and any support services like the Family Readiness Group or Ombudsman in case you need them later.
- If you aren't certain whether your family members have been enrolled in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment System (DEERS) yet, confirm or enroll them now to ensure that you'll have adequate health care while your spouse is gone.
What's Your Best Tip for Keeping Your Relationship Strong?
Do you have a favorite technique for staying bonded when he's away?
Take Care of Him
Take Care of Yourself
Survive the Long Distance Relationship
While he's away, you'll assume double duty that is empowering in some ways and stressful in other ways. Social media and e-mail can help keep him involved in making important decisions, but you'll be the only one to tuck your children in at night. When a salesperson or creditor calls, you may not have time to consult him before having to make a decision.
Trust and reliability are critical to keeping your relationship strong during a deployment.
- Avoid developing new opposite-sex friendships or deepening existing ones. Just don't do it!
- Don't make promises you aren't sure if you can keep. If you do pledge to do something, follow through. Distance increases doubts on both ends.
- Avoid spending more during his absence! Financial misunderstandings and debt cause a lot of friction both during and after deployments when the bills are rolling in.
- Maximize communication. While Facebook and e-mail are great, and video is better still, there's nothing like a handwritten letter or care package full of his favorite snacks to make sure your bond stays strong. Use multiple modes for communicating whenever you can, without expecting the same in return. He probably doesn't have as much access or time to the resources you do. (In cases where the government deems it necessary to ensure national security, or when you're using a government phone line, your communication may be monitored, so keep this in mind as well.)
- Strike a balance between happiness and pain at his absence. Don't be shy about letting him know how much you miss him. Your affection matters a great deal to him when he's surrounded by near-strangers in a foreign place. On the other hand, don't be needy to such an extent that he feels guilty for doing his job, either. Fill your time with family activities, your own career, hobbies, or classes so he knows you're a capable, talented, strong woman that he can boast about.
- Send him plenty of sexy shots of you to remind him of what he's missing, but make them tasteful. Photos have a way of getting shared around in deployed units, both by the men who receive them and by people who stumble upon his "spank stash."
- If he's in a dangerous area, it's fine to remind him to be safe and let him know you worry about him, but showing too much anxiety can actually endanger his life. He needs to focus on his mission, which he can do best if he's not preoccupied with worries about your well-being!
- When sending care packages, consider sending a few items he can share with others in his unit. Magazines or novels, extra snacks, or a "thank you for taking care of my husband" note. It boosts his reputation with his unit, and will boost your reputation with him.
- Include him in celebrations, holidays, and special events. Videos, cards, gifts, and letting him plan what your family will do even if he can't be there are all ways to remind him that he's as important as ever to your family.
Life After Deployment
The joy of reuniting with your hubby when he returns is an amazing feeling! You'll swell with pride as you see him step off the plane in uniform. And the nights can be even better, if you get my drift. Before long, though, reality comes crashing through the honeymoon and you may discover changes in each other that force you to make difficult adjustments.
In my own marriage, my husband handled our finances before he deployed, a task he loved and that I was glad to avoid. He kept daily records of our spending and stayed on top of paying the bills. When he returned, he no longer wanted to take on that particular responsibility. He'd also developed a taste for ethnic cuisine that made him enthusiastic about cooking meals in "my" kitchen.
Others have to make bigger adjustments. Spouses who return from combat zones may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or other mental health issues but could be reluctant to seek treatment.
- Be prepared to renegotiate family duties. His values may have shifted during his absence.
- Be prepared to give up control of tasks you may have taken over. A left-behind spouse may feel imposed upon when she's become used to handling matters, but it's important to let your husband resume his position in the household so that he won't feel depressed and useless when he returns. The video above reveals how even little things can become control issues. (This video and many other deployment topics are available at After Deployment's website.)
- Be prepared for exaggerated anger responses. He has developed a heightened alertness during his time in a dangerous area, and it can take several weeks to let his mind get reacquainted with the relative safety and comfort of home. If episodes of anger are abusive or occur frequently for more than about six or eight weeks, consider contacting the chaplain or seeking mental health support.
A military lifestyle can be one of the most rewarding existences a married couple can share if they understand what to expect, how to cope with the challenges, and where to get help when they need it.
In conclusion, I just want to say "Thank you" to your spouse and to you - because even if you're behind the scenes, you're doing your part to ensure our country's safety and liberty.