Dealing With Deployment: Dos and Don’ts

When I last wrote to you about my husband’s deployment, I was a sad sack of something.

There was a lot of crying and a disproportionate amount of eating ice cream (scratch that, it was Häagen Dazs Gelato, specifically their sea salt caramel gelato, which, in my book, is the frozen dairy nectar or the gods).

Now a month has passed and my outlook is a bit different, although I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t still sad at times, or that I kicked my therapeutic gelato habit (I haven’t).

Things have settled into somewhat of a routine, and routine is what I believe is essential for surviving a deployment, whether it’s your first, or fifteenth (god, please tell me you haven’t had to go through fifteen full-fledged deployments. That just sucks).

A few days after my husband deployed I received my first phone call from him.

Of course, due to Murphy’s Law, I also missed that phone call, because I forgot to never screen phone numbers during deployment, and when a strange number appeared on my iPhone screen, I promptly hit “deny.”

Before I listened to the voicemail, I knew I had just missed a call from my dear hubby. I
whispered “no, no,no” as I clicked the little play button and heard him speak to me.

“Hey sweetheart, I just wanted to give you a call, just to see how things are going. I’ll try again later, uh, I don’t know what time,
there’s a time difference with us now. I don’t want you waiting for the phone, I know how if I say I’ll call and I don’t, that’s not good [he knows me so well]. So please don’t wait up, I’ll call back  if I get a chance. It took me awhile to dial out, it was just busy. Connectivity is slow. But I just wanted to touch base with you. I hope things are going well. I love you, and I’ll talk to you later, okay?”

I. Felt. Horrible.

Luckily, my husband DID call back, about an hour later, and we got to spend ten beautiful minutes on the phone together. My husband is a shy man, and when people walked past him, he stopped speaking, afraid someone might overhear our conversation. I teased him on the other end: “glad we aren’t having phone sex and just talking about the kids, because you’d really be embarrassed then.”

READ MORE: Deployment Diary: He’s Gone.

Missing his first call sent me down memory lane, recalling the list of other things you don’t do during deployment:

1.) Don’t delete emails your spouse sends you.

It doesn’t matter how full your inbox is, just make a folder and keep every single reply/new message etc. Even the ones that say: “please send wet wipes.”

2.) Don’t leave your phone, not even for a minute.

Buy a Velcro strap and keep that thing on your body at all times. When showering, stick your phone in a resealable plastic baggy and make sure the ringer is all the way up. If you don’t, your spouse is guaranteed to call one minute after you walk away, and you are guaranteed to not hear your ringtone.

3.) Don’t leave certain chores for your spouse to do. 

Like clean the car or the  litter box (he was so good at both of those) because they won’t get done, and your house will stink, and your car will look horrible.

4.) Don’t listen to love songs, or watch romantic movies.

It will make you feel lonely and sad. Trust me.

5.) Don’t tell people it’s your anniversary.

Because when they say “happy anniversary” it will feel like a gut-punch and make you sad. Subsequently, try to avoid looking at all your wedding-day photos. That has the same unpleasant effect.

6.) Don’t expect deployment pay to kick in right away.

We get a tiny increase in our pay during deployment, but before that happens, the fine folks who handle our paychecks are more apt to pull (all) the deductions (your spouse has to eat and that isn’t free) which will leave you with far less pay than normal. Don’t worry, by month 2 it should all be settled. Just skip breakfast (and maybe lunch) for awhile and you’ll make ends meet.

7.) Don’t hesitate to call the doctor and let them know you’re emotionally unstable/anxious/having a hard time coping.

I’m not joking. There’s a reason military clinics/hospitals have a question on their sign-in forms: “Is this deployment related?” Yes. Yes, it is.

8.) Don’t expect your kids to be nice to you just because dad/mom is deployed.

They’re dealing with loss too, and since they’re not old enough to handle those emotions, they may (and probably will) lash out at you.

9.) Don’t forget to fill out a customs form every time you send a package to your deployed spouse. 

I forgot. I had to leave the line, go fill out the form and get back in line. There went 30 minutes of my life I could have saved by remembering this detail.

10.) Don’t be mad at your family/friends who aren’t as sympathetic as you’d hoped they be.

They have no idea what you’re going through, and unless you’re posting/tweeting depressing “I miss my deployed spouse” updates on the daily, they probably don’t know how sad/lonely you are right now.

11.) Don’t be depressing when your spouse calls you.

They are already away from home and have to work every single day in difficult conditions. Let them feel a little happiness when they connect with you, so they don’t have to add more worry to their already full plates.

There are more “don’ts,” like, don’t watch the international news (it only makes things worse), and don’t stop living your life, although, normally it takes us awhile to readjust to living solo and on the interim, nothing feels better than cozying up in bed with soft sheets, a box of tissues, and your sorrow.

Now, there are also plenty of deployment “dos,” too. Here are just a few of my favorites:

1.) Do get out of the house (with your phone attached to you at all times). 

After a few days of withdrawing from the world, it’s important to scrape off the crusties, spackle on some faux-radiance and join the world of the living. It helps if you have friends to accompany you.

2.) Do find the joy in the accomplishments you achieve on your own.

Didn’t know you could fix the broken car door (that just happened to me, and I did it) or deal with a spider infestation. Guess what? You can! Be proud of yourself.

3.) Do experiment with change.

Now is the time to see how you look with purple hair, or how the living room looks without any furniture. Have you longed to buy fresh fish but your spouse hates the smell? Go for it now. Worried deodorant/antiperspirant causes cancer but you don’t want your husband to think you’re gross? Time to go au natural. (I did this. I stunk for 2 weeks.) Even if you have kids who oppose, they’re not adults and can’t tell you what to do. Na-na-na-na-na.

4.) Do indulge yourself in favorite hobbies and goals.

I’ve read eight novels in the past month my husband’s been away. I love reading, and don’t usually have the time to binge-read two to three books at a time. I’m not bothering anyone at night when I leave my light on, and can leave all my current reads in bed with me for easy access. Right now I’m swimming through Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, Arrow of the Blue Skinned God by Jonah Blank, and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Last week I finished Q & A by Vikas Swarup (the book Slumdog Millionaire was based upon), Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me by Mindy Kaling, The Book of Tomorrows by Cecilia Ahern, and The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. I’m on a literary high.

5.) Do expect days where everything that could go wrong will do just that.

We have a saying amongst military wives, “only during deployment” and it means exactly how it sounds. Your car engine dies? Only during deployment. Your son needs emergency surgery? Only during deployment. You slip in your oldest child’s vomit, while breast feeding your infant, and then vomit all over all three of you? (Sorry, I know that was gross, but, guess what? It happened. To me.) Only during deployment. These are the moments that make military spouses so very resilient. When my husband is home, things can go wrong, sure – but the magnitude of havoc wreaked on our lives is amplified tenfold when he is gone.

But honestly, this post wasn’t supposed to be about lists and instructions – rather, a chance for me to share just how deployment has gone for my family.

First, aside from missing my husband’s first phone call, I have been blessed to receive an email (sometimes more) from him every single day.

He doesn’t have wifi, so there’s no chance we can Skype, but he does have basic access to the internet (not Facebook, unfortunately – it’s been blocked) and that single line of communication has done a lot for my sanity.

(Right after I wrote this, my husband was able to Skype me. Yay for small miracles. It won’t happen again for awhile, but it was nice to see his face!)

Emails happened (if we were lucky) once a month, and sometimes less, when my husband returned to the main base to restock their supplies.

That deployment was hard. It was during a pivotal time in the war, and news of deaths and dismemberments were frequent.

I can’t tell you how many times I looked outside the window, stared at my husband’s empty vehicle, and imagined him sitting inside, smiling and waving at me.

Then I would cry, and be certain that he was dead (why else was I seeing him smile at me?) and then wait in nerve-wrecking anticipation for the sound every military spouse dreads:

The door bell.

FYI – if you want to visit a friend whose spouse is deployed, please do not show up unannounced and ring their doorbell/knock loudly. If you do, you will have effectively scared the shit out of her/him and caused your friend to flash through the next fifty years of their life as a widower. Please call or text them first and let them know you are coming. That way, they will watch out for you and save themselves the unnecessary panic.

If you didn’t know, the way our uniformed services communicates the death or injury of a service member is face-to-face. Generally, a representative from the command comes in full uniform, with a military chaplain assisting them. It is a doorbell ring/knock no one ever wants to receive. Ever.

Thankfully, my husband, so far, has avoided injury and even in some of the worst conditions imaginable (during one deployment the Marines lived in squalor, with all of their belongings submerged in a foot of freezing-cold water) he has returned home to us whole and happy to be alive.

So it’s a nice change of pace for me, and for my sons, to hear from him every day.

He’s managed to be an active and engaging father while on this deployment, which is also a new thing for us. When we were first married, even his trips to Japan meant he was mostly out of our lives for the entire 7 months.

Back then, we didn’t own a computer, know what an email was, or have cell phones. Calling cards were expensive, and international calls were a nightmare, so we relied on good old fashioned hand-written letters, of which we still have hiding in a box somewhere.

Still, at night, when I lay my head on the pillow, and my shoulders are aching, and I’m too tired to do anything else (but I have to, because there isn’t anyone else to do it) I find myself missing my husband a great deal. Just the comforting sound of his breathing (okay, snoring) was enough to make me feel like I wasn’t alone in the world. Even with daily emails, I still find myself feeling very alone.

That’s when the self-reflection starts. I believe it is during these lonesome moments that military spouses give birth to their deployment goals. For some of us, it’s the dedication to finally lose weight, and for others, it’s an internal promise to be a better mother, wife, lover, housekeeper, employee, employer (you get the gist).

For me? I’m motivated to stop being so impatient, and more flexible. I’m also toying with the idea of laser hair removal, but that’s a different blog altogether.

Turns out my husband is having a lot of those same “better myself” thoughts. In a recent email he told me he is: mastering cursive (a lost art), studying rules of English grammar (wow, that’s nerdy), and flexing his literary muscles by reading every day.

He just finished a collection of short stories about the Vietnam War, and has now moved on to Boy in the Striped Pajamas. I think I should send him something a little lighter, sheesh.

He sent me a few pictures the other day, but this was my favorite. I love looking at him while he’s hard at work. It’s nice to know that he’s doing okay, and I guess that means I’m doing okay, too.

Photo via