Deployment: It’s a Balancing Act

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Today’s post for Blue Star Families is all about maintaining balance in our lives during deployment.  Is there a magic formula to use in order to be healthy in all areas of our lives?  Unfortunately there is not, and I’ll be the first to admit: I am NOT awesome at maintaining balance, and I daresay it gets worse during a deployment.

My auto-pilot mode during deployment is to become a work-a-holic.  I have my momentary, tearful pity-party right after saying goodbye, and then it’s grindstone time.  But I will admit that in the last month of the first deployment, I literally worked myself sick.  I succumbed to a bad case of the flu (I am rarely ill) and was down and out for five days.  It was like my body was screaming at me, “Malori, you’re outta control, so I’m gonna MAKE you stop and rest whether you like it or not!!”  (I didn’t like it.)

So during this deployment, I’m making more of an effort to maintain a healthy balance with my life.  That is why I made it a deployment goal to nurture friendships one to two times a month.  Hanging out with friends and family is a healthy way for me to de-stress (yes, I’m an extrovert), and I didn’t do much socializing last time because I was working so much.  Do I sometimes feel guilty taking time out to stop working?  Yes.  But I know it’s good for me and I should do it.

Other ways to maintain balance are by exercising, eating healthily, and getting adequate sleep.  Especially during a stressful period of time (hello deployment!), these three aspects are vital.  On my goal list is to take 10 Krav Maga self-defense classes this fall, and I’m also continuing the gluten-free diet I began in January 2012.  As for sleep?  Well, I’m pretending that copious amounts of coffee and concealer can take care of that – so I can definitely be more diligent about sleeping more.  A restful, minimum night’s sleep for me is six hours, but nine is optimal.

How can one make the best effort to reach balanced goals during deployment?  By writing them down and making them SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.  Goals do a person no good if they are merely bouncing around in the stratosphere.  Early in our relationship, Mark taught me the SMART principle and it has proven to be very sound advice!  Whatever your goals are, I highly encourage using this acronym.

Even though it’s pretty stressful, deployment can be a unique time for us as military wives to work on our goals and even our long-term dreams.  We can look at the deployment and know we have a finite amount of time during which to accomplish great things!  Our lists will be different, but the things they will have in common are the incredible drive, commitment, and pride that military families possess.

~Malori~

Follow Blue Star Families on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ and build a support network so you can keep your family and personal community strong throughout the duration of the entire deployment life cycle.

Henry Ward Beecher

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Deployment Support in the Civilian World

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Many, if not most, military wives go through deployment living around others who totally “get it.” They live on post near other families in their unit, or they at least live in the vicinity of the installation where the military population is quite high. However, this is Mark’s second deployment and the second time that I’ve gone through deployment in a civilian setting. Since college graduation, I’ve been living at home with my parents and younger siblings so I could pay extra on my hefty student loans and not bring SO much debt into our marriage.

While being around family during a deployment is a great thing, it is also very different from living within a military community. They see what I go through, yet I understand and accept that they will never truly “get it.” So I have had to make an extra effort to gain military-related support during Mark’s tours of duty. For some this might be a daunting task, but because I love people it has been an adventure! For those who are a little more shy about meeting new people, reading blogs, books, and joining online communities is a good start. (A great resource is Everyone Serves: A Handbook for Family & Friends of Service Members.) Recently I found a Meetup group called the DFW Military Wives, Fiancees, and Girlfriends Network. They have events in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex for military families from all branches! Sometimes the get-togethers are as simple as having finger foods, cracking open a bottle of wine, and chatting for hours on end. But doing that is so comforting for a military wife’s heart! The other ladies can understand exactly what you are experiencing and can give advice on how to deal with difficult situations. I also began this blog during Mark’s first deployment and am now the Blog Assistant Coordinator for the Army Wife Network‘s Loving a Soldier blog as well.

Deployment is also an opportune time to improve myself and accomplish important goals. The first time around, my general goal was to find extra work and make more money to pay off a large chunk of student loans. In those five months (November 2011-April 2012), I paid off over $12,000 in debt (which included paying off my car)! During this deployment, I wanted to be more specific and varied with my goals. They include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Finish saving for our church ceremony and wedding reception (DONE!)
  • Reduce my student loan debt to $55,000 (which entails continuing to do extra work…after college graduation 4 years ago, I had $140,000 in debt)
  • Read 1-2 personal/career development books per month
  • Connect with at least 2 friends per month
  • Blog 2-3 times per week
  • Take 10 Krav Maga self-defense classes
  • And of course, actually set a date and PLAN our wedding so we can have it very soon after he returns!

Everyone Serves elaborates on how to cultivate a healthy level of self-care, on pages 56-63. Spending time with friends is something I needed to actually schedule this time. I have a tendency during deployment to work until I am burned out, so I learned the hard way that it is important to just chill out sometimes. I also gain strength from my faith and prayer. What happens to Mark during deployment is totally out of my control, and so my faith sustains me when times get rough. I also make sure to recognize that what I CAN control are my own actions and goals, and I focus on improving myself each day.

~Malori~

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Last Friday (8/9/13), I toured the George W. Bush Presidential Library with my friends Ashley and Carolyn. It was great!

Follow Blue Star Families on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ and build a support network so you can keep your family and personal community strong throughout the duration of the entire deployment life cycle.

Please click HERE to view my disclosure statement, in compliance with FTC guidelines.

A Recap of the Deployment Thus Far

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For this week’s Blue Star Families‘ deployment post, they wanted us to address where we are in the deployment cycle and how writing about it has changed things.

We are almost two months into the deployment, which is almost the same point that Julie’s family is at currently.  Two of those weeks were spent on emergency leave, so Mark has been in-country for a little over a month.  In the grand scheme of things, it has NOT been very long AT ALL.

That is okay though.  I knew going into this deployment that it would be longer than the first one.  I also knew the circumstances would be different than the first one, and the circumstances are definitely easier on me, as the one waiting at home.  But I think, in a way, things are harder for Mark this time around.  Nothing is more thrilling (our warriors tell us) than being in the heat of battle.  There are moments when it is absolutely terrifying, but there are other times when the exhilaration is more than anything we could ever imagine….and they CRAVE that adrenaline rush.  It may be hard for us civilians to understand, but Mark sometimes misses that, as do many other soldiers.

For me personally, writing is something that I just do.  I would write even if no one read it.  I write in my private journal.  I write here publicly.  My writing here used to not be so public, and it IS very exciting that it’s reaching more readers.  It is wonderful to receive comments that say, “I’m glad I’m not the only one” or “You are such a good writer!”  My love language is Words of Affirmation, and nothing makes me feel better than verbal (or written) praise.

But has writing about the deployment affected it?  It is hard to tell, actually.  Writing helps me focus and organize my thoughts, and therefore “see the woods through the trees” when things get rough.  But writing is also an integral part of who I am.  I MUST write.  I can’t imagine not doing it.  I am COMPELLED to write in order to thrive.  And I do believe in not just surviving deployments, but thriving through them.

It is my hope also that my writing about deployment can touch many other lives.  If you are having a “stabby” day (coined by my dear Army Wife Network family), I hope that something I’ve written can be of comfort to you.  I get you, fellow military wives.  We are in this together.

~Malori~

Mark and his identical twin brother Matt, celebrating their birthday together for the first time in 4 years...in Afghanistan, no less! :)

Mark and his identical twin brother Matt, celebrating their birthday together for the first time in 4 years…in Afghanistan, no less! :)

Military Mondays: The Harsh Realities of War

I’m one of those spouses who WANTS to know exactly what happens in war.  I don’t know how common that is, because I have heard both sides: needing to know and not wanting to know.  It all depends on personality and your coping style, but my coping style definitely hates being left in the dark.

I’m the Army wife who is attracted like a magnet to the TV when the word “Afghanistan” or “terrorism” is mentioned; I’m the Army wife who watches documentaries like Battleground Afghanistan and Restrepo; I’m the Army wife who would prefer to read a raw, honest saga of a journalist embedded with fighting soldiers, rather than the latest issue of “Military Spouse Magazine.” (Disclaimer: That is not a rip against the magazine, it IS a great resource and I enjoy their articles!)

Furthermore, I don’t just want to know what happens in war generally.  I want to know specifically what is happening to my own soldier.  I know to not pepper him with TOO many questions, but when he opens up about combat (whether it’s about his previous tour or his current one) I listen attentively and soak up every word.  I want a visual picture painted in my head.  I want to know when things get really bad.  But most of all, I want to understand what he is going through.

But that is where I get tripped up and frustrated.  The cold fact is that I will NEVER understand.  No matter how many times he repeats his stories, no matter how deep he may let me look into his soul, I will NEVER GET IT.  Only another veteran can completely understand him.  Only another veteran can look at his eyes and know the pain he’s suffered.  Only another veteran can say, “I get it. I know.”

I DON’T know, and during Mark’s first deployment that especially caused me great anguish because it was a very rough tour.  He was violently engaged with the enemy.  He was knocked out in a rollover accident.  He had to shoot a puppy to death because it might have been rabid.  He looked death in the face numerous times.  Those are things I cannot fathom, even though I wish I could.  There have been times I’ve truly wished I could go to Afghanistan, just so I could understand him better.  In all honesty, if I had the opportunity to travel there as an embedded journalist, I would.  And at one point, I was trying to get a contractor job over there so I could quickly pay off my student loans…but also so I could see a TINY bit of reality.

However, one of the puzzle pieces to being a good military wife is to understand what my role is.  My role is to be his support, his rock, his love.  My role entails being patient, unshakeable, and a good listener.  He may be a warrior in the traditional sense of the word (his name even means “God’s Warrior”), but in my own way, I am a warrior too.  We each have unique warrior qualities that complement each other and give strength where the other is weak.  Even after our military life is over, we will fearlessly face life head-on….together.

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Deployment: A Family Affair

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As I wrote in my previous post for Blue Star Families, my father-in-law Nick suffered a massive heart attack and subsequently underwent a successful triple bypass surgery.  The initial grim prognosis triggered emergency leave, coordinated and paid for by the Red Cross, for Mark and his twin Matt.  For two weeks, the three of us were the “crisis management team” for the Mayor family: establishing the Nick Mayor Benefit Fund and online donation website, creating and updating our Facebook page, meeting with Nick’s employer and family lawyer, engaging the community and donors, and interfacing with the media to better advertise the fundraiser for the mounting medical bills.  We even organized a benefit event that was a success, considering it was planned in less than a week!  My mother-in-law, Jeanine, held the primary caregiver role, visiting and assisting Nick in the hospital every day.  She is now acting as his in-home nurse and is doing a fabulous job!  We each found our unique roles during this crisis and we couldn’t have gotten through it without working as a team.

Even with a “normal” deployment, it is healthiest for all involved if each party knows their roles.  I feel if the deployed servicemember is in a relationship but is unmarried, roles can be a little more complicated and feelings might get hurt easier.  During Mark’s first deployment (November 2011-April 2012), we were engaged and I understood that I didn’t have a “right” to information or being connected to anything “official.”  Matt was first point-of-contact (POC) for news, and their parents would’ve had the “right to know” before me.  (The military doesn’t care about unmarried significant others!)  But before the deployment began, I had already established open communication with both Jeanine and Matt.  When Mark was in the rollover accident in February 2012, for example, Matt contacted me and told me everything he knew.  Jeanine and I also talked and texted frequently.

Since Mark and I got married at the courthouse before this deployment, I am a military dependent and the first POC now.  However, the lines of communication are still open between his parents and myself, and I understand my responsibility of informing them of vital information.  At the same time, it is important to have boundaries and not be TOO communicative.  Whether the soldier is married or unmarried, feelings of jealousy could arise if one party (the soldier’s partner or parent) is under the impression they are not being properly informed.  As the married spouse, it is also important to know what is okay and not okay to share with your in-laws.  He may not want his parents to know when he is having a rough time, because that could cause them to worry more than is necessary.  However, each family will be different with these boundaries and that is only one example.

In the e-book Everyone Serves (downloadable for free HERE!), there are tips specifically for parents on pages 46 and 53 about handling their relationship and communication with their deployed child.  In many ways, deployment might be harder for the parents than for the spouse because 1) they aren’t as connected to official information, and 2) that tough soldier used to be their baby.  They remember holding him in their arms for the first time, helping him learn how to walk, seeing him off to school….and now that child is grown and holds a perilous job.  As spouses, we need to be a support to our in-laws and to make sure that they feel included in the deployment cycle as proud military parents.

~Malori~

Mark (near) and Matt working in the "Command and Operations Center (aka their parents' living room)

Mark (near) and Matt working in the “Command and Operations Center (aka their parents’ living room)

Army strong, Cav tough!

Army strong, Cav tough!

Nick with his sons and daughter-in-law :)

Nick with his sons and daughter-in-law :)

Saying goodbye at the airport...can't believe they are back in the 'Stan!

Saying goodbye at the airport…sometimes it was surreal being with them during what was supposed to be deployment time!

Follow Blue Star Families on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ and build a support network so you can keep your family and personal community strong throughout the duration of the entire deployment life cycle.

Please click HERE to view my disclosure statement, in compliance with FTC guidelines.

Deployment and Emergency Leave

Life doesn’t care if you are in the middle of a deployment.  Life doesn’t ask you, “Hey, you think you can handle another HUGE stressor?”  No, life just throws stuff at you and never thinks of asking permission.

I already knew that fact, but nothing could have prepared me for the call I received from my mother-in-law, Jeanine, on Friday, July 12th: “Nick just had a serious heart attack,” she told me frantically.  “He was running at the YMCA and collapsed and passed out.  He’s on the way to the hospital right now.  I need you to call the boys in Afghanistan, I can’t call right now.”

I was then faced with the hardest phone call of my life.  It is the type of call that you hope you NEVER have to make to a loved one deployed to a war zone.  At that point, I didn’t know if Nick was going to survive.  I was sitting in my air-conditioned car, in the parking lot of a wedding reception venue I had just toured, and it was about 2:00 PM.  I signed onto Skype via my iPhone and saw that Mark was online.  I tried calling him but he didn’t pick up.  Thankfully I had Skype credit, so I called his Roshan phone number.  My hands were shaking and my stomach was tight, but I knew I had to keep it together for him.

“Hello?” I heard Mark’s groggy voice on the other end.

“Hey, it’s me, Malori.  Did I wake you up?”  I didn’t want to launch directly into the bad news.

“Yeah, it’s pretty late here, I was sleeping.  What’s up?”  I dreaded this moment, but I had to drop the bombshell.

“Um yeah.”  I struggled to keep my voice steady.  “Your mom just called me, and your dad had a bad heart attack.  He collapsed while running at the YMCA and he’s been taken to the hospital.”

“Oh….oh wow.”  A few moments of silence.  It was awful.  We had a short conversation, and said he would notify Matt.

Halfway across the world, Mark and Matt began dealing with the family crisis.  After talking with Mark, Matt headed over to his TOC (Tactical Operations Center) in the hopes of obtaining more information.  He figured that his dad was at one of the two hospitals in their hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and called St. Catherine’s first.  He was able to talk with an ICU nurse, who confirmed that their father, Nick, was there and had indeed suffered a massive heart attack and was not breathing on his own.

When there is a family emergency at home during a deployment (meaning, serious illness or death of a dependent or parent), the hospital notifies the Red Cross, who then notifies the deployed soldier’s chain of command.  Emergency leave is coordinated, and the typical length of leave is 14 days.  This is what happened for Mark and Matt, because their dad’s prognosis was poor.  Turn-around for their departure was quick, and within a day they were on their way to the United States.

Since Mark and I were legally married at the courthouse before he deployed and his family is considered mine now, I was able to take FMLA (Family Medical Leave of Absence) and vacation time on short notice.  American Airlines is absolutely AMAZING and was very accommodating with flights, and I was able to take advantage of their military rate as well.  I met up with Mark and Matt at the Milwaukee airport on Monday morning, July 15th….and while I wished it was under better circumstances, I will never forget that temporary homecoming hug with Mark.

It has been a VERY long and stressful week and a half, but their dad has been recuperating quite well.  He had triple bypass surgery on Monday, July 22nd, so his heart is healthier than it was before.  The twins and I have been hard at work this entire time, launching a fundraising campaign to avert a financial crisis, as the medical bills are mounting. (https://www.facebook.com/HelpForNickAndJeanine)

As stressful as this entire situation has been, I feel that it has also drawn Mark and me closer together and strengthened our relationship.  We just have a few more days together, and then the deployment will resume once again.  But we have much to be thankful for.

Mark and Matt with their dad Nick in the hospital.  Army Strong!

Mark and Matt with their dad Nick in the hospital. Army Strong!

Mark and me at Lake Michigan, catching a moment of relaxation.

Mark and me at Lake Michigan, catching a moment of relaxation.

Follow Blue Star Families on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ and build a support network so you can keep your family and personal community strong throughout the duration of the entire deployment life cycle.

Please click HERE to read my disclosure statement, in compliance with FTC guidelines.

Military Mondays: Helping a Military Family in Need

Yesterday, Mark and Matt did an interview for Fox 6 News (Milwaukee affiliate), along with Kelly Hetzel, who literally saved their dad’s life at the YMCA. Please see link below to view the video!

Twin Army Captains Rushed Home from Afghanistan After Father Suffers Heart Attack

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