Welcome to the series entitled “Dealing with Deployment!” (Can you tell I love alliteration?) In this series I will address the three parts of deployment: Pre-D, the Deployment, and Reintegration. Check back here the following two Mondays for the next articles!
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“My next vacation time isn’t until Thanksgiving…we get a few days off that week,” I was saying.
The Warrior leaned back in his chair, stretched his arms behind his head, and with an almost gleeful look in his eyes he proclaimed, “Well, I probably won’t be here for Thanksgiving because I’ll be in AFGHANISTAN!”
“Wait…really, seriously?” I responded. It almost seemed like a joke because I’d been anticipating this moment for so long, yet deployment always seemed to be eluding him. After transferring to [unit], his previous unit was given orders to Afghanistan…and before that, the Army kept playing ring-around-the-rosy with deployment orders. So this was hard to believe at first.
“Yeah, it’s 75% certain that I will be gone before the end of the year,” he said, still grinning a little. He wanted this combat assignment so badly. “I’ll be leaving in November or December.”
“So there’s a chance you’d be here for Thanksgiving?”
“A chance. I could be leaving early December. But we’ll see.”
“Cool…I’m happy for you! I know how much you wanted this.” This probably wasn’t the typical Army fiancee/wife response, but I was determined to remain cheerful, although it was still a little bit of a shock. It’s not possible to fully prepare oneself for this type of announcement.
September 11th proved to be an especially emotional event that year for me, not only because it was the tenth anniversary, but because now I had a more personal attachment to it. As a teenager, I never imagined that ten years later, I’d be seeing my future husband off to that same war. Mass was beautiful and sad as we remembered those who lost their lives and honored those fighting for our freedom. In the evening, my mom and I attended a ceremony in my hometown.
In October, the deal was official. The Warrior handed me an orange plastic folder. “Here, read this. It’s my orders.” No emotion, just the facts.
I’ll never forget the look of that folder and or the papers. They were stamped with the Army seal, and my eyes read over and over, “Operation Enduring Freedom – XX, Afghanistan – on or around November XX, 2011.” It was in just a few weeks. I read through the rest of the two pages, even though I didn’t understand most of the Army lingo. It was surreal, but it was for real.
That last month went by in a blur. I helped The Warrior pack up most of his belongings, and even when we were working hard with cleaning or hauling boxes, I savored every moment with him. Then, one day at work he texted me the exact departure day and location. I was eating lunch at my desk, but I stopped and just stared at the text. Wow. That was the final word…
Or so it seemed. In reality, departure got pushed back a few more days, and the actual final date was…my birthday. Well, it is what it is, I thought. At least we’ll get to be together on my actual birthday, for part of the day. Out of all the days in November, the military-powers-that-be chose my day…and as with everything Army-related, I just had to roll with the punches.
An Army wife/fiancee/girlfriend will go through all kinds of emotions during Pre-D. I was relieved to read articles written by other military spouses and learn that my feelings were normal. There was one time during Pre-D that I got a little teary-eyed around The Warrior, and he asked, “Are your allergies bothering you?” and I responded, “Yeah.” (It wasn’t very convincing and he was not fooled.) I knew that crying was not allowed, and I vowed to myself that was the only time he would see me get choked up. We women must be strong for our men. We have to let them know, mostly by our actions, that we can and will be in control of our lives and ourselves. Our soldiers have to put aside their “soft” emotions and focus on the mission at hand, and we must focus on loving them in the way they need it. Our behavior affects their mission readiness. It’s okay to feel emotional, sad, and even upset, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep ourselves in check. A month before he left, I told The Warrior that I would miss him a lot, but after that, it was only implied. There was no sense in rehashing the issue and I didn’t want to make things painful for him.
There is also some tension during this time. Soldiers’ minds deploy before their bodies do because they have to get “in the zone.” They may seem overly stoic or distant, but we shouldn’t take this personally. We can’t understand what they are feeling, and they must have their space. But at the right moments, when they aren’t actively prepping for deployment, take time out to do special things. On my “birthday eve,” The Warrior took me to a fancy restaurant for what he jokingly called his “last supper.” We took pictures, laughed, smiled, and enjoyed the amazing food and each other’s presence. It was a memorable, special time.
Pre-D is probably the most frustrating point in the deployment process, and don’t be alarmed if you get the feeling, I wish he would just leave already! I didn’t feel this because I wanted him to go away…but I felt it because the only way he could come back is if he left first. The sooner he left, the sooner he would come home…and he did.
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Next week’s post, Monday, August 6th: The Big D