Deployment…that dreaded word among military families yet the word that is inevitable in this life. In The Warrior’s first correspondence with me, he told me straight up that he would be deploying in about a year. It didn’t deter me in pursuing a relationship with him, however, because inherently I knew that if this was meant to be, we would pull through, come hell or high water.
As mentioned in the first installation of this series, The Warrior’s deployment day was my birthday. It was a balmy, sunny day as my birthday usually is, but the underlying feeling was nothing like I had ever experienced before. We finished packing up his things into storage and he handed over the keys to his apartment. Before he left it for the last time, we sat on the couch and I read a few Psalms out loud…Psalm 91 is probably the most poignant one for a deploying soldier.
The Warrior was restless, adrenaline probably pumping through his body already, thinking about what he was about to do, where he was about to go. All I wanted was to stick close to him, but I knew enough to not be clingy. He would hold my hand for 30 seconds, then pull away and speak with another soldier. Then he would come back and lean against my car, and then inspect his bags for the hundredth time. Then he would sit on them for about a minute. Then he would pace. I was patient with him.
When the soldiers were called into the building to be issued their weapons, I knew departure was drawing near. When The Warrior came out with his sleek, clean M-4, he really looked like he was ready for war. Before we knew it, the sergeant in charge yelled, “Two minutes till departure!” Our goodbye was quick and painless, not romantic and drawn-out as in the movies. All I could muster in words was “I love you…call when you can…go kick some ass!” It was far from the heartfelt paragraph I had rehearsed in my head.
The only movie-like moment was right before he got into the van to be taken to the airfield…he looked across the parking lot at me, silently calling me, and I ran into his arms one more time. It took ALL my will-power to keep my voice steady when I said, “Take care of yourself” and then looked into his eyes. My hand brushed the front of his jacket as I pulled away from our last, quick hug, and though I wanted to cry right then, I held them back and smiled until the van was out of sight.
So began The Warrior’s five months of deployment. This tour was shorter than the norm, but any deployment, no matter the length, is tough and unpredictable. Since he has been back, I’ve reflected upon those months and came up with five things that helped me through the time of waiting for his return. I was determined to not just “survive” deployment, but to THRIVE through it. I recommend these points especially to those women who have yet to go through their first deployment! In the comment section, feel free to add your own tips:
1) Make extra money – This was my biggest personal goal during The Warrior’s deployment. I filled most of my free time with doing extra work, in addition to my full-time job, in order to pay down student loans and completely pay off my car. Miraculously, the very weekend after he left, I was handed a music gig that I wasn’t even looking for! I had more gigs throughout those five months than I’d had the past year. I also had a work-at-home project going almost the entire time. In total, I paid off over $12,000 in debt and saved $1,300 towards our wedding! Even if you don’t have time to take on extra work, still have financial goals in mind: for example, work out a plan with your soldier (if you’re married) for using the extra deployment income for paying down debt and/or saving; shop frugally by using coupons; have a garage or eBay sale, etc. Make sure to live on a budget and track your progress, no matter what you do…you will be amazed at the results!
2) Educate yourself – This might mean different things to different Army wives. For some, it might mean actually going back to school and taking college courses. For others, it might mean reading non-fiction books, watching documentaries or historically-accurate movies, and listening to educational podcasts or radio shows. The latter was what it meant for me, and in particular, my goal was to learn as much about the war, deployment, and the soldier mindset as I possibly could. One book that I highly recommend is On Combat by Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman. This gave me more understanding about The Warrior than I could have gathered by merely watching a war movie or reading the Army Times. He has read this book before and assured me that it is a very accurate account of a warrior’s life. I felt that by learning about his world, I was better able to support and love him. (It especially gave insight into the soldier’s “man up, no crying” mindset! That was always a mystery to me…)
3) Start a journal or blog, or both! – I’ve always loved writing, so keeping a special deployment journal was a no-brainer. I bought a pink camouflage notebook from Staples and began journaling in it the day he left. I also used it as a log for my care packages and letters. If you’re not a “journaler,” deployment is a great time to try it out! You might find it helps in relieving stress. (Although I do cringe at the entries that ended up being extremely emotional! But better for my journal to hear my worries than him.) I also started this blog a couple months into the deployment. (If you do this, don’t forget OPSEC!) The Warrior liked reading the posts about my workouts…which leads me to the next point…
4) Start an exercise regimen, or push your current routine to the next level – I had been slacking off a bit in the exercise department, so at the turn of the New Year, my mom lent me the book Body for Life by Bill Phillips. It is a 12-week program, and it was very challenging and regimented, which I needed. As we all know, working out reduces stress and produces endorphins, the “feel-good” hormone…so this is a MUST for those of us waiting (and probably worrying) at home! Set a goal for yourself each week, and do everything you can to make or beat it. I guarantee that your soldier will be proud of you!
5) Cultivate relationships with family and friends – I have been blessed to be living at home with my parents and siblings while I tackle this mountain of debt before getting married. Although I don’t come from a military family, they are extremely supportive and I was very thankful to have had them around during the deployment. Nearly every Sunday night I visited with my grandma; we had our usual boisterous family gatherings at Christmas, New Year’s, and Easter; we had our regular family dinners nearly each evening; and every Sunday morning we all attended Mass together. I also had more time to spend (via Skype) with my good friend M.A. while her husband was in Afghanistan as well, for a contractor job. People are so important, and it was very comforting to be surrounded by the ones I love. Do not isolate yourself! Most of you probably don’t live near your relatives, so plug yourself into your FRG, and get together regularly with friends and neighbors. I definitely plan on doing that after marriage as well.
Over deployment, your soldier wants you to carry on and be strong. You may not feel strong all the time (I certainly didn’t), but attitude follows actions: keep doing things that are positive in your life and keep imagining that homecoming…and you will eventually carry a smile, both on your lips and in your heart.
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Please return next Monday, August 13th for the final installation of “Dealing with Deployment,” discussing the Homecoming and Reintegration.