Preparing for Deployment
When my unit found out we would be deploying in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, many things went through my head. My wife and I learned early on that we would have to communicate, or else we would end up taking our stresses out on each other. We had to confront several issues, and despite having people around us who had been through deployments before, we weren't sure what to expect. We had some people telling us that it would be horrible, and I would never be able to talk to her. On the other hand, we had people telling us that it would be like I just went down the street, and I'd be able to talk to her whenever I wanted. Not many people in our family have served in the military, so we didn't have much home-grown guidance. I know deployments vary with each branch of the military, but nevertheless, I've decided to jot down some good ideas on what to expect, and how to prepare for your loved one's impending deployment.
While every member of today's US military signed on the dotted line voluntarily, it doesn't mean that they WANT to go overseas, risk their own life, live in austere environments and be away from loved ones for months on end. However, we all know that it is a part of the commitment we made, and should all be willing to do it. The Army's "Soldier's Creed" contains a line "I stand ready to deploy, engage and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat." The USMC sings in their Hymn, "We fight our country's battles
In the air, on land, and sea." Sailors in the US Navy recite "I proudly serve my country's Navy combat team with Honor, Courage and Commitment." Go to US Air Force training centers and you will hear, "I am an American Airman. Guardian of Freedom and Justice, My Nation’s Sword and Shield, Its Sentry and Avenger. I defend my Country with my Life. I am an American Airman," being recited by recruits. United States Coast Guardsmen say "I shall sell life dearly to an enemy of my country, but give it freely to rescue those in peril." We all agree to live our lives in a manner that shows we are willing to sacrifce ourselves in order to protect those at home.
However, many families of military members do not recite those creeds, sing those hymns, or hold those values. Fear is okay. However, take comfort in knowing that the best trainers in the world are US military non-commissioned officers. Foreign militaries trust the US' ability to train, so you should too. The best way to protect yourself from harm is being well trained. Sure, sometimes, the best trained soldiers still become casualties, but many casualties can be prevented with solid training and a focused mind.
Prepare your finances in a way that your deployed Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Guardsman or Airman won't have to worry about them downrange. Your loved one may or may not have reliable sources of communication, and you may or may not be able to get things done while they are away. Get caught up on bills. If the deploying person usually handles the money at home, make sure you understand what needs to happen. Make sure you know all of the bills, all of the due dates, and have access to any funds that you may need. Get passwords to online banking information, and just be ready. Don't rely on "the extra money" that someone gets while being deployed. It is not enough to change your life, so plan using your current budget. Then the extra money can go straight to savings, investments or a big ol' homecoming party when they return. Use your on-post resources to help with budgeting and financial preparations. If you aren't sure about something, ask! The great people that the DoD hires get paid to help. If you don't ask, they cannot help.
Always prepare for the worst. None of us want to imagine that we won't come home as expected. I am sure that no loved one at home wants to think that their deployed Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Airman or Guardsman won't be back. However, failing to plan for the worst case scenario will lead to an incredible headache during the worst time in your life. Powers of Attorney, Wills and Living Wills are things that MUST be done prior to your loved one departing. Do not take the mindset of, "it is too difficult to think about that, I don't want to." Yes it is a difficult thing to talk about loved ones dying in the line of duty, but it is nothing in comparison to the headache of dealing with legal documents and personnel after your loved one has made it home draped by an American Flag. You should also at least discuss, if not complete the paperwork required, handling of funeral arrangements. Most people do care what happens with their remains. Do they want to be interred in a Veteran's Cemetery, do they want to be creamated and scattered over their favorite fishing hole, do they want to be embalmed and placed on display a la Chairman Mao? If you don't talk about it, you will never know.
Also, if you are a service member, and have custody of a child, asking your mom or cousin or whatever to watch your child while you are gone isn't good enough. You must go to your legal office and get the proper forms drawn up. Your child needs to have a legal guardian while you are away, and someone who can make decisions for your child should the worst happen.
If you live with someone who is being deployed, you may be concerned about what you are going to do about living. Military spouses often live far away from friends and family, so the decisions as to whether or not you are going to stay at the same place or go home for the duration of the deployment has likely crossed your mind. Moving can be a hassle, but being alone in an unfamiliar place can get lonely. You need to decide what you plan to do. If you are going to move, then make sure you let your landlord know in advance. If you are in a lease, there is probably a clause that will release you from your lease. Your landlord should be helpful in letting you know what documents you need to provide them so that you can leave your lease without penalties. Gather those documents early. One of those documents is likely the deployment orders. Your service member will probably not have those until the deployment closes in. Ask your service member to get a memo from his or her commander stating the expected deployment date, and duration of the deployment. Tell your service member that it is not something to worry about. As the date gets closer, your service member's commander is ready for this, and has likely done it multiple times. He or she can probably just go to the Orderly Room / Personnel Office and request it, and have it in the next day or two.
Your Soldier, Marine, Airman, Sailor or Guardsman is staring down a daunting task. Even if he/she has a "safe" job, it is still likely in an unsafe area. He/she has a mission to accomplish, a job to do, and responsibilities that are unwaiverable. Adding stress from back home is often too much to bear. Depression is a commanders biggest worry downrange, because it can lead to the horrifying suicide. Should your life at home be rocky currently, it needs to get settled before he/she goes away. There are many resources to help depressed service members, but regardless of what is available, the best option is to not have it be an issue at all. What is waiting at home is all a service member has to look forward to. Do your part to make sure they know that you will be there when they come home. Deployed service members know that they will miss birthdays, holidays, weddings, funerals and parties, but add losing a marriage, child or relationship to that, and life downrange can be miserable. Be open and honest with your communication. Stress levels will be at their peak a few weeks out from deployment, but don't let those couple weeks overshadow the previous months or years you have shared together. Also, understand that your service member's life while deployed is significantly different than the one he/she led back home. Work hours are long, days off are non-existent, and phone calls, skype and online messenging may be at a premium. Be patient. Your loved one wants to talk to you just as bad, but sometimes it is just not possible. Enjoy the time you have before he/she leaves, and look forward to the moment he/she comes back.