Oh, deployment. It’s one of the most unifying experiences for military families. Most of us have experienced it, are currently experiencing it or are gearing up to experience it. When I went through deployment for the first time, I was newly engaged to my fiancé, John, and was very, very new to the military community. I had no clue what to expect. Here’s what I wish I would have known about deployment:
1. No one has all of the answers.
It doesn’t matter if it’s your first or fiftieth deployment—each one brings its own challenges, obstacles and new situations. During deployment, I was looking for someone with all of the answers…when that person doesn’t actually exist.
2. Haters should kindly move to the left.
Don’t waste your time dealing with people who drain your emotions. That’s a good rule of thumb at any time, but it’s especially important during a potentially soul-sucking time like deployment. Get off social media if you need to and surround yourself with positive experiences and people.
3. No one gets to eat my mother-effing cupcakes.
On my birthday, my husband sent me the most scrumptious, cutest cupcakes known to man. We’re talking s’mores decorated with little Teddy Grahams on top, vanilla cupcakes with big fluffy mounds of icing and dulce de leche with drippy, wonderful caramel sauce. (Yes, this might be almost 3 years ago, but the memory is seared into my mind. They were that amazing.)
I was a teacher and had to retrieve the cupcakes from the main office. The secretary (and parents who I didn’t know!) demanded a cupcake from my precious box of cupcakes. Yes, demanded. Since she was the arbiter of all things copy machines, I begrudgingly gave the secretary one. (Goodbye, divine vanilla cupcake!) And then I went up to my classroom and angrily stared at my beautiful cupcakes (minus one).
It wasn’t the cupcake. It was that I didn’t get to enjoy the feeling of receiving something special from John. It’s OK to protect those few things that you have from your significant other—no matter if that means flowers, letters, emails, care packages…or even cupcakes. Especially cupcakes.
4. They know when you’ve been crying, are crying or will cry.
During Skype sessions on the really hard days, I tried so hard not to cry. Even if tears did slip down my cheeks, I wouldn’t wipe them away, because I was hoping the terrible connection would obfuscate the tears. I didn’t want to make any signal that I was crying. I should have just owned it. John knew I was crying anyway. They always do.
5. Walking away is really, really hard.
Leading up to John’s deployment, I had always imagined that it would be John who would ultimately walk away. Nope. It turned out that I was the one who had to walk away. And it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. In fact, I ended up doing it like 5 times. Yep, I was that guy—the one who keeps going back for one more hug, one more kiss.
6. You will miss the things you hate.
As sure as I’m writing this, you will miss the dumb little things about your partner. John is nuts about craft beer (something that I’m, well, not). What did I get emotional over during deployment? Beer advertisements. It’s crazy (and you’ll totally know you’re crazy), but you’ll miss those things all the same.
7. Make sure they take their dogtags with them.
You probably can figure out where this is going, but when I pulled away from the MAC Terminal the night John deployed, I got a phone call an hour out. John didn’t have his dogtags. I did. I couldn’t make it back before his flight took off, so I had to post them the next day as quickly as possible.
Make like Santa when it comes to deployment: make a list, check it twice and then double-check your car at the time of drop-off. And when your significant other says they don’t need something, send it with them anyway.
8. People don’t need to have experienced a deployment to support you.
While John was deployed, my support system consisted of a bunch of people who knew nothing (or very little) about the military and deployment. And that’s OK.You don’t need to surround yourself with people from the military lifestyle—it won’t necessarily make deployment better or go faster.
What you do need during a deployment?
People who love you, people who will listen to you and people who will eat brownies (or drink wine…or both) with you. That’s really what you need.
9. You are so much braver and stronger than you feel. (And other people notice it!)
I went through a year of deployment feeling like a complete loser. I figured that other people didn’t cry or feel badly or get sick from stress. Now that I’m more ingratiated into the military style, I’ve found that I wasn’t alone. The strongest military spouses I know embrace their emotions and learn how to deal effectively with the roller coaster that is deployment.
10. People will say stupid things to you.
From the ever-present cheating questions to political ones to the awful ones about death and dismemberment, people will ask stupid, personal questions occasionally when they find out about your significant other’s deployment. It’s up to you how you want to handle it. (If you’re like me, you handle it very, very poorly.) And don’t let it bother you. I know, easier said than done.
11. People will also say really wonderful things and want to help.
Often, deployment can feel like you’re in a bubble—especially if you’re not living in a military community. But there will be moments where people will do and say genuinely kind things and burst that bubble. If you need it, accept the help. Thank them for their words and prayers. There are more people pulling for you and yours than you’d expect.
12. Not every day will suck.
Yes, there will be days that will be awful. But there will also be days that are awesome. It’s hard to remember that, especially in early days of deployment.
Whether you’re new to deployment or you’ve experienced it multiple times, we all learn from each experience.