Dealing with Deployments

CONTRIBUTED BY STACI HAWLEY

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Deployments are difficult. There is no other way to put it. I don’t think one quite knows how they are going to handle it until they face it- dead on. Sometimes it’s the lonely Sundays. Other times it’s seeing a family together hanging out that gets to you. Or if you or your family gets sick- and it’s all on you. Not fun. So, sometimes my mind forgets details. Especially this deployment.

Case in point: just ordered our Christmas photo cards and spelled my son’s name wrong. Forgot to put oil in my car (the smell alerted me). Lost my sapphire engagement ring. It just happens when you have too many things on your plate.

Our lovely Meredith chronicled all of the emotions surrounding deployments. The waiting to leave (usually arguing), the absence (sad) and the ever-anticipated and sometimes awkward adjustment when they come home (sometimes I get a little cocky here…I’ve managed quite well on my own- don’t need your 2 cents thank you-attitude). It’s all confusing. I can see the skeptical emotion (above) on my son’s face. While excited, he is a little bewildered and confused at the return of Daddy.

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But then I come across someone who has it far more difficult than I, and they inspire me. Friends who have spouses in war zones. Spouses gone for six months at a time. Or newbies to the island, who are suddenly left to forage for themselves in a new land and a new lifestyle. So for those of us here who might be struggling (especially facing the holidays)- lend some heartfelt advice.

If I was a “normal human”, phone calls to the states and the community of a church would keep me grounded. But here’s what works for me:

1. Plastic cutlery/plates (why not?)

2. Eating popcorn for dinner

3. Buying senseless clutter at the Marine thrift shop

4. Renting Danielle Steele movies on Netflix- they always wrap up nicely at the end

5. Leaving my car a pig-sty

6. Exercise

But you are a resourceful, intelligent group. Far more insightful than any AFN commercial, and my mere one year experience with deployment life. What helps you keep afloat when times get rough? (silly or serious)

* How do you cope?

* When things get rough, what do you do to take care of yourself?

* What advice do you have to those who face long deployments?

* How is the expectation different from the reality?

* Any special things you do to help your kids cope? (my son loved touring the ship- thought the prison-like bed was COOL…which made me sad for some reason??)

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15 COMMENTS

  1. Greetings! I am currently living in the Washington DC area and in the process of being commissioned in the MSC Program – Health Care Administration. The Captains that interviewed me mentioned to me that they consider Japan as “deployment duty station”. What is the likelyhood of being deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq if say I am already in Okinawa? Thank you so much and I’d appreciate your advice as I make a decision in my career and family life. I am a singel parent with a 3-year old daughter. Edith

  2. Hi, My name is Yoshi. I know your aricle is old , but I just wonder if there is anyone who look for a baby sitter.
    I am looking for a babysitting job in Okinawa. I have worked in childcare in Australia and completed children serveses course(cert.3) I have also complete St.John senior first aid. I have a car. I am very reliable, patient, neat and happy person.

    If you or your friends are interested, please dont hesitate to contact me.
    I am looking forward to hearing from you.

    Kind regards,

    Yoshi

  3. Hi Lori, I was wondering which chiropractor you saw
    on the island? We are new and I am in search for one for me, my husband, and my daughter. Thanks!!!

  4. Whether it’s deployments or a duty assignment with long hours (recruiting), I’ve found that with little kids, mealtimes can be some of the toughest moments without “dad” around. Not wanting to scrap family dinners for TV and fast food, I discovered that a CD player was a huge help. Mornings – a lit candle and some soft, uplifting music make breakfast go much better most days, especially if you have (or are) one that isn’t a morning person. Evenings/Dinner – stories on CD. Odyssey, Patch the Pirate, books on CD – whatever fits their ages. I gave up feeling guilty about not having meaningful conversations over dinner. They weren’t happening anyway, and I found there was much less, “I don’t want to eat (fill in the blank),” when there was an exciting story to listen to. Plus, it’s a shared experience for your family and more mentally stimulating than TV. Hope that helps some fellow moms of little ones!

  5. We just had dad home for an overnight liberty. I am always a little bit hesitant with this- but realize it’s worth it- even for a day! I’ve had a really rough pregnancy, and honestly there were a few times I considered flying home. There is nothing worse than feeling to ill to take care of your child. So, this 24 hour visit gave me a much needed burst of energy- and an I can do it attitude for the next three weeks. Plus- he carted up my new treadmill (which we had to take down the railing of our tiny staircase) – so it’s ready to go. Always remember that a rough month or week WILL pass. Hang in there.

  6. I try to create “home” everywhere we live, so going “home” during deployments has never been a thought for me. I prefer to keep on living my life as if he was right here with me. We don’t have kids but we have 2 dogs, and there’s no way I’d uproot them or leave them behind.

    I have a full time job here that I LOVE, so staying pretty busy shouldn’t be a problem. My husband’s next deployment is looking like summer of ’09. I don’t think anyone looks forward to them, but I definitely try to make the best of it and use it as a time to enjoy my own company, improve upon myself, and do things that my husband isn’t interested in. 🙂

  7. This is a great post Staci, esp. since I am about to face a very long deployment. (It will be the 2nd major one). The first came in Jan 2003. I was 3 mths preggers and my daughter was 2. We lived in Fallbrook (Frilly Knickered Fallbrook as I ‘affectionately’ named it). People were packing up and leaving left, right and center. I resigned my job, I was so sick anyways and I took off to London. That was the best choice for me at that time. And I had a really enjoyable rest of the pregnancy and was around friends and family. This one will def. be different. I have already cried, screamed and moaned. Now, I just have to be strong for the family and myself and my business and everything else in between, so it’s great to hear some tips. This situation is so different, it’s almost like the first deployment and it’s an IA, just to add insult to injury!!!

  8. This is a rough topic. I’m really glad you wrote about it. All of my major deployments that I delt with where in the states when we didn’t have children. Those were tough days. I didn’t have anyone with me and I had no friends. I ended up getting a job and throwing myself into work completely. They had to make me leave every day. I became a bit of a recluse. But, I delt and I survived them. There were a lot of tears but I got through it. Now with kids, I’m not sure what to do when it happens again. I had a lucky few years with no deployments and things got, well comfy to say the least. I just went through a mini deployment which didn’t go so well with the kids. The youngest who was only 4 months was ok but my 3 yr old had a hell of a time. The week he was to return I found out that there would be an extremely long deployment coming soon. I’m still hoping it doesn’t happen and am kind of just trying to ignore it right now. I’m not sure how so many people handle deployments so well. I give my praise and admiration to them fully. When you have kids you don’t have the option of becoming a recluse. You have to carry on and think of their needs first. I’m lucky to have a great group of friends out here that helped me out enormously. So, MAKE FRIENDS! They make things so much easier. Also, I ended up creating our own routine…watching shows with my 3 yr old that I normally wouldn’t dare let her watch at night, going to the park (or trying to) everyday at the same time, and letting my 3 yr old swim in her swimsuit in the tub nightly even though I had already given her a bath that morning. I tried to make it fun for her and just distract her. That helped a little. Oh and I can totally relate to Lori’s comment above. My daughter ended up really needing daddy time and thank goodness my friend’s husband was able to play with her. That seemed to help too. I never really thought too much about going back home to be with family while my husband was gone before but now I can totally see myself doing it. I think it would actually be really good for our kids. They’d be getting do to something that we’d never normally be able to do by actually being around family who loves them and letting family see them grow up in person rather than over the internet. So, don’t ever think it’s a cop out to do that. Sometimes being around those who love us the most is exactly what we need:)

  9. We moved here in March of this year. My husband was deployed to a fun place in June, gone for a month and a half; and then deployed again to another fun place in October for about 3 weeks. He’s been back now for a little over a week. He’s now preparing for a bigger “not so fun” deployement for 6-8 months. We don’t have any kids and the holidays are coming up. I’m going home! Prior to any of these deployments we had never been away from each other for more then 2 weeks. His first deployment was hard, bc he was gone past two weeks. His last three week deployment wasn’t really anything, bc he really wasn’t gone so long. I’m not at all looking forward to this next deployment!!! I knew that he would be getting deployed often, but he wasn’t supposed to be getting any “not so fun” deployments. So, I thought I would be able to handle it. However, now that he’s going “there” I don’t feel like I can do it alone, but at the same time, I feel like I’m a cop-out. I just really don’t know anyone like that to stick it out here. I just don’t have any kids and nothing to really keep me busy….

  10. Thanks so much for sharing. I guess I needed to read this blog- we are moving to Okinawa in the summer of 09 and I have been in denial fantasizing about how once we reach the island paradise my husband will not deploy anymore. Yeah right- he is aircrew and his job is to deploy. Reading your blog is forcing me to get a reality check which is probably a good thing.
    My husband was deployed a lot at our last assignment and I didn’t handle it well at all. I considered getting on anti-depressant meds (never did) and then I moved in with my parents and quit socializing with anyone except my parents until my husband got back.
    While I did not take good care of myself, however, I did take excellent care of our three children. The older two kids each have special “TDY Books” that I made for them which are an age appropriate story/scrapbook about how their daddy loves them so much and will miss them when he is deployed. There are pictures of the aircraft daddy flies on, pictures of him in uniform working, pictures of him in civis playing with and reading to the kids ect. The book ends by letting the kids know that it’s OK to feel sad or angry about missing daddy but to remember that daddy loves them and WILL come back to them. Then we have a couple pages dedicated to things they can do when they are really missing daddy (wear daddy’s hat, draw a picture for daddy, write him a letter, talk about it, listen to a tape of daddy reading their favorite book, ect). I read each child their TDY book every night before bed and whenever they ask me to read it. We also do a paper chain countdown of days till daddy gets home. Hope this helps.

  11. This is the first deployment my husband has ever gone on…and he left only 3 weeks after we arrived to the island! It is an awful feeling when I wake up in the middle of the night and realize he is not there. But I deal. What do I do?
    -I dont cry in front of my kids
    -sign up for every “parent night out” as possible
    -go to every festival
    -actually make (home-made from scratch) choc chip cookies with my 3 and 4 year old
    -wander aimlessly down the aisles of the PX and dont care if my 3 year old is screaming very loudly to get out of the cart (yeah, thats me)
    -hang out with new friends every weekend
    -watch lots of movies!
    -dont shave for a week at a time
    -eat cookies for dinner
    -dont clean my toilet until it absoultely needs it (which funny enough isnt as often as when my husband is home)
    -sing really loudly with my headphones on and dance around like a crazy woman
    -do a color countdown with the kids every day and hope the return date doesnt change
    -download yahoo messenger to get alerted when I get a new email…it may be from him!
    -join the wonderful addictive world of facebook
    -become an expert on computer spider solitaire
    But most of all, I think about the day he will be back because he will be. I think about how he must be feeling in his “prison quarters” and try not to curse when something back here on the island isnt going so smoothly and I wish he was here. I know he wishes he were here too and if I dwell on the fact that he isnt, well it just makes matters worse. I pray for him and the people he is deployed with and for other wives and mothers that are also going through the same thing as me. And then I eat chocolate and ice cream and get mad at the fact that my car is messed up AGAIN and my husband isnt here to help!

  12. As a person that deals with very long, and frequent deployments I have to say it doesn’t necessarily get easier but you do learn what works for you and you stick with that.

    I used to think that the longer we did this (and we have been doing this a very long time), it would get easier but the longer we are married, the more my husband is a part of my life so when he goes, it is much more noticiable than it was when we were first married and dealing with deployments. He is my best friend and that makes it hard too.

    I stay busy whether his home or not. I have found that you can’t just turn off the friendships you rely on when he is gone, while he is home or that support system will not be there when you are needing it most. He understands this and doesn’t begrudge my obligations to my friends and friendships.

    I highly recommend (especially after being here twice) that you make friends (even though saying goodbye when you move sucks). They don’t have to be unit friends (in fact having some friends outside of the unit is great for perspective).

    We communicate as much as we can, but we do not talk everyday. We both have work to do and sometimes it feels like talking too much on the phone or waiting around for the phone to ring is counterproductive. I am able to text his cellphone in a lot of the locations he is at and that allows us to communicate a bit even when we don’t have time to talk or when he is not somewhere that Internet is available for email.

    I have found (and you have to find what works for you) that I need to tell him what is going on in my life, even if it is small stupid stuff. He is my sounding board, always has been. Sometimes at predeployment briefings, they will tell you not to bog them down with your everyday chatter but my husband and I enjoy sharing our days and I don’t feel like keeping things from him would be good for either of us. He doesn’t want to feel like is out of the loop and I want someone to tell all my worthless stuff too that I know will listen and still love me. Obviously this is not how everyone is, but this is what works for me.

    We send letters and packages whenever he is at a location that can receive mail. Having email and texting and cellphones is great but there is something about getting a package or letter in the mail that just feels good. I want him to know I miss him, and am thinking about him and am going to make an effort for him even if he is not here.

    I don’t have any kids but I do have pets and they also help me deal with the deployments…it is nice to have something alive in the house with me, even if it is only speaking fish or meow. Of course, though, having a pet is a responsibility and I am not recommending to get one just for deployments.

    We have missed countless birthdays and holidays together, but we try to make all the moments count, even when we are apart so that neither of us feels too deprived. Deployments are hard but they are doable.

  13. How do I cope with my husband’s deployment? Well, I swallowed my pride and began to ask for help (for typhoon prep, moving heavy objects, someone to follow me to the mechanic, back-up babysitting etc). For the first time ever, I now use childcare on a regular basis because after four months of constant togetherness, I realized that I can’t accomplish what I need to in order to maintain our household if I am with my two-year-old 24/7 without any breaks. Hey, you can’t JCI a car with a toddler in it! Having a break also allows me to be a better, more patient mother (like I used to be). Believe it or not, the days my child is at home with me are more relaxing than the days she is at pre-school; I pack a lot of errands and activities into those “days off”! I also started using a stroller again. As my pregnancy progressed, I realized I couldn’t move as fast as my daughter anymore, and sometimes I really NEED her to go/do where/what I tell her.

    How do I take care of myself? Prenatal massage from Risner gym. I rationalize the indulgence with the fact that my husband isn’t here to rub my aching back during this pregnancy! I visit the chiropractor when massage can’t work out the kinks!

    Advice for others? Not really; you just have to figure it out for yourself as you go along.

    Expectations vs. reality? Well, for the most part, reality has lived up to my expectations. I lived alone for a long time before I was married, so I am a pretty capable person when it comes to household maintenance and doing things on my own. However, I was surprised at how much my husband’s presence in the evenings and on weekends helped me recharge my “mommy batteries”. Parenting 24/7 was breaking me, and I’m sure my daughter didn’t like being shuttled around from errand to errand either; I had to find some childcare.

    How do I help my child cope? I made my daughter a “Daddy photo album”, and my husband made her a DVD of him reading her favorite bedtime stories. We talk about Daddy and his return. She also speaks to her Daddy occasionally on the phone. Sometimes she just needs a daddy’s attention (sometimes ANY daddy will do as far as she is concerned). Fortunately, we have some understanding friends that don’t mind playing with her at the park or paying extra attention to her when we get together for playdates with her little friends. It is kind of sad when she flings her arms around the legs of a complete (male) stranger at the Med Group (or anywhere else we happen to be); I just explain that she is a very friendly shild who is missing her deployed dad right now. Ususally these men are very understanding; my daughter has a knack for picking the daddies out of a crowd. I think it would be more awkward if we were Stateside; around here people are very kind because they can relate to how deployment might affect their own children.

  14. STACI!

    I do not miss the deployments. Not ever.

    For me the best medicine was you and Andrea. Girls I loved in the same situation as me. You were my first phone call every day and as wacky as it sounds THAT part of deployment I miss.

    Great post.

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