Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Deployment 101

My friend Joia wrote a post for her friend Laura's blog. I asked if I could reuse it, and Joia said I could. I thought it was such valuable information for those of us who don't understand what deployment and military life is like. Enjoy!

Laura wanted me to post about “Life as a Military Wife”. While I Am a military wife, my life is much less “military” than most, because 1) My husband is in the Air Force, not the Army or Marines or Navy, 2), He’s a doctor, so he’s a “non combatant”, not carrying a gun and “fighting the bad guys” and 3) We have only been stationed at one base (where we will likely remain for the duration of our military time), so we haven’t had the typical military experience and trial of moving every few years.

All that being said, I don’t feel like I have a lot to say about “how different military life is”, because our life is, for the most part, pretty normal. Okay, so we have fighter jets flying over our house every day, it’s not uncommon to hear bombs being tested out on the range, and we have to have military ID to get on base multiple times a week, but really, for the most part – Normal.

Really the biggest thing about being a military family is that, while you are signed up with them, they “own” you. The military decides when you are eligible to take vacation time, what countries you are permitted to visit, and, can at any time “recall” you to report for an exercise or real world situation, should you be needed. Being in the military means that you are constantly responsible to guard and protect anything you know about how the military runs, so information posted on blogs, facebook, etc must constantly be kept in check.

Deployment ... When Philip joined the military, we knew that deployment would be inevitable, so I don’t want to ever come across as “boo hoo us, look what was done to us”. We know we chose this life and deployment is part of the deal. However, when he joined back in 2003, deployment was a looong way off, and over the years of med school and residency it was easy to not think about it or even hope that it wouldn’t happen, just because it was so far away.

When he graduated from residency and got deployment orders, it was a brutal snap back to reality. Seriously, who in the world does this? Spends 6 months to a year away from their family in a far away, dangerous country? I can’t think of any job other than the military where someone would choose to do this. But here we were and this is what we had signed up for.

As the day loomed closer, lots of different thoughts clouded my mind: Would it seem like eternity? How would the kids do without their dad? How would I do as a single mom? Would I go completely insane? And the big one: What if he didn’t come back??

In the couple months before Philip left, I sought out four or five different “veteran air force wives” who’s husbands had deployed several times. From them I gleaned invaluable wisdom and encouragement about single parenting several small children, how to stay close with your husband when thousands of miles separate you, how to keep yourself sane on the home front, etc. They told me that I could do this. I cautiously believed them.

Finally the day had arrived. We were at the airport and I was in shock (surprisingly not a mess of tears), thinking about the 222 days and nights that loomed ahead… without Philip. We made the goodbye fairly quick, so as not to draw it out and just make it worse. We hugged, we kissed, I told him I loved him and respected him so much (and willed myself to not say “PROMISE me you’ll come back”), and he was gone.

And that was it. It was done. We were on the other side of goodbye, and this new phase of our lives had begun. Now it was time to deal with it.

The first few weeks, I was plagued with nightmares, depicting scenes from movies where the wife opens her front door to see two uniformed military guys standing there, bearing the news that her husband was dead. Thankfully these subsided, and, with the regular contact I had with Philip, I was able to reassure myself that he was actually quite safe where he was.

Although we had regular contact, it was always very brief. Philip couldn’t usually talk for more than 15 minutes at a time, and he could tell me almost nothing about what he was doing or where he was if he was traveling from his home base. This was pretty frustrating as I was super curious to hear about his days! There were also several times when he couldn’t contact me for several days, since communication had been cut off due to some event that happened on base.

For us – the deployment really was the best it could have been. I had no kids in school and we had the means to travel and see friends and family to help the time pass. During the time that Philip was gone, we travelled thousands of miles. We made two road trips to Central Florida to spend time with Philip’s family, two road trips up to Canada (for several weeks at a time) to visit my family, I flew to Colorado for a weekend with some girlfriends, and we also flew to Mexico to spend two weeks with my oldest brother and his wife and kids. These trips, I believe are one of the main things that kept us sane and going during those long months. Had we been stuck at home, getting cabin fever – who knows where we’d all be today. =)

Another thing that made this deployment not as devastating as I had feared was the amazing support we had from friends, family, and the staff at the hospital where Philip works. If we needed anything, there was always someone to turn to.

It wasn’t all rosy and travel filled, however. The days at home got long, my temper with the kids got short, and the ticks on the calendar didn’t seem to be adding up as quickly as I wanted them to. Three or four times during the seven months, I came to my breaking point, where I completely lost it and didn’t think I was going to make it. This usually happened in the evening, after the kids were in bed, after a particularly overwhelming day, and not being able to pick up the phone and call Philip to talk about it. I would feel completely alone and sad and would just cry and cry and cry until I was completely spent. The next day was always better.

Most of all, as we all know, the Lord is really the One who was our daily support and the only One who really know what it was like day in and day out. I am soooo thankful to have a Heavenly Father who cares about the trials of a mom at home with two kids and a husband on the other side of the world. The prayers of our family and friends all over the world meant everything to us!

Surprisingly, this time apart proved to be very healthy for our marriage. Philip and I both read a book called, Sacred Marriage, while he was gone, and benefitted greatly from it. We learned a lot about how much we took each other for granted, and learned to appreciate and respect each other in a whole new way.

He has been home now for a month and it has been fantastic! Our adjustment back to normal has been amazingly smooth (which is not always the case). Praise God for bringing our family safely through this deployment!

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