Category Archives: Deployment

Deployment Monster: 5 Ways to be a Superhero for Your Kids

boy-on-dads-shoulders-with-kiteMilitary life is difficult. But if you can add parenting into the mix, you’re my hero. Not all military spouses were born to be mothers or fathers. Me? I’m somewhere in between. Even those of us who don’t have kids know it takes a special set of superhero skills to raise a resilient military kid. Any military spouse can learn some tricks of the trade!

Harder still, is the nasty deployment monster – seeming to lurk around every set of orders, ready to attack. Maybe you know when the deployments are coming? Sometimes it’s those little trips, trainings, and exercises leading up to the ‘big D’ that really stink.

So how do you superhero parents do it? I asked Meredith Moore, our Association’s Volunteer Services Coordinator for the National Capitol Region, what advice she could offer to help ease the stress and transition during a deployment. Meredith, a seasoned Navy spouse and mother of three, has five great tips parents need to know:

  1. Different ages respond differently to the separation. The young child who doesn’t understand time increments and travel distances needs concrete reassurance the deployed parent thinks about them and still exists somewhere else. School-age children, who listen to the news and adults talking, tend to fear for their parent’s safety (not just in war zone deployments). Preteens and teens will often take on the role of ‘spouse’ to the parent at home, and sometimes resent the deployed parent because the child has become the stand-in.
  2. Keep kids on the same schedule they were on before the deployment started. But be willing to break the routine in an instant if the child is having a hard day. If you always eat dinner at the table at 6:00, don’t stop just because the deployed parent isn’t there. Kids need to accept that deployment is a normal part of military life.
  3. Make sure you put your best attitude forward in front of the kids. Be honest with them when you are struggling but don’t put your burdens on them. Set the example of being resilient. They will follow your lead.
  4. Try not to use phrases like, “you’re the man of the house when your father is gone.” Can you imagine the amount of pressure that puts on a child? You and your spouse chose this lifestyle, the child did not.
  5. Join your command’s family group. Contact your Ombudsman, Family Readiness Group, or Key Spouse. Put the stigma away if you have heard bad things about it. They provide family programming and other great events during deployments. Chances are, you’ll meet someone you have something in common with, and the kids will benefit, too!

Though most parents don’t consider themselves a superhero, many feel even stronger as each deployment comes to an end. Now, can we figure out how to get time to speed up during the the ‘big D?’

What superhero skills did you use to get through a deployment with kids?

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

Appreciating the Military, One Homecoming at a Time

sailors-on-carrier-shipHuddling on the pier on a frigid April morning, I shivered and wished I had thought to wear a winter coat instead of a light spring jacket. Who would have expected it to be 40 degrees in Norfolk, Virginia in April? Beside me, my teenage daughter yawned exaggeratedly, reminding me that it was not her choice to be awake and at the base by 7:00 AM. Neither one of us was quite as excited about this homecoming as we should have been. My husband had flown out to meet the ship toward the end of its long deployment, so we hadn’t experienced the many months of separation that other families had. Still new to the command, we hadn’t yet met many of the other families and stood off to the side, feeling awkward and out of place.

Before too long, however, we were caught up in the excitement of the families gathered on the pier. Proud parents held cameras high, ready to catch a photo of their young Sailor’s first homecoming. Young moms cradled newborns and kept careful watch on wound up toddlers. Everywhere there were banners and flags welcoming Sailors back home. Soon even my usually “too cool for school” teenager was waving a flag and jumping up and down, craning her head to catch the first glimpse of the ship.

A few minutes before 8:00, a roar went up from the crowd as the ship appeared in the harbor. Despite the wind and cold, Sailors in their summer whites stood proudly at attention along the ship’s rails. Families waved their banners wildly, hoping to catch their Sailor’s eye. I knew from experience that the crew couldn’t wait to rush off the ship and find their waiting families, but unfortunately guiding a massive warship into a slip isn’t quite as easy as parking a car. Minutes dragged on as the ship maneuvered carefully into place and secured to the pier.

Finally, the ship secure and the gangplank in place, Sailors began streaming off the ship. First, the lucky winner of the “First Kiss” raffle sprinted off the ship and into the arms of his thrilled wife. Then the new dads emerged to meet the babies born during the long months the ship was away. Finally, the rest of the crew began to disembark. All around us, families were reuniting, sharing their first hugs in months. Tearful moms held on to their Sailors as proud dads beamed and shot photos. Other Sailors knelt before shy preschoolers who barely remembered the parent who’d been gone for so long. Young moms gladly handed off heavy toddlers to dads who couldn’t believe how much they’d grown.

My daughter and I stood in the middle of the crowd, taking it all in. The excitement and emotion of families reuniting after such a long time was overwhelming. Right then, I realized how privileged we were to share in this moment. We might not know everyone there, but we were still part of the same family – the military family. I glanced at my daughter to see if she was feeling the same way, but she was looking past me, toward the ship. She grabbed my arm and without a trace of teenage boredom in her voice, squealed, “Look, Mom! There’s Dad!”

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

The Soundtrack of my Deployment

girl-with-headphones-onEver wonder why there isn’t a “Top 100 Deployment Hits” soundtrack? Seems like an untapped market to me. Would you buy a CD full of songs to help you through the highs and lows of deployments?

My husband has been away for a few months on a training deployment, so I’ve had the TV remote control, the DVR, and the bed all to myself. A few nights ago, I started thinking about all the things I’ve done since he’s been gone. I pressure washed our house, jump-started our car when it had a dead battery (thanks to YouTube), fixed a broken toilet, redecorated our living room, went from a red head to a blonde, and learned to eat at restaurants by myself.

As those memories were flashing through my mind, songs just randomly started accompanying them. Songs as eclectic as the curtains in my house.

There’s no telling when the “Top 100 Deployment Hits” is going to be released, so in the meantime, here are some songs that might be musical therapy for you during those ups and downs of deployment:

  • “(You Drive Me) Crazy” by Britney Spears. Suggested for playing very loudly while locking yourself in a dark bathroom to avoid screaming children. Because that’s acceptable, right?
  • “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore. Perfect for playing on the car ride to Walmart. You’re gonna pop some tags…only got $20 in your pocket…which will obviously buy lots of things at Walmart. You can probably get a set of lawn darts, nail polish, and a 12 pack of socks.
  • “The Lazy Song” by Bruno Mars. Because I don’t care about wearing pants today.
  • “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor. The theme song for fixing a broken toilet. Also suggested: theme song for having a baby while your spouse is deployed.
  • “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi. You’ve hit the halfway mark of deployment. Woah, you’re halfway there. Woah, livin’ on a prayer…and chocolate.
  • “All By Myself” by Celine Dion. Suggested for the milspouse eating alone at Chili’s.
  • “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred. This one’s for you, Mom of four, who got a free night of babysitting at the CDC. GIRLS NIGHT!

And of course, no deployment soundtrack would be complete without the perfect song to play on repeat when your solider finally comes home.

I’m going with “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins….no explanation needed!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

Here’s Your New Deployment Survival Guide!

Dads-homeI can identify the Fort Campbell hangar immediately when looking through pictures. The color on the walls, the bleachers, and the banners welcoming our heroes home. I remember the anxious feeling when my husband was both leaving and coming home from deployment. Anxious to get the deployment started so he could return home, and anxious to introduce him to our new family of three and welcome him to our new house.

Have you ever heard that saying “you don’t know, what you don’t know?” That’s how I feel looking back on our first deployment. We were married in September and my husband deployed in December. I didn’t want to move to a new installation by myself so I moved home with my mom. Little did I know that moving home meant I would be completely out of touch with my husband’s unit.

I received monthly emails about some things, but was never contacted about other things. During the year-long deployment, I received only two phone calls from the Family Readiness Group (FRG). I felt a little out of the loop, and under informed, to say the least! I am fortunate that my husband communicates well enough to keep me in the know. Now, I urge spouses to get out there, get involved, and stay informed! There are so many awesome resources available that won’t come knock on your door.

If there was an app like MyMilitaryLife available to me during our first deployment, my time away from my husband would have been very different. I feel like I would have been able to manage that time better, and I could have actively involved myself with his unit’s happenings. Hindsight is great, but I realize now, just how much I missed out!

With MyMilitaryLife at my fingertips, I would have utilized the Deployment Life Path and discovered the Red Cross offers online courses about deployment cycles. Military OneSource has a website, called ‘Plan My Deployment,’ with planning tools, checklists, and helpful tips. The National Military Family Association has Operation Purple® Camps for children with a parent that has been, is currently, or will be deployed. Aside from this, there are Family Retreats to help families reintegrate after deployment.

If my husband deploys again, I am prepared with resources to help, and if I have any questions I know I can pull up MyMilitaryLife on my phone to find the answer.

Download our MyMilitaryLife app today and let us know what you think!

Amanda headshotPosted by Amanda Anderson, Content Manager, MyMilitaryLife

My Spouse Has Deployment Orders. Now What?

deployment-bagsOnce you’ve been a spouse long enough, you will experience that moment where your service member comes home with a date. A date you would like to forget, or at least never get to…the date of the next deployment. I always felt that once we had a date, it was a big cloud hanging over our heads, everywhere we went, and over everything we planned.

From that point forward, life was colored with the tint of it, whether it was buying a car, landscaping the yard, or finding a new activity for the kids to participate in based on the season. We had to consider how everything would change once he left. Could I manage a change in schedule without him? Would the aging vehicle we had be adequate to evacuate the whole family without him if a major hurricane came?

Early in our marriage, relatives remarked we never seemed to enjoy what we had right now. It was difficult to enjoy the “now” when we couldn’t depend on being in the same place for more than a month or two at a time. We made it through ten deployments and countless stateside separations. It was a high operational tempo, and no matter how many times we said goodbye, it didn’t get easier, because we never knew when, or if, he would be back.

Over 11 years we saw crew members lose children, remaining spouses hospitalized with no authorized care for their children, and lost members of our community to suicide and disaster. Pessimistic as it may seem, we knew to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

We did develop some routines that created a sense of security and control, to the extent possible. Everyone is different, and with children involved the dynamics were always changing, so flexibility was critical. I learned to expect the natural inclination to push each other away as the date of departure approached, but always tried to focus on making the most of the last few weeks.

Additionally, there are some rules that I think everyone can mold to their circumstance or dynamic (with a few non-negotiables):

  1. Get your affairs in order (i.e. prepare for the worst). You MUST have a copy of your service member’s orders and a general and specific power of attorney, and an updated copy of wills. There aren’t any paper police who will arrest you if you don’t, but you will come to regret not having them if you ever need them. You SHOULD make sure that you understand how your roles and responsibilities will change during the deployment. You will have to fill in for your spouse in many ways. What day does the garbage come? Where are the tax documents if tax time comes? How does the sprinkler system work? This is not just an issue between spouses, but may involve children, as well. Include them, if it is age appropriate, in defining and learning how to fill in for each other with one less person in the house.
  2. Spend time doing what you do best as a family. Whatever things make your family happy together, do them. Watch movies together. Play board games together. Go hiking together. Cheer each other on at sports events together. Do you see a pattern? Together. It’s pretty simple.
  3. Adjust your expectations. This is required for everyone involved. Deployment is difficult for everyone and everyone has to be as flexible as possible (yes, show this to your service member because it applies to them, too). The first few deployments, I wanted emails and letters, but I got phone calls. I was terrified of something happening to my spouse and not having some tangible recollection of his last words to me. It wasn’t realistic for him to sit down and pen something. He needed to hear a voice, so I got over it and looked forward to hearing his voice. In later deployments, he wanted to call at 10:30 PM when I had to get myself ready for work and walk out the door with a fed and dressed two year-old by 6:00 AM. He didn’t get the loving positive wife, with anecdotes of toddler cuteness. Instead, he got the overly tired frustrated wife with anecdotes of failing potty-training. He had to learn to accept my fatigue as part of the new status quo and not take it personally. Marriage is work on both ends, whether you are together or apart.

Deployments are never easy or simple, but you can try and make your preparation predictable and routine, which can help ease stress and facilitate bonding. There is no one-size-fits-all way of communicating or preparing, and you have to find what works for your family dynamic. Life happens and the world keeps turning during deployments. Don’t focus on failures and successes; focus on maintaining your connection and remembering why you and your spouse chose to make a life together.

What does your family do to prepare for deployments? Are there any must do’s? Check out our app, MyMilitaryLife for our other tips!

brookePosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director

How to Prepare Young Kids for a Deployment

deployment-wallHow do you prepare a toddler for deployment? I have learned there is a very simple answer to that question – you don’t.

You can try until you are blue in the face to explain why Daddy (or Mommy) is packing yet again, but I know my 22-month old doesn’t grasp a word of it. He simply sees Daddy leaving. Each time, we have has gone through a period of acting out, a period of nightmares and then finally a settling in to a routine.

My husband and I aren’t new to deployments, however, this is our first time with kids. I have done a lot of searching online, along with talking to other mothers who have been through a deployment with young children.

I have tried to come up with ideas to keep my oldest child from having too much separation anxiety, and ideas to help my youngest, who is just a few months old, know who Daddy is when he gets home.

Here are some ideas we’ve tried:

Take lots of pictures. We have a digital picture frame setup in the nursery, so I can change and update the pictures as much as possible. In my oldest child’s room, we have a photo mobile that hangs with multiple pictures on it.

Have Dad or Mom record themselves on a recordable book. This way, they can record their voice reading the book, and “read” the little ones a book, even when they aren’t home. We decided to also make a video of Daddy reading some of the boys’ favorite books, so they not only hear, but see him too! Another fun thing we did was letting our kids build a bear at the mall, then Dad recorded his voice inside the bear!

Plan for, and have holidays ahead of time. While Daddy is gone, he is going to be missing holidays and birthdays, including my oldest’s second birthday. I started planning his Hot Wheels themed birthday a little early, so Daddy could be a part of it. I made matching pit crew shirts for our family ahead of time so we could get one family picture with my husband’s family. We did the same setup with just our little family. Those pictures will be printed larger and setup during my son’s actual birthday party.

Leave voice messages on your phone. When my husband is gone, my oldest child thinks every time my phone rings, it is Daddy. Not knowing what his ability is going to be like to make phone calls, my husband will call my phone, and left messages for the boys. Instead of it being your standard message, it sounds like he is having a conversation. It allows me to pick up the phone anytime and let him ‘talk’ to daddy.

Make a “deployment wall.” You can really make this your own – whatever you child understands! We have clocks set to our local time, and to Dad’s timezone. We also have two mailboxes – one is for mail to Daddy for upcoming care packages, and the other holds the mail that comes from daddy, so it’s in a safe place. Beside those, we have a memory tree, which is formed by cutting out leaves each time we do something fun, writing the activity on the leaves, and hanging them for Daddy to see when he returns. We also make sure to have a countdown of some kind – so the kids can see how close it’s getting for Dad’s return!

There are a lot of wonderful resources out there to find ideas on keeping your children connected with their soldier. These are just a few of the ideas that I have come up with and it seems like every day there is something new that I add to the list!

What do you do in your household to prepare your toddlers and young children for a parent’s deployment?

mindy-kingGuest Post by Mindy King, military spouse

Sending Holiday Cheer to Service Members: Part 2

This month, we are featuring your letters of love and encouragement to service members in your life. Do you know someone who could use some holiday cheer? Deployed, or at home, let us help you share your love and gratefulness to a service member! Kids can join in, too! Send your letter with a photo to blog@militaryfamily.org.

AJKChristmas

Dear Andrew,

We are so blessed that you will be home to celebrate Christmas with us this year! As we know all too well, so many families aren’t as fortunate. Your dedication to our family and our country inspires me every day. I am so proud of you and the career that you have chosen in the United States Army!

All my love, Lauren


sebastianDear Matt,

Throughout our military life together, the thing that always makes me most proud is to see you set goals for yourself, and work hard to achieve them. Your character and leadership is second to none, and I am lucky to have you. Thank you for taking me on this journey, I’ll get the hang of it one day! I love you, and I love the heart of service you have for your country. You are amazing!

Love, Shannon

 

How do you show the service members in your life that you appreciate them? Tell us below!