Tag Archives: deployment

Putting the Pieces Back Together After Deployment

family-retreatsThe other day when I was at the commissary, I ran into someone who told me she was feeling overwhelmed with all of the stuff she was dealing with after her spouse returned home. He had been deployed for the third time in five years, the children were not as welcoming as they had been the last time, and she was wondering how they all could recapture the family she remembered and wanted back again. She knew I worked at the National Military Family Association, and that I had been a military spouse. Was there something out there that could help?

The world of military life has changed since I was an active-duty spouse. These past years of wartime climate have affected families in ways that could not have been imagined when troops began their repetitive cycles of deployment. Most families have worked to come back together after each deployment but it gets harder and harder when the time apart exceeds the time together.

The National Military Family Association has been advocating for military families for forty-five years. And like the changes that have occurred since I was a military spouse, our Association has changed. One of those changes, born from our advocacy, listening and acting in response to families’ concerns, and the occasional chance encounters in the commissary, is our Operation Purple® Family Retreats.

Take a military family dealing with reintegration and reunion challenges following one or multiple deployments, add family-focused activities designed to celebrate the family and each other, and mix with special resiliency and team-building fun set in or near national parks, and you have the basic recipe for an Operation Purple Family Retreat. And this special opportunity comes with free lodging, activities and meals…thanks to the generosity of donors that want to honor military families. But there is more.

“Seeing my son smile more than he has in months…Husband retreating into self and allowing growth…Me allowing myself to admit areas I need to improve on…” Service member Dad

“Great experience that was much needed for our family. We were able to connect without the distractions of everyday life…” Military Spouse

Almost 400 military families have participated in an Operation Purple Family Retreat. We keep learning what it means to them. And so I suggested to my new friend from the commissary that she and her family apply so that they, too, could begin to focus on each other. Applying online is as easy as checking our website in February for the application, locations, and dates. We will have four in 2014 – across the country. February 14-18, 2014 at Teton Science Schools, Jackson, WY is already full but we return there June 30 – July 4th. Maybe this is just what your family needs…

theresaPosted by Terry Buchanan, Youth Initiatives Director

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!

Send Holiday Cheer to Service Members!

The holiday season is in full swing, and while most of us are keeping the home front warm and cozy, we remember the brave men and women who are protecting our Nation at home, and abroad. No one wishes for peace on Earth more than military families. While we can’t make every wish come true, we can support the ones who wish. Join us this holiday season, in sending well wishes to our service members.

During the month of December, we’d like to feature you and your service member by allowing you to share a holiday message with them. 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!

spc-verlanderDear SPC Verlander,

You know all we want for Christmas is you. Well, Christmas is just going to have to come a little late for us, but that’s OK. We don’t care if it’s December or August. It just won’t be Christmas for us without you, but we’ll be brave while everyone else celebrates. We miss you and cannot wait for you to come home! So proud of you babe! Love you so very much!!

-Mandi

Share your message by emailing it to us at blog@militaryfamily.org. Feel free to send a picture of the service member you’re writing to! ‘Tis the season!

Shannon-SebastianPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

Cyber Crisis: Protecting your family in a war waged by hackers

cyber-crisisRaise your hand if you’ve ever heard the term “OPSEC.”

What about “PII?” Or “PERSEC?”

It’s fairly common for military families to know an arsenal of acronyms that pertain to their service member, or military culture in general. While a lot of them are important, not understanding these three acronyms in particular can put you and your family in harm’s way.

OPSEC, or Operational Security, keeps our military information secure and out of the hands of those who could harm us – not just in person, but online, too. Sharing things like your loved one’s rank or job title, where they’re stationed, or when they’re returning home could get you in trouble. In some cases, even having a unit-specific sticker on your car could be a violation of OPSEC.

PII, or Personal Identifiable Information, is any information that can be pieced together to determine your identity. Things like your social security number and name are the obvious ones. But when someone knows your first name, email address, and the town you live in, it becomes easier to then determine your last name. With your full name, a person could search property records and find your address. And by simply driving by your home, they’d see the decal on your car, “Half of my heart is in Iraq.” They now know your service member is deployed and you are home alone, just from sharing too much PII.

PERSEC, or Personal Security, like OPSEC, reminds us to be aware of what we are sharing. Terrorists are just as tech savvy as you and I, and in most cases, have the means and abilities to find out things about us that we didn’t know they could.

With the internet being our main way to communicate with our service members when deployed, pay your bills, share photos, and do online banking, we have to be even more cautious of what we share online. If you aren’t careful, each of these seemingly harmless actions can lead to over-sharing, and can put your family in danger.

Are you doing everything you can to protect your family? Find out this Thursday at 3:00PM, when we bring you a live stream discussion with Former CIA and NSA Director, General Michael Hayden and one of America’s top private cyber sleuths, Kevin Mandia . They’ll share a real-world evaluation of threats and solutions, plus tips to keep your military family safe.

Do you have questions for General Hayden or Mr. Mandia? We’ll be asking them! Leave your question in the comment section below.

Tune in to find out how to protect your military family from danger online.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

How Do You Keep Busy During Deployments?

Half-marathon-with-RickTwo years ago, I ran the Marine Corps 10K race for the first time. It was the longest run I had ever done in my life up to that point. I trained for that run because, like many who find themselves with a spouse deployed, I had a lot of time on my hands, and I needed a healthy distraction. So for months I would drag myself out of bed early on the weekends to do a “long” run while my husband was away.

I started running with the goal of lasting 20-30 minutes without stopping. It was the middle of a typical hot and humid Washington, D.C. summer, so this was no easy feat. Each week, I would increase my time by 5 minutes, or at least run for the same amount of time as the previous week. And every week, I would Skype, email, or tell my husband on the phone the update on my progress.

I didn’t have a formal training plan; I thought that if I gradually increase my running time, I would eventually cover 6.2 miles, which is the length of a 10K run.

Once I committed to do the race and paid the registration fee, there was still a nagging doubt that I could reach the finish line. I had run many 5K’s before, and regularly exercised. But the thought of running more than five miles seemed so out of reach for me.

Looking for more incentive, I signed up to help raise money for the George Washington University Cancer Institute. I was a graduate student at the school, and had many family members affected by cancer, so I was happy to join the team of runners to raise money for cancer programs and research.

On race day, I bundled up — it was an unusually cold October morning — and off I went, running with thousands of people happy and excited to be there. Thousands more spectators lined the road cheering us on, carrying signs like, “Don’t stop now, people are watching,” “Worst parade ever,” and “You’re running better than the government.”

Before I knew it, I was nearing the finish line, and couldn’t believe I hadn’t fainted! The Marine Corps 10K was exhilarating and exhausting, and had me hooked. I had no intention of stopping now that I had I found my stride, so to speak. When my husband returned from his deployment, I had to convince him to run with me. He wasn’t used to running without a physical fitness test looming.

Since that deployment-inspired Marine run, I have participated in the Army, Air Force, and Navy runs, as well as a few other races in Washington, D.C., and on October 26, 2013, I ran in the Marine Corps 10K again as part of the TAPS Run & Remember Team, which pays tribute to the sacrifices made by our military service members, and raises funds to create awareness and support programs for military families.

We might not have a deployment scheduled any time soon, but we continue to run. Our weekend workouts have become part of our routine now, an activity I look forward to all week long.

What activities do you like to do during your service member’s deployments? Share it in the comments section!

lalaine-estellaGuest Post by Lalaine Estella Ricardo, National Military Family Association Volunteer