The one thing I know for sure is that I don’t know anything about anything. So when my Army-wife friend, Angela, asked me to write a post about advice for spouses on their first-deployment, I knew I needed help. Luckily, every Thursday morning my battle buddies and I meet for coffee. We chat, gossip, eat, drink, and generally be merry. We have also been known to shovel snow, do craft projects, and get in fist fights over college football rivalries.
Today, we talked deployment advice. Here’s the best of the best, from some of the best Army wives I’ve known.
Get a set of spare keys to your house and give them to a friend. On the off chance it’s 12 degrees, you might want to start the car early. If you head out 10 minutes later and realize you’ve locked the car and locked yourself out of the house with two 4-year-old boys, you’ll be glad you have someone other than a $95 locksmith to call.
Get a power of attorney for a close friend to take care of your children should something happen to you. If you are somehow incapacitated it will take several days at the very least for your husband or a family member to get to your duty station. In the meantime the state (wherever you are living) could take your kids if you don’t have a fully functional, legal plan in place. Your post JAG office should be able to help you get your ducks in a row. If you have a million children like me, get one for a couple of friends. You might also want to get one for the family members who would come to help. Remember, if it is not a life-threatening injury your husband might not be sent back to help you. Those are the breaks, don’t complain about it just figure out how to manage it.
After you get that all done, have a glass of wine.
Depending on your spouse’s job and location, communication might be easy or extremely difficult. Try not to compare your situation to that of other spouses. The best bet is to set communication guidelines with your spouse, preferably before he leaves. Dallas tries to email me each day and call once a week. I don’t want to talk to him every day, it’s like groundhog day here and over there too. Do what works for your relationship and try to stick to it. But, if the plan changes don’t panic. No news is good news.
Set your own communication goals. Whenever Dallas is gone I write him every day. We are doing email now, but when he is somewhere without that capability I write him letters. Every day, whether he responds or not. It helps me feel connected to him. If you get yourself into a rhythm, you’ll get through the separation easier.
You’ll want to send care packages. Send what your soldier needs and what you feel like sending. Don’t ever worry about sending too much. If you make three dozen cookies he’ll eat four and pass the rest out to they guys. Don’t send anything illegal like alcohol or pork. (That’s not a joke. You can’t mail pork to Afghanistan. No bacon for 10 months is why I could never be a soldier) The US Postal Service will deliver flat rate boxes to your door at no charge. You can also get customs forms and priority mail tape delivered. Fill out the form at home. Only an idiot would go to the crowded post office and try to fill out the customs form while balancing three boxes and trying to keep two 5-year-old boys from giving new meaning to the phrase “going postal.”
When you leave the post office, go home and have a glass of wine.
For The Kids
Find battle buddies for them. It helps them to have friends who are going through the same thing they’re going through. With older kids, you might have to force the issue. With younger kids, it’s lots easier. Almost all of the twinkies buddies Daddy’s are gone too. It helps make their new life more normal.
The first time Dallas deployed my friend Shannon (who’s been through more than her fair share of deployments) told me to countdown, even when it was a big number. It’s good advice, especially for the kids. You probably won’t have an exact date, but that’s ok. Overestimate. Make a ring link, use a chalk board, whatever works. I made a timeline out of duct tape and markers for the holidays. Along the way we are filling in the pictures Dallas sends back.
Or, if you’re like my friend Brooke you can show off your craft skills and do something fancy. I like her despite her crafting ability.
Have your spouse make videos of himself reading stories. He (or she) might feel like a dork doing it, but your kids will love it. You might also have him make a special message to you and the children, should something bad happen. I know it’s morbid, but they really do deserve to hear Daddy tell them how much he loves them, even if he doesn’t come home.
Don’t watch it while he’s away. Drink wine instead.
To Keep Your Sanity
Set ground rules with your extended family. You don’t need your mother-in-law calling you in tears because she is sad. Tell her so and remind her of the rules regularly. If you are going to update them weekly, bi-weekly, or never-say so. It is up to you. Don’t get bullied into doing anything you don’t want to do. Take care of yourself and your kids. That said, accept help. My mother-in-law, an accountant, offered to do our taxes. We usually do them on our own, but during the deployment I gladly accepted her help. There are also military tax preparation web sites you can go to that can help make things cheaper and easier.
Remember Murphy’s Law of Deployment. As soon as your soldier leaves, everything will break. The car, the dryer, the toilet. It happens to all of us. It’s not just you. The Gods aren’t plotting against you, I promise.
Don’t talk about how much you miss him all the time. It only makes it worse. Also, don’t brag on Facebook or Twitter (or your public blog) about how often you talk to him. Other spouses will get jealous, it only breeds bad blood. Try to keep some of your joy just for yourself.
Link up with other wives. I know it seems impossible. You move to a new place and you have to start all over again. You have to find a new dentist, veteranarian, and hairdresser. On top of that you’re expected to make all new friends too? It never gets easier whether it’s your first duty station or your tenth, you still get those first day of school jitters. Trust that friends are out there, even in unexpected places. Here in Alaska I have the most special, closest group of friends I think I will ever have on our Army journey. Some people I knew I would be friends with right away. Others, I wasn’t so sure. I’ve mentioned Christin on this blog more than I’ve mentioned poop. (That’s a lot) Probably the first five times I interacted with her I was 100% sure we would never be friends. 100% sure. Also, 100% wrong. It’s been almost a year now since I decided she didn’t suck. Not only does she not suck but she is one of my best friends. It makes me cry just thinking about the day our Army life sends us in different directions.
So give the other wives a chance. I know it sounds lame, but remember that in order to have a friend you have to be one. Military spouses need (NEED) each other. No one will ever understand the way they do. Stick it out and you’ll build friendships that will get you through the darkest times.
Also, they’ll drink wine with you.
Last thing. Don’t watch the news. It’s all negative or so sappy you’ll cry all the time. Listen to your soldier, he’ll tell you what you need to know.
Any questions, friends?