Family separations are a staple of military life. One of the most significant family separations are military deployments. Depending on your service member’s mission or their branch of service, these deployments can last anywhere from 3-18 months. The challenges that occur on the home front while the service member is away can often leave military families overwhelmed. However, there are some things you can do before, during and after deployment that will help you not only survive, but thrive as you fly solo during your next family separation.
1. Pre-Deployment Brief
Most military units will host a Pre-Deployment Briefing, and it’s highly encouraged you attend. Typically, you’ll receive the important logistical information you’ll need, such as where to send packages, who your point of contact will be in emergencies and resources available to you through the duration of the deployment. However, it’s also an opportunity to meet and get to know some of the other unit families before the deployment is underway.
Depending on your service member’s mission, their paycheck will most likely change considerably; usually as an increase. You’ll want to discuss how these extra funds will be allocated BEFORE they go wheels up. Some military spouses secure additional childcare with the extra pay, while families decide to pay off any outstanding debt. Whatever your family’s decision, make sure you’re both on the same page before even a penny is spent.
3. Power of Attorney (POA)
A POA is a legal document that will allow you to act on your service member’s behalf while they are deployed. It is arguably one of the most important documents you’ll need during a deployment. A POA gives you the ability to access your service member’s accounts, sign documents on their behalf or speak for them to clear up any issues during their absence. For example, if your military ID card expires during deployment, you would present your POA in lieu of needing your service member present to accompany you.
4. Stay or Go?
There’s a lot you’ll want to consider when thinking about moving ‘back home’ during a deployment…the resources a military community provides may not be as prevalent or even available at all. Do the medical providers there accept TRICARE? Will you need to give up base housing? Will it save your family money or bleed your bank account dry? There are a host of logistical concerns you’ll want to weigh when considering a temporary move ‘back home’.
If you have children, you may see some behavior changes during deployment. If they’re school-aged, be sure to speak with their teachers and see if there are additional supports for them during this time. If you have children who are younger, it’s important to explain deployments in age appropriate terms, but be specific. For example, don’t tell your two year old that daddy is going to “work” when he deploys. When your service member returns home, they may have post-deployment leave for a few weeks. So when it’s time for daddy to go back to work, your child may confuse that with another long absence and it can become a bit traumatizing for them (not to mention a lot of tears for you to mop up as well). Most parents will call a deployment a “long trip”.
It’s important to keep a routine for both yourself and your children. Having something to look forward to every day, even the mundane tasks of life, can be comforting and help pass the time during deployment. Keep bedtimes, chores and discipline the same if possible; this goes for you too! Find a fun way to countdown the deployment. Some families have jars of candy, others create an elaborately decorated calendar. Whichever mechanism you use, counting down is a tangible trick that brings you one day closer to homecoming.
Lay out communication expectations before your service member deploys. There’s nothing worse than a spouse assuming communication will be constant throughout the deployment, when the service member may not be in a position to call more than once a week; if at all.
Having support is one of the most crucial aspects of thriving during a deployment. Everyone’s support system is different. Some military spouses attend deployment support groups, while others seek counseling. Some days you’ll find all you need is your friends and neighbors. Other days you may need a good cry to your best friend ‘back home’. It’s easy to want to isolate yourself the first few weeks after they depart. It’s important to know who/what your support system is before deployment begins so they’ll know when they need to come and drag you back into the light of day.
9. Service Member’s Civil Relief Act (SCRA)
The SCRA is a law that protects service members (and by extension, their spouses in some cases) while on active duty military status. The SCRA is designed to protect and benefit the service member relating to certain legal situations including:
· Vehicle repossession
· Lease/rental cancellations
· Interest rate limitations
· Certain situations during PCS moves and deployments
This list isn’t exhaustive, so it’s best to read up on your family’s rights and responsibilities under the SCRA and speak to the legal office on your installation for more information.
While deployment homecoming is arguably the best part of a deployment, there are many misconceptions surrounding your service member’s return and your reunion as a family. The most significant misconception is that the deployment is over once they are home. This is, unfortunately, not true. There is still the matter of reintegration to attend to. Reintegration is the process of easing your service member back into everyday life on the home front. Remember, it’s been months since you’ve last lived together as a family under one roof. Sometimes, it takes a few weeks or months to get used to being together again and figure out what life will look like now that they’re home.