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Commentary: Deployment 101

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Earlier this month, I had the privilege of witnessing deployers from the 507th Operations Support Squadron reunite with their loved ones at the end of their deployment. My wife was a key spouse providing information and communication to families to ensure a smooth transition for everyone. Later, we discussed questions she received from others during the deployment. I asked her if there was there anything I could have told her to make our experiences better. Once she stopped laughing, the smartest woman I know gave me a list of the things I should have told her over the past 19 years of service.

The transition out begins before the deployment: when it comes time to deploy, I spend as much time as possible with my family, even though my mind may already be out the door. On more than one occasion I’ve gotten all my pre-deployment to-do lists done and I’ve found myself already preparing for the separation and lifestyle change that’s coming. From travel arrangements for the squadron to assigning people to different shops, I’m already handling deployment business before I’m gone. My wife has never complained, but after experiencing a few deployments where I made the mental shift before I left, her expectations changed. This goes hand-in-hand with the understanding that when we get home, it can take some time to fully reintegrate into the family.

It’s okay to change routines up during the deployment: my wife tried hard to keep normal routines and schedules like dropping kids off at school and daycare on her way to work and collecting them again after. My absence strained her daily routine. Finally, she asked for help from friends and family with the understanding that the arrangements were temporary. Our extended family said they enjoyed helping us through the deployment.

Make sure you know how to reach out to base support agencies: providing contact information of a few trusted friends within the squadron to help your family doesn’t cover all the bases. Sometimes the best results come from contacting an office directly or stopping by in person. Military organizations do a great job of providing assistance to dependents during deployments. As a sponsor, sometimes it’s better to get out of the way and let your spouse handle things at home. 

   
Advances in technology make it easier to keep your relationship strong: we recently discovered using Skype or Facetime instead of relying solely on email was the single biggest boost to our morale. I’ve certainly been resistant to trying new things, but luckily I also learn from my mistakes.

If you don’t like how things are done, get involved and make them better: spouses are an amazing asset to a squadron and can often make the difference when reenlistment or retention questions come along. Only recently has my spouse played a more active role in our military “family.” The encouragement and relationships she built with the other spouses showed her that she can help fix the things that she felt were lacking.

I’ll finish with something I have done right all these years: I don’t sugar coat how much work it really is to deploy and to be a part of the military. Through all the deployments our family has always been honest about exactly what it takes to make it work.

However, if you find yourself going though the process of designing a “plan” to get through a deployment and you’re coming up with some tough hurdles, please talk to someone. Supervisors, commanders or first shirts are there to offer guidance to you and your family.