When you find out a deployment is on the horizon, everything begins to be filtered through a new lens—the lens of deployment.
I’ve had the great opportunity to go through three deployments in my marriage: the first we were married for six months and had 30 days notice, the second we had six months of notice, and the most recent, I had a whole total of a week’s notice. I’ve experienced that prepping for a deployment can look different depending on how much time you have, and truthfully, how long your service member will be gone.
There are countless resources for those facing a deployment. I have consolidated a number of them here for you. However, if you feel like you’re missing something specific to you, then take the reins and do a little digging. There is a good chance that someone else has asked that question and has posted about it online!
Deployments are seasons. Just like military life has seasons, deployment is one of those. Within deployment, however, I like to think of them as almost micro-seasons. There are a lot of ups and downs that come along.
If this is your first deployment, it can be overwhelming to know where to begin. Let me begin by saying this is not a comprehensive guide but rather a launching point for you to pick out areas that you may need to pay some extra attention to.
While you begin prepping for your service member to leave, it will likely bring up a host of emotions. This is normal. You might even get frustrated that your service member is so focused on his list of things to do (and all the dang extra gear he insists on buying!) that he’s seemingly neglecting the items you deem as priorities.
Be gentle with yourself and your service member. Emotions and stress can make you to feel like you’re in a pinball machine, bouncing around! One of our bloggers broke down the the Five Stages of Pre-Deployment that might resonate with you and help you grasp that what you’re feeling is normal.
The most difficult deployment times for me have been the week or two before he leaves (because time slows down and speeds up somehow all at once) and the first few days while he’s traveling. It leaves me extra anxious.
But, before you rip that Band-Aid off and send him out the door, there will be some things you need to tackle. If you aren’t sure where to begin, I like Military OneSource’s pre-deployment checklist. They have broken it down into multiple categories that are much easier to manage than the entire to-do list at once. They also have downloadable worksheets. I downloaded the Information and Records worksheet…and guess what? I’m missing some items. Going to get working on that before we have another surprise deployment!
Use Military OneSource’s checklists and guides if you have no idea where to start or even if you just need a refresher.
For my own sanity, I break all of the overall to-dos into three categories: Checklists & To-Dos, Personal Wellness, and Relationship Wellness.
Checklists & To Dos
1. Get your paperwork in order. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Power of Attorney
- Family Care Plan
- Pet plan
- Your military ID: When does it expire? If it is set to expire during the deployment, get it renewed before deployment, if possible.
2. Check to ensure your name is on all of the accounts: bank, rent, mortgage, cell phone, utilities, credit card, etc. If you have to call customer service, it’s easier than sending them a POA if you’re already on the account. While you are at it, write down all logins and passwords to accounts (and keep it in a safe place!) so you aren’t locked out of an account at the worst possible time. I also note dates that bills are due so I have it all together.
3. Make a list of trusted contacts: neighbors, babysitters, church contacts, car mechanic, plumber, electrician, emergency contacts like the American Red Cross emergency contact, rear detachment, chaplain, etc.
4. What can you prep? Make a plan or schedule for anything that you can plan for which can include:
- Vehicle maintenance plan: How often do you need to start your service member’s vehicle? When is the next oil change due? Where will you take the car if you need mechanical work done? Do you need new tires or a rotation?
- Home maintenance plan: Inspect the exterior and interior of your home to ensure systems are running properly and no preventive maintenance needs to be completed. I also look at things that are more seasonal: Is your holiday decor tucked away in the attic and difficult to get to? Have your service member help you with making it more easily accessible.
- Any other predictable things like taxes and other important documents
- Create a spreadsheet and put notifications or reminders into your calendar—now! When you’re having an off week, you’ll be grateful that you wrote it all down early so you’re not adding to your stress in the moment.
5. Other: There are always things that come up. Keep your expectations low, especially as the deployment gets closer. Your service member may need additional gear or his packing list might evolve over time, so be patient with these to-dos as they pop up.
6. Attend pre-deployment briefings if offered, and get contacts for your SFRG. While you’re at it, attend some SFRG meetings before deployment so you get to know more people. While this might go into a different “bucket” for you, I include these as part of my “to-dos” because I have found these meetings to be helpful in connecting with other families. If you find someone easy to talk to, GET THEIR NUMBER!
Once you have a handle on the nuts and bolts, it’s important to consider your own emotional health and wellbeing. It’s also valuable to check in with your service member and your children frequently to gauge how they feel from day to day or week to week.
Personal Health & Wellness
1. If you need extra support, there are many resources you can access: your Military Family Life Consultant (MFLC), a chaplain, Military OneSource counseling, your church, your primary care manager. Here’s a “quick list” of resources that is helpful to keep bookmarked.
2. Talk with your children; they’re going through a deployment, too!
- Here’s a list of five books to help children through deployment.
- Connect them with extra support if needed through the same mental health resources listed above.
- Plan some activities: I sign my son up for a few extra activities to give our weeks more structure. These can be free classes at your local library, sports, art classes, or anything else your child might enjoy!
- Create a deployment wall.
- Other favorite little things: We’ve made paper chains, then remove a link each day to visually represent the time growing closer, and we change the clock on just one of our kitchen appliances to match my service member’s time zone.
- Print out your bucket list and hang in a prominent spot
- Include a variety of activities from quick and easy to more planning-intensive
- When you have a lull or you’re feeling down, pick out an item or two from that list and get going!
4. Because you’ve attended those SFRG and pre-deployment briefings (see above!), you should have at least one phone number in your contacts of people going through the same thing. Pull out those numbers and get planning
- Plan some activities: Dinners, brunches, sweat sessions, coffee dates, playdates, meet ups at a park—plan a handful of these during the first few weeks to help anchor you and align you with others in the same boat. Make them inclusive! COMMIT TO SHOWING UP EVEN WHEN YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE IT.
- Read this if you need more convincing on the value of a deployment battle buddy!
5. If you’re still not sure what your day to day might look like, use your past experiences of time apart as a guide: TDYs, schools, field exercises, all give us the opportunity to experience some day-to-day without our spouses. Plan for these things before your spouse leaves:
- Determine where you might be lacking: Establishing trusted child care, creating a fitness routine, eating well, volunteering, attending a Bible study, etc.
- And the old advice to stay busy stands. A busy schedule during deployment helps to get you out of bed on your most difficult days
Finally, don’t forget to focus on your relationship! Your family—whether that is you and your service member, or you and your service member and your pets, or you and your service member and your children—it’s important to plan fun things. Don’t wait until that last week or two to try to fit fun things in because dates change! And not always in the form of delays.
Family Relationship Health & Wellness
1. Plan some activities to do before leave dates (plan far enough ahead, because that date can change):
- Date nights
- Weekend getaway
- Photo shoot
- Tourist in your town: Check off a few of those things that you’ve been wanting to do since you first PCS’d to this duty station.
2. Acknowledge the natural pulling apart that happens—it’s okay.
- Military Family has a great article to help you navigate through the flood of emotions that come with deployment.
3. If your marriage is feeling rocky, see your chaplain or MFLC or schedule some sessions through Military OneSource.
4. Talk about how often you plan to talk, write letters, email, and send care packages.
- You may have to adjust depending on your service member’s access to email, phone, etc.;however, establishing some loose expectations helps the two of you stay on the same page.
5. Determine if there is something you want to work on while apart: Do you want to do a Bible study or read a book together? Maybe you play internet-based games together. Two of our recent favorites are doing online jigsaw puzzles and Pictionary!
- It is crucial to stay connected during deployment. It has helped make reintegration go more smoothly for our family. Share your day-to-day in an email, share the mundane on the phone—sometimes it’s these small, normal moments that your service member misses the most.
6. Do you want to celebrate holidays or special days before deployment?
7. Plan something to look forward to when your spouse returns—just don’t put it in stone! Dates change. And keep expectations low for the first week or two home.
8. Make your service member’s favorite meals, savor those last moments, and buy some good snacks for when your service member is traveling to their destination.
9. Write a few little notes and tuck them into your service member’s things so they have surprises when they find them:
- I do this on sticky notes and tuck them into his totes before he leaves!
- I also pop a few of these into his hygiene bag at the last minute or into a book he’s packed to read on the way as a sweet little reminder
My last few little words of advice:
- Fight off that victim mindset
- Be flexible
- Be patient
- Lower your expectations
- Don’t forget to laugh!
And one last thing we live by—it’s a little mental game that my son and I play whenever my husband heads out: We remind ourselves that after the moment he leaves, we’re already getting closer to being back together and that we’ve already gone the longest without him. Every minute is a minute working toward coming back together. It might be silly, but it works for us!