Every year, Oct. 26 is celebrated as National Day of the Deployed, a day where we honor all of those who have deployed in service to the nation, as well as the sacrifices military families must make while their loved one is overseas. Since 2012, every state in the U.S. observes the day.
And they should.
Now that we’ve ended almost twenty years of war in Afghanistan, it may seem we’ve reached the moment where we don’t have to think about deployments anymore, but we can’t forget that service members still deploy—to Europe, to Asia, on ships out at sea, and at places in the Middle East and around the world where the missions are still important and never-ending.
It’s a part of life most military spouses accept will happen—someday. We don’t know when or where to, but a deployment will likely come along on this military life journey. It’s our service member’s job to step forward when called, and so many have over the last two decades in a war that spanned multiple generations, and many more will continue to deploy in the future.
We owe it to our service members, spouses, and military children (who didn’t choose this life) to honor that deployment sacrifice. The time away. The growing that happens in the span of a year, both with children and adults. The lessons that separation teaches us. The gratitude we can find despite the struggle.
Years ago, my husband, Frank, came home from his first deployment to Afghanistan on the Day of the Deployed, after being gone for 361 days. It didn’t take long to spot his tired face among the other returning soldiers. But the thrill of seeing him, knowing he was now safe at home, was one of the most grateful moments of my life.
It was the final exhale in a year-long deployment I spent holding my breath. It was a year that tested both of us, as individuals and as a couple.
No one ever tells you just how hard it will be to kiss the person you love most in this world not knowing if they’ll return or the weight that suddenly lifts when you know they’re finally home safely.
I was fortunate enough, the day before Frank’s homecoming, as part of my job as an installation reporter, to travel to the local airport where all the redeploying soldiers flew into, where they would sit through briefings and turn in weapons before boarding the buses to return to the installation.
I could see on their faces that they couldn’t wait to get home—to spouses, to children, to pets, to other family members. There was also the look of leaving the battlefield behind but not quite being ready to step back and allow the next wave of soldiers to take over, their boots planted between two different worlds, that of a combat environment and that of being safely at home, a transition that many service members struggle with through their service.
I remember hugging a few of my friends husbands as they walked by, and tears filled my eyes at the reception they received.
The Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, many of whom were Vietnam veterans, clapping their hands, cheering, whistling, and patting soldiers on the backs, a reception the vets didn’t receive when they came home decades before.
The retirees, also known as the Apple Pie Brigade, who live near the airport and make it their mission to see every soldier off and welcome every single one home, no matter if it’s the middle of the day or night.
Being there that day taught me a lot about deployment on the homefront and the number of people and community members that help milspouses through the experience.
I never would have made it through that time without my blood family, my family at my job, or my chosen milspouse family. It’s never fun to be separated from the one you love, but all of these people made the time apart much more bearable, and they all will always hold a special place in my heart. They helped me through a variety of emotions and were always supportive to help me along the journey.
I’m forever grateful for such fun, loving, caring, helpful people that I’ve had the privilege of meeting in this life. Milspouse friendships made during deployment are a whole other level of friendship, one that doesn’t seem to fade with time or distance, linking the people together because of the trial deployment presents.
Military life can be hard, deployments doubly so, but both can provide us opportunities, teach us lessons, and help us learn about ourselves, and all the while, the people around us can help. Especially when you’re in the midst of a stellar community. Help yourself to it.
To those currently serving in all branches around the world, stay safe and come home soon.
We’ll be waiting.