Let me preface this by saying that this is not an article that will say that deployments are totally stress-free. They are not. For both the service member deployed and for the family members “left behind.” There are many stress factors – separation from a key family member, financial concerns, or family illness, just to name a few. Nothing to say that Murphy doesn’t show up the minute your service member leaves and the dishwasher breaks, the water heater leaks, and you get a flat tire. Nope, not speaking from experience at all. This article is to share how to navigate and prepare for deployment as much as possible, leading to a potentially less stressful deployment. All that other stuff – the flat tire and broken dishwasher – can still happen. But preparing for it can help make it a smooth process.
Be prepared. Be paperwork prepared.
Not like in the scouts. This prepared is all about the paperwork. Before the service member goes, make sure the spouse or guardian has all the necessary paperwork needed. A power of attorney (POA) should be provided – either general or specific. The specifics of each type of POA should be explained to the deploying service member. Check with your homeowner’s and automobile insurance to see if they require a separate power of attorney if the primary account holder is the service member.
The legal documents to make sure are prepared are: power of attorney, will, life insurance paperwork. Also make sure you know where your passports, birth certificates, and marriage licenses are.
Make sure a family member knows where they are as well.
Communicate, communicate, communicate.
There is no such thing as over-communicating in regards to preparing for a deployment. Do communicate about expectations. Expectations on what family life will be like when the service member is gone. Communicate about the family budget and what to do in emergencies. Communicate about what the family member wants to hear about in letters or emails – do they want daily emails or weekly ones – perhaps they won’t have internet time often and want to maximize their internet time.
Keep In Touch
If your service member will be without internet, get an address for mailing letters and care packages. If your service member has access to email, email often. It may seem silly but share about every detail. While the family member left behind may be tired and the days feel long, the reality is that family life is happening while the service member is away, and they want to feel like they are part of the family still.
Crunch the numbers.
Speaking of budgets, prepare a deployment budget. Make sure there is an emergency fund for things like broken heaters or flat tires. If you haven’t budgeted in the past, look into resources offered on base from the military-specific services, like the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society who holds budgeting classes, or speak to the financial, military family life counselor on the base.
Know Your Resources
As a family member of a service member, know how to get ahold of the Red Cross if there is a family emergency involving a primary family member, and you need to tell the service member about it, and they don’t have an internet connection.
Know where your Military Family Support Centers are for your service branches – for the Army – Army Community Services, Marines – Marine and Family Programs, the Navy – Fleet and Family Support Program, and the Air Force – Airman and Family Readiness. These centers are hubs for resources for various programming across the bases that can help families thrive and survive the challenges of military life.
Prepare Your Children
Involve the children in planning as the family discusses the deployment, at the ages you and your family feel are appropriate. Keeping them in the loop will help them understand why and where the military service member has traveled to. There are several organizations there for support, including Sesame Street for Military Families, which has a website and app for your phone or tablet device for maximum support, and Comfort Crew for Military Kids with deployment comfort kits. For resources for parents of infants and toddlers, check out Zero to Three. Military Kids Connect has the Kids Deploy Too program with activities for children ages 6-17.
Prioritize Self Care
For the family member left behind, do not forget yourself. Take steps to enjoy gym time, reading a book you always wanted, or try a hobby you have always wanted. Self-care helps manage sanity levels which in turn manages stress levels. If you have children, consider getting a babysitter for an afternoon or night out for yourself.
Having clear expectations and communication can help manage the deployment stress. Having resources for the family and self-care also helps keep the sanity level on a positive trajectory.