Watching Him Walk Away—Deployment Day

“For 10 deployments, I never stayed until the very last moment. I thought it would be too hard…you know, watching him walk away. But this time I did and I realized my instincts had been right all along. For me, I’d rather be the one walking away than the one that gets walked away from. For me, it was just too hard.”  This is what Ashley* told me after her husband Brendon* deployed to somewhere in the Middle East a few weeks ago.

U.S. troops deploying

Brendon leaving (photo credit: his wife, Ashley)

The other reason this deployment is different is because it will be Brendon’s last. He will retire soon after he returns. Like many troops, Brendon has also been gone from home many times for various training exercises and classes. This makes Ashley anything but a newbie in the Good-Bye Department. Like many spouses, she tries to help support those who are facing their first separation. And, as Ashley begins her last time going through this, she shared some observations with me hoping it may help others.

They need to know you’ll be okay

Every relationship is different. But at Brendon’s deployment, I saw two ladies on their knees sobbing. And I’m not judging, but it’s hard for me to see how totally breaking down is helping the person who is deploying. I think your spouse needs to know that you’ll be okay. Again, everyone is different so, maybe that’s what works for them.

But I know for sure what doesn’t work—getting mad at the person deploying for not spending enough time with you before they leave. Things get very busy before they go. It’s not easy for Brendon to see and do everything he wants. Feelings can be hurt. But calling someone deploying as they board a bus to yell at them? Trust me. Not helpful.

I have a friend who found out on very short notice that her husband was leaving. They’re high school sweethearts and this would be their first real separation. She asked me if she should take a few days off from work. I said ‘no’ because you being home alone is going to be worse than you being at work.”

The first 3 weeks are the hardest

The “firsts” are tough. Like first time walking in the door—with the silence. Going to bed and nobody’s there. It’s hard to sleep for the first few weeks. I don’t hear him breathing, I don’t hear him snoring. It’s funny to miss the snoring. Ashley laughs when she tells me that every time he leaves she wishes she would’ve recorded the snoring.

I asked Ashley what she found most helpful in this situation. “I think it’s finding a new routine that works for you. I need to add something new. If I just keep doing the same things we always did, I miss him even more.”

I asked her if this explained the new puppies she just got. She laughed again and said, “Exactly!”

Go to the support programs

Ashley attends the monthly get-togethers for spouses and kids who have a parent away on deployment or extended TDY (temporary duty.) She strongly recommends that every spouse find out what programs are available to them and to take part. “It breaks the normal routine and everyone around you is going through the same exact thing you’re going through. Makes people feel that they’re not in it alone.”

I asked Ashley if I could have Brendon’s address so I could send him warm wishes or a care package. She said that would be great. I’m hoping it will also be one more thing that helps them not feel alone.

*names changed for privacy

© Gina left the mall, 2014

“Dear Jane Letter” And The Gnomes

A female Sailor I was pen pals with received a care package from her boyfriend. Inside she discovered the keys to her truck. That’s how he broke up with her. By mailing her keys to a combat zone. She had to mail them back to a friend so they could retrieve her truck- from his driveway. She decided not to attempt to reconcile with him. I was very supportive of that idea.

Deployment can strain any relationship. And shaky ones are not made stronger by it. After all, if long dangerous separations were romance-builders, everyone would do it.

PERSON IN LOVE 1: Baby, I think we’re ready for the next step.

PERSON IN LOVE 2: Gasp!  You mean…

PERSON IN LOVE 1:  Yes, see you next year.

PERSON IN LOVE 2:  Awesome! I’ll handle everything solo. You try not to get shot.

SFX (sound effects) :  KISS

The effects of deployment extend beyond romantic relationships. They impact the entire family. Especially children. All kids are different but all miss their mom or dad. You can get a sense for what a young child goes through here. An Airman told me that his 3-year-old son was angry with him for not doing what the boy instructed. He kept saying, “Daddy, just steal a helicopter and come home!”

And then there are gnomes

I have heard and read so many stories about “deployment gnomes.” How everything goes wrong the minute troops leave. The boiler breaks. The engine fails. The plague arrives. Sometimes all on the same day. These gnomes can cause the person at home to feel even more stressed and on their own.

You know how there are sounds that only dogs can hear? I think there’s one that only appliances, vehicles and small children can hear. When a plane full of troops takes off, I think it emits a sound that alerts all devices and toddlers that now- NOW! is the time to have a meltdown.

DM C-130 takeoff

Just because you can’t see the gnomes or hear the signal, doesn’t mean they’re not there.

The cure for heartaches & gnomes is…

If I had the answer I’d be a millionaire. Love and appliances can be difficult in civilian life. Deployment takes it to a new level. But I think there are things that can help.

If you know a military family with a deployed loved one, please check in with them from time to time. If you can offer any help, being specific is better than a general, “hey if you ever need anything, let me know.” This way the person knows it’s a genuine offer versus just being polite. For example:

“I’m going to the supermarket, is there anything I can pick up for you?”

“I heard the kids were sick.  Do you need a hand?”

“We’re having movie night, why don’t you join us?

Or simply the occasional email saying they are in your thoughts. Showing concern is wonderful. However, if you see something bad in the news, don’t bring it up. Many families try not to watch the news or only want to discuss it AFTER they know for sure everything is okay.

Overall, both troops and their loved ones need to know that they are not forgotten. Will some relationships still end? Of course. Just like some washing machines were meant to die. But knowing you have people standing with you, rooting for you and just generally on your side…well, that’s when we all have our best chance to thrive. Gnomes be damned!

© Gina left the mall, 2013