In preperation for the release of our video "Deployment is Not a Casual Word," we asked our readers what they would like their family, friends, neighbors, and civilian counterparts to know about deployment and the military family experience. And hundreds of you responded. This is a collection of your candid, insightful responses.
If you resonate with these submissions or know someone who would, please share with your communities. There is power in knowing you are not alone, especially when seasons of separation are on the horizon.
WHAT IS THE FIRST THING THAT RUNS THROUGH YOUR MIND WHEN YOUR SERVICE MEMBER TELLS YOU IT’S TIME TO DEPLOY?
“Please come back.”
“My chest gets tight.”
“When should we tell the kids?”
"Dang it. Time to marathon mom.”
“How will this affect our children?”
“Panic and a pit in the bottom of my stomach.”
“What holidays and celebrations is her going to miss?”
“How?”. How am I going to manage life without him? How am I going to cope with my emotions and the kid’s emotions? How am I going to parent teens alone? How am I going to get all the kids to all the places they need to be for sports/school activities? How am I going to find my tribe when I work from home? How do I find help when I need it?
“Make a to-do list and tell the family so that they can plan their visits.”
“When and where?”
“We need to do all the things before you leave.”
“Wondering to myself if he’ll come home safe, along with the dread of telling our kids. Again.”
“How much time do we have left together?”
“Why am I surprised?”
“Let’s do this. What can I do to help the spouses who haven’t gone through one?”
“Where? Will you be in a “safer” place or possibly facing dangerous conditions?”
"Again? So soon?"
“Here we go again.”
“We can make it through this. We’ve done it before, we can do it again.”
“I immediately follow up with, “For how long?”
“How to prepare? What needs to get done before he leaves?”
“Anxiety. And all the things they will miss—holidays, birthdays, graduations, Sunday dinners.”
“Always shock, heart hurts for him and then us. Then faith that we can do this again.”
“Anxiety. Sadness. Thinking of how hard it will be. Sort of feels like a dream instead of reality.”
“The long list of things we need to do before he leaves.”
“Questions. I always want to know all the information as it comes.”
“How is THIS going to affect our children?”
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART?
“Laying with our 7-year-old son as he cries himself to sleep.”
“The destination and know what’s happening in those areas by watching the news.”
“Not having him involved in the boring everyday life.”
"The hardest part is the emotional toll on our family. I am a very empathic person so when my children are struggling it makes my struggle harder and I feel like I am fighting an emotional battle for all of us but I can’t show it."
“When people say, ‘You should have known what you were signing up for.’”
“Not being able to communicate on a daily basis.”
“Not knowing if he is okay in the day to day.”
“Not having help with our son while I work.”
“Anxiety leading up to it and reintegration.”
“Initial adjustment to single parenting.”
“The first day. And not having that person right beside you in the day-to-day.”
“Having an empty home.”
“Being a solo parent + full time worker, chef, maid, and dog caretaker with no family to help.”
“Carrying the burden of life on the home front. Not having my best friend.”
“Being away from your spouse and not having that time to grow together.”
“Being a solo parent with family in another country.”
“Cold, lonely nights in our bed missing him.”
“Parenting boys alone who need him.”
“Establishing a brand new routine.”
“Crawling into bed alone every night.”
“Experiencing our children’s “firsts” alone.”
“Solo parenting, maintaining a home, and giving up a career because being a nurse isn’t flexible.”
“Knowing that we have 10 more years of deployments.”
“The fear of the unknown.”
“Having to tell our children.”
“Waiting for him to leave—just go so we can get this over with.”
“Solo parenting—you have to be best friend, disciplinary, and everything in-between.”
“Not having my best friend here. The loneliness.”
“Separation and explaining/Knowing how hard it is on the kids.”
“For special ops wives, I feel it’s the complete unknown and lack of control over anything.”
EXPLAIN WHAT A DEPLOYMENT IS LIKE FOR YOUR FAMILY AT HOME. THE DAY TO DAY.
“Walking around and trying to function normally while constantly feeling a deep ache.”
“Ground Hogs Day on repeat.”
“Living in a season of perpetual Mondays.”
“The weight of the world on your shoulders.”
“Some days we thrive, and others we simply survive.”
“Exhaustion. Anxiety kicks in. Life has to return to a bare minimum.”
“Pressure to hold it all together.”
“I have to do it all. From the repairs and how maintenances to tax returns.”
“Long days. Lonely times. Too much time on my phone trying to feel connected and less alone.”
“They are stressful. Thank you for asking this. It’s cathartic to share these things.”
“Surviving. Getting through one meal at a time. One bedtime at a time. One day at a time.”
“We find gratitude in each day and write it down. That way we start off the day with a positive.”
“Waking with the thought that there is no way I can do this again—being strong for the kids.”
“Changing plans around to fit possible calls in. Middle of the night calls. Scary unknowns.”
“Waiting. Waiting for the next mishap. Waiting for the next opportunity for communication. Waiting for him to be home.”
“Simpler. Less cooking. Less cleaning. We are really good at this by now.”
“A lot of ‘Where is daddy?’ ‘When will he be home?’ Lots of baby snuggles.”
“Very busy and overwhelming, especially in the beginning when everyone is still adjusting.”
“Lots of cereal. Never folding laundry. Spending as much time with friends as possible.”
“Scheduling time away from the house. Planning extra long road trips.”
“Life carries on. Daddy is still a part of most things we do—just in a different way.”
“Lots of countdowns for big and little things.”
HOW DO YOU COPE?
"I cope in a myriad of ways and there are times I don’t cope well at all. Im a work in progress. I have learned coping/self care is a whole person concept (mind, body, and soul). Different seasons of life bring different stresses and different coping mechanisms are needed depending on the stress."
“I set boundaries and limit communication with family and friends that don’t understand. Stick close to the tribe that does.”
“Faith. Surrender. Trust.”
“Time for myself. One-on-one time with my children. Mini trips and weekend
“Prayer and as much communication with my deployed husband as possible.”
“Keeping busy. Being creative. Home improvements.”
“Staying busy. Work, work, work.”
“I don’t really. I Just put on a brave face and know I’ll see my husband soon.”
“Telling people when it’s a hard day.”
“I go into super independent “I go this” mode. I keep myself too busy and can sometimes emotionally check out—as in instead of dealing with things in a healthier well-rounded way, I try to “wing it” and end up cutting corners. Trying to find balance to ask for help but also stand on my own two feet because I can and will get it done. Also—wine, and more work at night because of the free time without him here.
“Usually lashing out at him while resentment builds.”
“A hot shower and Netflix.”
“Exercise. Drop-in Childcare. Crying.”
“Getting a sitter so that I can simply sit alone.”
“Venting to family. Rum and Netflix.”
“Prayer. Spending time with family and friends. Nurturing those relationships.”
“Running. Crossfit. Open communication with my husband—sharing the good and the bad.”
“I ran, ran, ran, and ran some more. My physical health was great but my mental health not so much.”
“Wine. Scheduling. Routine. Staying busy.”
“Writing. Yoga. Traveling to be with loved ones.”
“Digging deeper into self-improvement.”
“Toaster strudels for dinner and Hallmark Christmas movies.”
IF YOU HAVE CHILDREN, HOW DO YOU TALK TO THEM ABOUT THEIR PARENT BEING GONE?
“Always validating their feelings. They are handling life events that should be met with honesty.”
“Let them know it’s okay to feel sad, and reassure them that they can talk to me when they are feeling overwhelmed with emotion.”
"We talk at dinner every night as a family or when I am tucking them into bed. It’s the time I get one on one at the end of the day with each child. Each of them are at different life stages and have different emotional needs so I cater the conversation to each child. I do a lot of listening and asking questions. To be frank, it’s exhausting, but it’s also one of the most important things the kids need from me during the deployment. It also helps me gauge their coping, which ebbs and flows before, during, and after the deployment."
“Daddy will be home by the time you are done with first grade.”
“I am open with her. She is 2 1/2-years-old and asks for him daily. We explain and answer her questions.
“We all miss daddy and it’s okay to be mad, angry, and sad when he’s gone.”
“He’s only 16-months-old so he primally knows daddy through FaceTime, but we’ll take that over nothing.”
“They have gone through so many and are older now. They are understanding of his job/need.”
“Daddy will be home when the baby turns one.”
“Tell them it’s okay to miss their daddy and always remind them he’s coming home soon.”
“Daddy has to go to work for _____ days but we’ll still talk to him.”
“Papa has to go help the good guys…”
“A lot. That way it doesn’t seem so different.”
“I tell her daddy is being a super hero and he’ll be home when he’s done.”
WHAT DO YOU WISH PEOPLE UNDERSTOOD ABOUT MILITARY LIFE AND DEPLOYMENT?
“That deployment affects families before AND after—not just while the member is gone."
“Homecoming videos do not define military life. Reintegration is a hard and long road that follows the return of a service member.”
"It's hard, and there is trauma and stress."
“That its not just him being gone and us missing him. It’s constantly worrying about his life, safety, and his wellbeing.”
"Simply saying, 'Let me know if you need anything' isn't helpful. Offer in a specific way, rather than leaving it up to the service spouse. The service spouse will rarely come back and ask."
"Our missions might look different, but each one is a sacrafice made by so many."
“It’s hard. No matter the size of family or season of life. Every family member serves and sacrifices.”
"Pressure. The work of two is instantly placed on the shoulds of one."
"No amount of 'Knowing what we signed up for' could ever prepare someone for this life."
"It never gets easier, but I do feel my heart grow stronger because off it."
“It’s not the same as a long distant relationship.”
“Being a military spouse isn’t for everyone.”
“I have friends that have husbands who travel for business. They always say “I know what you mean” when talking about our husbands being gone. But it’s different.”
“That deployments are not the only time that service members are gone.”
"FaceTime isn't the same as Daddy being home."
"It's not like the shows or the movies."
"Encouraging handwritten notes are enough to turn an entire week around."
"How dang hard it is. All of it. Moves, seperations, leaving friends that are like family."
“Just because we would choose our soldier one million times over, doesn’t mean we would choose deployment.”
"Saying, 'You should have known what you were getting yourself into' is hurtful."
"That it is hard all of the time and there are little things you can do to make a big difference."
HOW CAN OUR NATION HELP?
"Recognizing the impact deployment has on children and how that may be influencing them academically and socially."
"Families should be supported with easy healthcare access, a leading educational support for children, and creating a safe environment for the rest of the family while occupation is on serve."
"A reintegration program that serves the entire family."
"State and federal jobs could offer spousal leave just as they do for sick and annual leave."
"A family debreifing program."
"Less stereotyping and more listening and compassion."
"Being aware that deployment is still a real and present experience."
"FMLA time for working spouses to take throughout the separation."
"Understanding the idea that plans A, B, C, and D will change and be outside of our control. Be compassionate towards that."
"Consider military families as high priority on day care wait lists."
"Special flight prices available to the families with a deployed member so that seeing family and friends is more practical."
"Be flexible if we need to miss a day of work due to our child being sick and we're the only parent available."
"Don't make assumptions about service member families based on previous experience. Each family is unique."
"Sharing our stories on a national level. People forget there are real people at home."
"Understanding our timing, and esppecially the men and women coming back adjusting to life."
"Extending support to service families rather than just service members."
"I actually think civilians do a great job supporting our military!"
"Actually checking in and helping rather than leaving it open-ended with, 'Just let me know if you need anything."
"Don't make assumptions about service member families based on previous experience. We are all unique."
"Holding housing accountable. Holding moving companies accountable."
"Our nation can also help remove the stigmas surrounding military service members and families. They aren’t all ticking PTSD time bombs and I am not a victim of this military life."
"So America, here is how you can help. Know that deployment is not a paid vacation, bonus, resume booster, a notch on a belt. It is not for the faint-hearted, and it is not for every family. If you have deployed, you are a hero. You are one who can, and will, sacrifice. You are one who will risk your life, your relationships, your everyday moments in life for the idea of America."
If you haven't had the opportunity to watch and share the film yet, you can do so below:
Inspired by "Deployment is Not a Casual Word” by Brooke Haynes for Volume II of Legacy Magazine. Now a video campaign directed by Candid Light Films with appearances by Brittany Neal, By Colette Photo, and Occasions by Shakira. Homecoming photography by Julie Johnson Photography. Marketing and PR support by Liz Fleming.