As military families, we expect separations. After a few decades of war, we’ve become accustomed to our service members coming and going for training, TDYs, and deployments. We know they are well-trained and are ready to answer their nation’s call, whenever it comes.
What we aren’t always ready for is the timing, especially when deployments seem to sneak up on us out of nowhere. We are not always prepared for a call that says our loved ones will be on a plane that week, tomorrow, or in a couple of hours.
Even if we are ready, we don’t really know what to expect.
We have never experienced this deployment. Our kids have never been this age during a deployment. Maybe we are in a new town this time around, or we have a new job or a new baby. Each time a deployment comes, it will be different, and we have to deal with it in different ways.
Yes, we will find a way to get through it. After some time, we will find a routine. We will get through the bad days and laugh through the good days. We will miss our spouses. We will make friends and keep busy. We will lean on each other, and one day we will get to say the deployment is over.
Until then? We look to each other, and the resources that exist to see us through the hard times for help.
If you need support or have questions, these are the people to call. If you are no sure what OPSEC and PERSEC mean, if all the acronyms from your spouse are overwhelming, and if your children are struggling with the sudden absence of their parent, these people can help.
They are here for you. We are here for you. The military community is standing with you.
Each branch of the military, each installation, and each unit will have different resources and routines when it comes to family support. You may have to ask around a little to find what is available in your area. This post is intended to give you a sense of what may exist, and what it is typically called, to empower you to advocate for yourself and your community.
Deployments can get overwhelming, and sometimes it helps to have someone who has been there to lean on. Lean on your friends. Pick up your phone and start a group text with other spouses going through a deployment. Invite someone over for a playdate. Go out to lunch. Reach out to someone.
If you are new to the area and haven’t yet found your people, consider joining a spouse’s group, take a class at the gym, stop by the chapel to see what support programming they offer or start volunteering on the installation.
Put your address into MilMap to see what resources are available in your area. Remember, MilMap is user-generated, so if you check your address and see something missing, please consider adding that resource for other families.
Reach out to a professional
There are many options for professional support and counseling during deployments. Some installations will have people available in person, such as a chaplain or a Military Family Life Counselor (MFLC) who can talk to you confidentially. Chaplains and MFLCs can typically talk to your children as well if they’re struggling.
If you need more support, do not hesitate to reach out to your primary care manager (your PCM, or doctor) and let them know you need a referral to a counselor. If you don’t want to go through your doctor, you can also call Military OneSource to be referred to a counselor within the community.
Support through the military
Your unit may have a family support group, sometimes called ombudsman, key spouses, deployment readiness coordinators, or Family Readiness Groups. Each group will have slightly different offerings, but you can expect them to help connect you with local resources and share information about the unit happens. OPSEC is important, so they likely can’t share much about the deployment, but they strive to keep families updated and will sometimes check in throughout the deployment to make sure you’re getting along okay.
Outside of these groups, you will find that you need to speak up and advocate for yourself to get the resources you need during deployment.
The legal office is open to family members for help with lease issues, leave policies, getting a Power of Attorney if your service member couldn’t complete one before they left, and can refer you for other legal issues.
Some branches of the service have Family Readiness or Family Support offices, which provide resources, information, and classes for military families. They may offer budgeting and personal finance classes, legal classes, information about buying a home. They can also refer you to other programs that may be offered on the installation, such as free childcare or discounts at the auto hobby shop.
In an emergency
You are not alone. In most instances, you’ll be able to find the information and support you need from the above resources. Military families are often happy to help each other; all you need to do is ask!
Contacting the command is typically a last resort, but in case of emergency, it is helpful to have at least one contact number within your spouse’s unit. Find out who that point of contact is supposed to be and keep their number in your phone. If there is a death in the family, if you or your child is hospitalized, or if you are facing some other emergency, it is absolutely appropriate to call them and let them know so they can take appropriate steps to inform your spouse and ensure you are able to work through the crisis with support.
The Red Cross is also available to help with emergency notifications in the case of the birth of a child, a life-threatening illness, or a death in the family.