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Deployment Preparedness and the Military Spouse

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As the spouse of a retired Marine who gave 23 years to his beloved Corps, I still seek the words of those who best reflect my thoughts, feelings and experiences. The most informative, hilarious and heartfelt blogs I’ve ever read are written by military spouses, such as Terri Barnes’s “Spouse Calls” and Lisa Molinari’s “The Meat and Potatoes of Life.” Spouse-writers often ask questions of their readers, and such was the case when the author of Household6Diva, Ann Marie Detavernier, asked, “How does your service member prepare your household for [deployment] separation?

Among the things Ann Marie’s husband did in advance, he left her a love note tucked beneath one of numerous bottles of laundry detergent he’d stocked. It was a very sweet gesture, especially in light of the many other ways in which he’d prepared his household. It’s been years since my husband last deployed so I can smile warmly at her husband’s thoughtfulness before I remember my own less-than-stellar pre-deployment experiences. And with that jiggle of the memory bank, I recall the heat of the battle, as it were.

 


My spouse works 9 to 5, too, if by 9 you
mean September and by 5 you mean May.

 

Long before he would go on to become a combat veteran, my husband Robert was an Eagle Scout. “Preparedness” was his middle name. In advance of every training exercise, operation, and deployment, all manner of camouflaged sundries and supplies came out of various points of storage and were strewn from one end of our home to another as he carefully categorized, compiled and packed for his next journey. For weeks (more often for days, as the military is long on loyalty and short on notice) it was like walking on egg shells — if those egg shells are dull-colored, made of Kevlar, and range in size from a button to a rifle box — but more on that in a moment.

Robert kept our vehicles and household appliances in top notch condition and always gave them a thorough check-up before shipping out. This went a long way toward minimizing fire, flooding and general failure as well as impromptu roadside stops in his absence. Alas, the main reason things ran smoothly when he was home and for the first half of his deployments was “penile presence” – the term I assigned my discovery that electronics, which gave me no small amount of trouble, would suddenly whir to life when he walked into the room.

Soon I realized he had the same effect on appliances, vehicles, repairmen, and at one point, law enforcement. His aura, if you will, took months to wear off – and so it was usually about the fourth month of a deployment that the washer would not only walk away from the wall with thundering fury, but also pull its apparatus loose with phenomenal speed and spray a physics-defying amount of space with dirty, soapy water. By month five I was either on foot patrol or still pissed off about having paid a gut-punching $1,700 to a “mechanic” to have the “engine fixed.” (For the record, there was nothing wrong with the engine. Robert spent his first week back from that deployment fixing the transmission as well as the costly “repair.”)

 


$300 windshield wipers? What kind of “military discount” is that?

 

One of the things that most attracted me to him was his uncanny calming effect on animals and small children. When he was a young father, his children generally minded their manners. Come day 90 of any given deployment, though, our son would develop a keen sense of where every gutter-side sharp metal object in the neighborhood was located and our daughter seemed to think it was her job to take risks on behalf of her dad since he wasn’t around to do it.

They didn’t always heed his existence. Until they knew of his superpowers, they made him aware of theirs. I came home from a late shift one night to hear him tell of our very young daughter having wielded a butcher knife. He’d been making dinner and turned around to answer the phone. When he turned back, she looked at him in triumph and awaited a parade of honor for having so deftly acquired this awesome treasure.

Instead of standing still, lowering his voice (and his person) and coaxing her to put it on the floor so he, too, could have a better look at the shiny, fascinating object she’d found, he screamed like a girl and charged her. Naturally the knife went straight up into the air and he barely knocked her out of the way before it stabbed the linoleum. “I was only turned around for two seconds!” Which is of course 1.999 seconds too long when dealing with a two-year-old.

His superpowers were his soft side, the flip of which was his unsentimental regard for what he still calls “forced romance.” Of his own accord he would, and still does, sometimes bring me flowers “just because.” He heroically pulled a sorely needed home out of thin air and has wrestled his share of furniture, large appliances and enormous swaths of carpet to the ground just to make me happy.

Conversely, Valentine’s Day, birthdays and our anniversary suffered under the weight of his refusal to be kowtowed into anything. This would come to include deference to what I gave name to in 1989: pre-deployment grief. This pun lightly mocks the official “pre-deployment brief,” an informational presentation by a service members’ command for the spouses about their loved ones’ upcoming departure and mission. The “grief,” as many a seasoned military spouse knows, is the period shortly before the service member’s deployment when all emotional hell breaks loose. It’s easier to say goodbye to someone you dislike, and the effort to forge dislike from an otherwise loving, loyal and dedicated relationship is exhausting.

 


The stages of pre-deployment grief as illustrated by adorable kittens.

 

I have a friend who, ten days before her husband’s fourth deployment, checked herself and her kids into a nearby hotel – and that’s where they stayed until two days before he was to leave. This rather pricey option gave him the freedom to “pack-n-throw,” as she called it, while everyone else mentally prepared for his absence. Another friend filled her planner with “appointments” that had her and the kids walking out of the house every day at the same time he was walking in from work. Several days of quick kisses and passing hellos later, they had a comfortable and relaxing family dinner and said their goodbyes the next morning.

The ways in which the service member prepares a household for deployment are as varied as those deploying. Just as varied are the ways in which the two of them handle it together (or apart and then together) because it most certainly is a team effort. And so it goes until a few days before the deployment begins. For the majority who suffer it together, the frailty of the artificial fight falls away as quickly as it begins. Either way, it’s back to hugs and kisses and sincerely hoping, wishing and praying it doesn’t all come to a disastrous end for either side.

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About Diana Hartman

Diana is a USMC (ret.) spouse, mother of three and a Wichita, Kansas native. She is back in the United States after 10 years in Germany. She is a contributing author to Holiday Writes. She hates liver & motivational speakers. She loves science & naps.