NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — The 30 minute drive to the airport seemed quicker than usual. My wife, who stared at me as I drove down the highway, slowly leaned her head on my shoulder as if to reassure me that everything would be alright.
“It’s only six months,” she said softly. “I know that everything will be OK.”
I nodded; acknowledging what she said, but in reality my mind was racing with questions that fueled my nervousness. You would think I would be mentally prepared, since less than a year ago I was in the same position for my deployment to Southwest Asia. However, for some reason this one seemed different.
When we arrived at the airport, I immediately hopped out of the vehicle and began unloading all the duffle bags out of the car, lining them up on the sidewalk leading to the ticketing counter.
Afterward, I slowly walked over to my wife and did one of the hardest things I had ever done during our more than two years of marriage — I said my goodbyes.
She picked up the duffle bags and walked into the airport accompanied by her unit deployment manager. My wife had just started her journey to accomplish her tour in Afghanistan.
As a military member it’s hard to imagine being on the other end of the spectrum when it comes to deployments. Not knowing what to expect, a change of routine or not laying the groundwork for an effective support system can all lead to undue stress for the deploying service member as well as the spouse.
On the way home, the initial shock of not being able to see my loved one for six months wore off. Sure I was sad, but I also knew that my wife and I had adequately prepared for this moment.
In anticipation of her deployment, we decided months ahead of time to accomplish three goals to better prepare.
The first of these goals was to educate ourselves on what she can expect upon arriving at her deployed location. This includes the living conditions, access to telecommunications and services provided. This information could be vital in defining our family roles and responsibilities while she was deployed. A lack of access to internet could hinder a deploying service member’s ability to carry out the same responsibilities or tasks they would if they were still home. These tasks could include continuing education through college courses or professional military education correspondence.
This knowledge can help provide insight to the spouse for planning purposes.
Upon researching, we found that most of this information was readily available through the various U.S. Air Forces Central websites provided by the local public affairs units in the area of responsibility. In most instances, welcome packets or newcomer’s guides explaining in detail what each service member can expect and an overview of the mission was provided. These guides provided insight to the quality of life in the deployed location, which afforded us the opportunity to make sure she was prepared.
Another goal was to identify the services provided to assist deployed families. While she may have received briefings about certain support services available to us during her out-processing, it meant nothing if I didn’t know what they were or how to use them.
Each installation Airman and Family Readiness Center has a list of services available to deployed spouses. Whether it be the child development center’s “Give Parents a Break Day,” a once a month service providing free child care to deployed member families or the dining facility’s deployed spouses dinner, activities are offered to support family members during this separation period.
By working together to gain education about what to expect and identifying services offered to family members we were able to move on to our last goal -developing a plan.
Developing a plan together can be the determining factor of a successful deployment. By using the knowledge gained through the first two goals of this process, my wife and I were able to adequately prepare for any issues that may arise during the deployment. These unforeseen variables included the need for us to establish an affective family care plan.
Family care plans were one of the most important parts to ensuring my family’s readiness. It established who would take care of my daughter, should something happen to me while my wife is deployed.
Although I was sad to see my wife leave on a deployment, I know that because of the due diligence and preparations we made together prior to this deployment, she will be able to accomplish her mission knowing that everything will be alright at home.
Now the only thing left to do is count down the days. One day down, 189 to go.