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The Stupid Stuff of Deployment Wears on Families

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It's the stupid stuff that crushes us, isn't it? The little stuff. The unnecessary stuff. The big stuff, we can do. But the little stuff, ugh, it chokes us out. 

My husband just deployed. Again. I'd tell you which number deployment this is for us, but you probably wouldn't believe me. The number seems ridiculous, even to me. (Hint: It's bigger than my shoe size, and I have big feet.)

This deployment crept up on me. I wasn't ready for it. I took for granted that I didn't need to get ready for it, so I didn't prepare. At all. And now he's gone and there's an empty place at my table, silence where there used to be a voice, a big hole in my house that the months will mostly fill with other stuff. But for now ...  

The truth is, I've gotten good at deployment. Perhaps even too good. I still dread deployments, but not like I used to. Now, as a matter of habit, I harden my heart a bit and find reasons to fight with him in the days before he leaves, and then we apologize and we make up a few times. I cry for a bit right after he leaves, but then life calls and I just get back to work.

It never gets easy, but it does get routine.

It helps that deployments are easy to understand. I mean, look around. The world kind of sucks right now and our military is actually trying to do something about that. That's what we signed up for, sacrificing to make the world a better place. I can explain that to my children. I can understand that, so I can make them understand that.

"There are bad guys in the world," I tell my kids. "They hurt boys and girls like you. And your daddy is one of the only people in the whole world who is willing and able to stop them. Those other kids need him right now, they need someone to rescue them, and you are being so brave and kind to let them borrow your daddy."

It's never enough, but it does help get their minds around a deployment. They are proud of him and proud of themselves.

But now my kids are getting older. Where once I dealt with only the limited vocabularies and limited memories of toddlers, now I've got three kids and two of them are old enough to know exactly what is happening. They can read and tell time. They know how long the months will be. They are pissed off and eloquent enough to express it, often more eloquent than me.

It's enough to make me long for the baby days.

The heavy weight of all those months, looming before us as immovable as an anvil, is worse because we're starting this deployment already weakened by several years worth of stupid stuff. It's death by a thousand cuts over here.

Stupid stuff like being forced to live apart for months, not for war or even for training, but for bureaucracy. Stupid stuff like him spending long days and nights away from home in the weeks leading up to the deployment. Was that really necessary?

This deployment meant that my husband missed our daughter's first day of kindergarten, missed it by just one day, missed it by about 16 hours. Surely the world could have waited one day ... Stupid stuff.

And this year he'll miss her birthday, for the third year in a row. He'll miss it by just three weeks. I don't dare tell her that it already looks like he'll miss her birthday next year, too.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. 

It's the near-weekly news stories about veterans and military families not getting the care or benefits they were promised, making the rest of us wonder if a big ole' bait-and-switch is waiting on the horizon for us, too. And the stories that hint that much of the country, and certainly much of Congress, has no clue how much a 13-year-long war weighs. But we know. We've been carrying it.

Millions of dollars have been spent in recent years studying how to make military families more resilient, how to preserve the all-volunteer force, but the answer is really very simple: Treat us with respect. Give troops, veterans and families what they were promised when they signed up for this life, and then respect our families enough to let us be together whenever we can. Don't squander the sacrifice card on stupid stuff.

Every day, I am amazed by the people I encounter in the military community. Every. Damn. Day. Their stories of multiple moves and repeated deployments. Their injuries. Their deaths. I am so proud to claim membership in this club, to be a part of such an incredible group of people.

But the stupid stuff makes me want to punch a baby panda -- right in the throat.

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Deployment Family and Spouse Rebekah Sanderlin

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Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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