Military Life 101

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First Deployment: Will You Fail?


Every First-Timer secretly wonders how she will do during deployment. Funny how the "do" we wonder about doing is never a successful “do.” 

Nope, we First-Timers are pretty sure that an epic fail is on its way. We wake up at 3:27 a.m. wondering:

  • Will I lose my driver's license because I can't stop crying for six months and render myself legally blind?
  • Will I forget to mow my lawn for so long that my yard produces a dandelion big enough to use as a patio umbrella?
  • Will I suddenly wear leather hot pants everywhere I go and rub up against strange men in the yard like the neighbor's crazed shih tzu? 

Most spouses who have been through a deployment would tell you that the fact that you are wondering and worrying about the deployment is a good sign. Because the act of wondering means that the deployment is something that you want to do well. That you actually want to succeed.  That you picture yourself among those happy people waiting for a ship at the pier or a bus on the post or a plane at the airport. 

So instead of worrying about what may or may not happen during a deployment, do yourself one better and take a look at what really determines how well people do with that first deployment.

In a 2006 deployment study, researchers using the Army's Survey of Army Families found that coping with deployment was best predicted by four things:

1. The number of problems experienced during the deployment.
2. Whether the spouse kept herself informed about the Army.
3. Whether the spouse has someone present to listen to her.
4. The particular demands of the Army.

At first, that might sound like scientific blah, blah, blah. But take another look at those four predictors and ask yourself: How much of that is under my control?

OK, you can't do jack about how much the Army (or Navy or Air Force or Marines or Coast Guard) demands of your particular unit. You don't get to decide which ship drops an engine and can't deploy or what unit your servicemember transfers to or what, exactly, the bad guys of the world are up to this week.  

You also can't have full control over how many problems you experience. You don't get to decide whether you give birth at nine months gestation or 6 1/2 months gestation. You don't get to decide if your grandmother dies or whether the people who own the house you rent are foreclosed upon. Those things aren't up to you. They do predict how you will experience this particular deployment, but they do not predict the full experience.

Know that as a military spouse or girlfriend, one of the things you will have to do is learn to focus on the things you can control. If the science says that it makes a difference to keep informed, go do that.  Find out if your unit has a family readiness group or ombudsman or some kind of helper who has the info you are going to need.

If the science says you need some one local to talk to and all your friends live back home in San Mateo, then Google “How To Make Friends” and follow some of those instructions.

In the First-Timers Club, we do what works, even when it is hard -- because life is too short to wake up worrying.

Related Topics

Family and Spouse Deployment



Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs at and a military sociologist.  Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan??

Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times.  Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom.  

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