What to Do If Your Service Member Deploys Without a Phone or Laptop

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A boy waves a flag.
Rowen, son of Capt. Jessica Colby, 23d Wing Public Affairs officer, and Justin, 41st Rescue Squadron (RQS) HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter pilot, waves a flag. (U.S. Air Froce/Andrea Jenkins)

As U.S. military units face spinning up for new deployments amid growing tensions in the Middle East, a different worry looms over military families stateside: how to keep in touch.

That's because service members could be asked to leave their personal phones, computers and other electronics back home.

That is what happened to a group of paratroopers who were alerted for a recent short-notice deployment. And though the decision whether troops must leave that stuff stateside will likely be up to commanders, it could become a regular thing.

While not having a phone or computer downrange sounds like a first-world problem everyone should just get over, it's a big deal to military spouses, kids and parents left stateside in an era in which easy contact with deployed units has become comfortingly normal.

The good news, in a way, is that we've been at war so long that many of us did regularly send out our spouses without those things, in part because the technology simply didn't exist the way it does now.

Let's be completely honest: The truth is that deploying without personal devices is absolutely going to make separation harder. It is going to make communication less predictable. It is going to make everything seem longer. And it is OK for us to take a second and say, "Yeah, that sucks."

But we also know that we can do this. We've done it before.

So how do you stay in touch when personal devices aren't available? Here's what you could do instead:

1. Snail Mail. Today, we love sending care packages and actual letters because they're just a nice touch of home, but a decade ago we used that system because it's all we really had. While most units will have at least a starting address set up before they leave, those sent on short-notice deployments will instead likely have to wait a few weeks for a downrange address. Even then, it could easily change.

Before you ship stuff downrange from Amazon or mail off adorable military care packages, know that mail can take a long time to catch up if a unit moves to a different Forward Operating Base (FOB) or Combat Outpost (COP). It's certainly not the fastest way to get communication to someone, but it does work ... eventually ... usually.

2. The MWR Tent. This is the actual solution here. If your service member deploys to a location without a U.S. infrastructure, the Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) area may take a week or two to set up. Eventually, however, they'll likely have access to shared computers and phones they can use to call home, use Skype or check email.

(I'm having flashbacks while I write this to grainy Skype sessions in 2010 in which I could see soldiers walking around behind my husband as they waited their turn to use the computer. There was also that one time he forgot to hang up, so I just sat there and watched soldiers walking by in the MWR for a few minutes, then hung up quickly when some new guy sat down.)

3. Satellite Phone. If things get really dire out there, many units have a satellite phone they can pass around for troops to use. I wouldn't bet on this being a regular thing.

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