6 Ways to Help a Military Spouse Dealing with a Surprise Deployment

A military family hugs before deployment.
Spc. Eduardo Toro, an intelligence analyst assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 1st Armored Division, hugs his family as he prepares to depart Fort Bliss, Texas. (Matthew J. Marcellus/U.S. Army)

Over the course of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, military spouses have gotten really, really good at preparing for military deployment.

We know the paperwork we need, the best ways to say "goodbye," the perfect homecoming and farewell outfit, the ideal signage, how to order those banners ahead of time and book a photographer, the best ways to use mid-deployment child care and even whether we should move home to our parents for it all (Hint: We should not).

We also know the emotions -- oh, the emotions -- of the entire cycle. We've got this, even when we wish we didn't. We know, because we've practiced.

For most troops, deployments have become very predictable. They have patterns and normalcy, in their own way. But thanks to escalating world problems, that predictability has come to an end for many military families.

Our friends worldwide are dealing with the reality that their otherwise predictably deploying service member was here yesterday and is now -- surprise! -- on a plane to the other side of the world.

Maybe all the ducks were in a row on the powers of attorney (POA) and keeping everyone's ID cards updated. But everything else? They probably just weren't ready. How could they be?

Looking for ways to give those military spouses a hand? Here are some ideas.

How to Help a Military Spouse Dealing with a Surprise Deployment

1. Send a military spouse care package. This is an easy one. Head out to Target (bummer, right?), set a budget and make it happen. When someone is dealing with all the emotions of deployment, what's in the care package isn't overly important -- it's literally the thought that counts. But if you need ideas, consider these:

  • First, distract any kids. Include an age-appropriate small toy.
  • A pound of ground coffee, a box of tea or even some tasty hot chocolate can go a long way.
  • Bath supplies -- salts, bath bombs, bubbles and more.
  • A fun new mug can provide just the smile someone needs.
  • Chocolate. Never forget chocolate (or another favorite candy).
  • A fun read or good comfort movie. Encourage him or her to take some "me time" with a little entertainment break.

If you're feeling extra, decorate the box using one of these fabulous care package guides. And then ship it out today. Not tomorrow -- today. Boxes sitting in your car do no good at all.

2. Food gift cards. You could include this in a care package, but if you're short on time, sending even a small gift card for a coffee run can go a long way. Better yet? Send a gift card for a local restaurant (family friendly, if that's the need) or even just GrubHub, Uber Eats or DoorDash. Nothing is more insurmountable than cooking dinner when you're emotionally and mentally done with the world.

3. Entertainment. This is also something you could include in the care package or send solo. During deployments around big world tensions, news coverage seems both unavoidable and very scary. Help him or her get their mind off of it. Compile a list of binge-worthy, nothing-to-do-with-war shows on their favorite streaming service. No streaming service? Hook a friend up! You could also give them DVDs to have on hand. I have complete seasons of my favorite shows floating around my house from back in the day, and a friend of mine might soon be on the receiving end of all the episodes of "Alias," for example.

4. Child care. This might be obvious, but it's also one of the most practical things I can suggest. Does he or she have kids? Help them go away, even for 30 minutes. Find a babysitter and book it or take the kids to your place -- literally any peace and quiet can be a huge bonus when everyone is amped up on the deployment roller coaster.

5. Lawn, home or dog care. When my service member leaves, the very first thing I notice is how incredibly long our grass is. Who knew he mowed it that often? Does our lawnmower work? How do I get it started?

That's the moment I realize that it would be much smarter to hire a lawn guy. Help your friend out with stuff like that and source the help for him or her. House cleaning -- even just once -- can be a huge deal. The same goes for lawn care, dog poop scooping services or any other home-related regular task.

6. Just be there. When the dust settles and the deployment days start adding up, the most important thing will be simply being present for your friend. Call, text or visit. Keep our deployed families top of mind and heart. Together, we've got this.

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