I finished writing my comment in response to AWTM's post on technology, and I started thinking about this monolithic thing we call Deployment. We all talk as if it's one shared experience, and in many ways it is. But I've come to think that deployments are like snowflakes: they're all snow, of course, but each one is unique.
My husband and his best friend were both armor platoon leaders in Iraq, which meant they technically had the exact same job. Both during OIF II, both in the same battalion, both living on the same FOB. But their snowflakes couldn't have been more different. My husband was in a cormex, his buddy in a building. His buddy therefore had internet access in his room and was constantly online, webcam roaring; my husband had to put on kevlar any time he wanted to see someone else in his own platoon, much less get to a computer or phone. His buddy's area of operations was right outside the gate, while my husband had to travel miles and miles to get to his, often staying "outside the wire" for weeks at a time. We're talking same patch on the right shoulder, same job, same rotation...and these two men couldn't have more different stories of what deployment was like for them.
It's easy for us to scoff at civilians and say they just don't understand what we're going through. But don't you remember during deployment feeling like other spouses in the exact same boat as you just didn't get it?
My comment on AWTM's post was about how technology can create feelings of competition and resentment among some spouses. Some wives in our battalion would brag of how often their husbands called, as if it meant that their husbands loved them more. Others who didn't have the same amount of contact battled envy and resentment. And since every spouse assumes every other spouse has the same amount of contact, it was hard for some wives to hear about all these phone calls and emails that they weren't getting. I had a wife come to me in tears because her best friend talked nonstop about how often she and her soldier communicated, and this wife hadn't heard from her husband in weeks. She started to doubt their relationship because it seemed everyone else's husbands were always on the phone. And her relationship with her best friend was breaking down because she felt like her friend was only making her agony worse.
It's hard when you're the one with little contact to listen to chatter of how often other couples are talking. Not everyone has a webcam or nightly IMs, and when you don't, it's hard to suppress the feelings of jealousy and anger when your friends constantly remind you of what you're missing. Or when they complain that they got cut off of IM after an hour of chatting, and you haven't had a single word from your spouse in weeks. Then it's hard to not feel the schadenfreude when the same friend completely panics after two days without an email. And then you feel guilty for not being happier for your friends, which turns into sadness, which turns into more deployment headaches caused by nothing more than competition with the one person who should be your closest ally in this difficult time.
It's completely natural for us to get self-focused during a deployment. We worry about our own soldier, we want to hear from our own spouse, and we want our own children to see daddy or mommy on the webcam. But I think it can't hurt for us to step back sometimes and ask our friends how they're feeling during a deployment. Maybe your good friend is feeling vulnerable and sad today, and you don't see it because you're thinking about your own snowflake. Maybe she hasn't heard from her husband in a while and just needs someone to acknowledge that it sucks. Maybe she wants you to ask her when the last time she heard from her husband was before you launch into talking about the last conversation with yours.
My humble advice to anyone in a deployment is to be a bit discreet about how often you hear from your darling spouse, because not everyone is enjoying the same level of connectivity. Remember that deployments are snowflakes, and yours might look quite different from your best friend's, even if her husband is the same rank, same FOB, same job.