Some deployments are just long, not dangerous. Say your Marine will be unaccompanied to Okinawa for a year. Or your servicemember will be working requisitions out of an office building in Kuwait. Or your sailor will live on a ship so large you can drive a crane on it.
No one is perfectly safe on those deployments. Things happen. Still, something tells you that worrying about getting “the knock” is just self-induced drama, not reality.
Then there are the other deployments, the ones that really are dangerous. How do you handle those?
I went to my friend Sarah for help with that. Sarah is married to one of those guys who frequently deploys to dangerous places. He wears an armored vest with his blood type on it. He uses a weapon. To him, funerals are not things that happen to old people.
If your family is about to undergo that kind of dangerous deployment, here are the top ten ways Sarah says that you need to prepare:
1. Stop wishing your cat was a dog. If you are going to be married to someone who goes on dangerous deployments you must own it. “This life is unique,” Sarah says. “So many others are married to people who will never face danger. They may look down on your husband or even you for your lifestyle. But wishing your husband was like the accountant down the street is like wishing your cat would act like a dog. It’s not happening."
2. Play Worst Case Scenario. Years ago there was a card game called Worst Case Scenario that laid out the instructions for what you should do if you find yourself dangling from an 87 story building. Or when to jump if your car drives off a cliff. Military spouses say that if you imagine the worst, then come up with a step-by-step plan to deal, then you are ready. Fix it. Forget it. Let yourself sleep.
3. Remind yourself the numbers are on your side. Sarah knows first hand that every soul we have lost in combat is one too many. However, you can--you should--you must-- reassure yourself with the numbers. Of the two million Americans who have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 11 years, 6518 of them have died. That means that statistically, while your mate may be on a dangerous deployment, it’s unlikely he or she will die. That is cold logic. It is meant to pull you through during times emotion can disable you.
4. Kill your monkeys. The Buddah described the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys—anxious, restless, uncontrollable thoughts besiege us all. Monkey thoughts will come out of the jungle of your mind and attack during a dangerous deployment. The best way to hunt them down is to write them down—and then dispute them. A thought like, “He is going to die and I am going to be left here to raise his three pregnant stepdaughters and fight off his ex-wife with a broom” needs to be met with a non-monkey thought. Try: “He is well trained. Everyone in that unit takes care of each other. The girls are 3, 5 and 7. I can always feed them birth control like vitamins.”
5. Shoot the pity monkey between the eyes. Sarah says that the worst monkey that comes at you will be the pity monkey. “Many people will pity you,” Sarah told me. “After all, your husband up and left and might killed! You poor thing!!! Do not fall victim to the pity monkey that comes knocking at your door in the form of friends, family or even your own inner voice. That pity is undermining your confidence in you and your spouse's life choices. And for someone else to feel sorry for you because your husband is in danger will eventually assist in making you think he’s responsible for your misery.”
6. Impress your kids. When you do not want to do any of this stuff for yourself, do it to impress your kids. They are the audience waiting to keep you on the straight and narrow. They will remember how you behaved long after the deployment is forgotten and your husband or wife or partner is a shriveled old vet at your side. “You make dinner because that's what moms do,” Sarah said sternly. “Keep. Life. Normal.”
7. Get your shtuff together already. The command nags people to get their paperwork together—wills, family care plans—all that stuff that you don’t want to do because you don’t want to face what it means. No one wants to write down who will tell his mother that her child is dead. No one wants to consider exactly which friends to choose for pallbearers. Do it. Do it. Do it now. Scream and cry the whole time if you have to, but get it done.
8. Toy with your safety nets. Rely on any kind of support network you are given…even if you make fun of it while you are doing it. “FRGs, Wives Clubs…I used to mock them all until I realized that going to these meetings when your loved one is on a dangerous deployment is helpful,” said Sarah. “The existence of such a club is, in and of itself, comforting in some way.”
9. Swim the ocean of emotion. “Deciding from the start that every day is going to be a miserable, stressful, sour experience with you just waiting for that knock at the door will probably make you crazy,” Sarah told me. “You cannot prepare for grief of that magnitude. So learn to swim under the waves as they break and keep coming up for air. That means you give your emotions their due when they crop up and then keep moving forward.” A counselor really can help you learn how to do this better.
10. Live the life they are fighting for. Sarah reminded me that when our servicemember are downrange, they want to think about you living your life. “He wants to imagine the regular Monopoly game still going strong on Friday nights and you gardening or having the neighbors over for a glass of wine,” said Sarah. “That’s home. Not you curled up in a ball hating life.”
Deployments of all kinds take a lot of courage. It isn’t easy for anyone to pick up and leave their lives for months at a time. It also takes a certain kind of stamina to partner a servicemember during a dangerous deployment. Not everyone can do it. You can. Stick with us at SpouseBuzz and let us know what we can do to help you.