I remember hearing that the ship was in “River City” during my husband’s first deployment. I Googled the term and felt even more confused. I thought, “My husband is deployed. Why is he in River City, USA?”
Obviously what I found online did not match what the ship and family members were talking about. For those not familiar with the Navy term, “River City” means the ship is having a communication blackout. All of a sudden you are talking to your sailor then you don’t hear from them for days, weeks, or in our case, a month.
We had just moved to Virginia right before the ship deployed so I didn’t really know anyone yet, I hadn’t discovered our Ombudsman or FRG yet, so I was a bit clueless. I was just like every first time spouse.
No Loved One Left BehindWhen I became president of the Family Readiness Group for my husband’s ship, I remembered that feeling of being lost in translation. That is how many new Navy spouses who are new to sea duty can feel.
So when our FRG board was trying to come up with something that would help family members during our upcoming deployment, it hit me. I came up with a program called No Loved One Left Behind. The program pairs up a seasoned spouse with a new spouse to help guide them through deployment
We thought that If we could bridge the gap for new spouses to have someone connected to the ship that they could turn to and ask questions, it would make such a difference--less worrying, less OPSEC breaking, and less confusion.
Wouldn’t it be a relief to have someone there assuring you that your sailor is safe and what’s happening is just routine? Maybe you don’t know what is allowed to be shipped in a care package, or where to go to get your car fixed. This program can help military families come together and support one another.
How We Did itOur FRG started gathering names at our monthly meetings, events, and pre-deployment briefings. At the start of deployment I paired everyone up; every seasoned spouse had about two to three new spouses.
I sent the pairs emails giving each person their partner’s email address. I advised everyone to set up a scheduled check in with their partners, such as every week on a certain day, also depending on how comfortable they were with their partner they could exchange numbers instead of emailing.
With a check in system this insured that the new spouse didn’t feel forgotten, but rather they knew someone was there looking out for them.
One of my new spouse partners planned to move to the area towards the end of deployment so she was able to ask me about certain neighborhoods, housing options, etc. Our CMC’s spouse even joined in and paired with parents of sailors aboard to help guide them as well.
This program isn’t just for new spouses, but for parents, girlfriends, boyfriends, anyone who needs guidance during deployment. I don’t want one single family member to feel left out, forgotten, confused, or stressed because they don’t understand everything that is happening during a deployment.
Who Do I Talk To Next?No one should be left behind. I want to take this program nationwide with every single military branch utilizing this as a resource. There will always be first time deployment family members, and new spouses looking for a little guidance wherever they go.
But how do I make this happen? How do I take a successful program used during a ship’s deployment to a program accessible nationwide? What do you suggest? Help this spouse!
Janeen McChesney is a Navy spouse currently living in Norfolk, VA.