Any time there is a new type of deployment to a completely new area there are a lot of unanswered questions from the family front. And while the major news outlets are focused on the mission, you know I'm worried about the nitty gritty. What about sending mail? What about communications? What about coming home?
That's why I attended a reporter video teleconference (VTC) with Ebola mission leaders in Liberia from right here at Fort Campbell, Ky. last week. The bulk of troops deployed over there are from here, including Gen. Gary Volesky, commander of the 101st, who is taking the lead over there. So leaders have been particularly good about communicating with those of us who report from their home base.
Here's the scoop:
-- As of right now, we still don't even know for sure how long these deployments are going to be. A year? Six months? Three months? One month? We don't know. Families here have been told to expect their soldiers back anytime between December (yes, the December that starts in two weeks) and next August. That's kind of a big window, don't you think?
-- That kind of deployment indecision causes problems with something else: R&R. In the past, troops deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan for 12 months have been on the receiving end of 2 weeks of leave at the destination of their choice. But if leaders don't know how long the folks in Liberia are going to be gone, they can't make an R&R decision. Plus right now all troops who are deployed to the Ebola fight are required to go through a 21-day just-in-case isolation period when they are redeployed. Presumably (and logically) that would apply to R&R, too. Wow, that sounds complicated. Leaders have said we'll just have to wait and see about R&R.
-- Care packages and mail. Everyone loves sending mail during a military separation. But a deployment to a brand new place like Liberia means a brand new APO system has to be put in place. According to leaders there the new, never before used APO number is now live. Families can get those mailing addresses from their rear detachment. We are working on finding out the shipping deadline for mail headed there for the holidays.
-- Emergency leave. Just like during other deployments, emergency leave is at the discretion of the commander. But with this deployment it's even more complicated. Because of that mandatory isolation that is required of everyone redeploying from the area, commanders have to decide if those sent home on emergency leave are subject to that or not. Hanging out for 21 days before you get to take care of your emergency probably isn't going to work really well -- the thing about emergencies is that you don't really have 21 days to twiddle your thumbs before responding. Then again, these isolation periods are supposedly absolutely necessary for everyone deployed over there, regardless of exposure to risk. Nonetheless, getting out of the isolation period is still being considered on a case-by-case basis, the leaders said.
What other family issues are we missing? We other things do you want to know? Leave us a comment and we'll do our best to get you answers.