When you’re in the midst of a deployment, it can feel like you will never reach the end. Day after day goes by and homecoming doesn’t seem any closer. The time ahead stretches out in front of you and you may feel a little hopeless. But then you look at your deployment countdown and realize you’ve hit a milestone.
Maybe you’re under 100 days. Maybe you’re under a month. Maybe you’re under a week!
Then you remember just how far you’ve come and suddenly it seems like you may survive after all. If you’ve made through this many days, you can make it through the days ahead.
I am a huge believer that deployment countdowns make deployments easier for those on the home front. There is something so incredibly satisfying about crossing another day off the calendar or ripping a paper chain link down. Maybe it’s just me, but I always view that moment as a little bit of a middle finger to deployment: I made it one more day, even after everything you threw at me.
Deployment countdowns matter because…
…you need to celebrate how far you’ve come, even if it’s just since yesterday.
…they help little ones understand the concept of deployment and the passing of time.
…they can add a fun twist to the end (or start) of each deployment day.
…they are a visual and physical reminder that time is, in fact, passing.
…they make even the worst deployment day a little better because ultimately, it’s over.
Deployments are so hard and anything that makes them even the slightest bit easier is worth doing. Countdowns do just that, offering a simple reminder that each day that passes brings you one day closer to homecoming. Whether you like paper chains or chalkboards, there is a deployment countdown method for everyone’s unique situation.
Are you getting ready to have a deployment countdown of your own? I have some really great deployment countdown craft ideas saved on Pinterest. I also have a chalkboard deployment countdown frame available in my shop that is the perfect way to keep track of the deployment days going on.
Need care package ideas? I’m giving away 165+ ideas (plus what to put in them) here.
No, I don’t sing. Or dance. Or have a country singer as a father. But I do live a bit of a dual life.
You see, by day, I am an average person: working a 9-5 job at a non-profit, living in a smallish town, spending as much time as I can on my passions and with family and friends. But by night, I’m a military spouse whose husband is gone frequently. Not “away for a week in Chicago at a business expo” gone, but “away for 4-6 months at a time in a war zone” gone.
And that blows people’s minds.
“Wait, he’s deployed? I thought we were getting out of Iraq/Afghanistan/any other country.”
“He’s gone again? Didn’t he just get back not that long ago?”
“Well, will there ever be a point in time when he doesn’t have to deploy?”
As I straddle the line between the civilian and military worlds every single day, I’ve heard all of the above on a pretty regular basis. When I see the shock in my civilian coworkers’ eyes, I realize that there is a huge divide between my two worlds. That divide saddens me as a military spouse, but as someone with a 100% civilian life prior to meeting my husband, I totally get it!
People who aren’t military don’t understand the military and are oftentimes very confused when confronted with that lifestyle, especially the nature, frequency and continued intensity of military deployments. So it’s the job of those of us connected to the military to try and narrow that knowledge gap whenever possible. It does us good, it does them good and it does the entire country good when these two groups have a greater understanding of the realities of each other’s lives.
Let’s narrow that gap. Let’s educate our neighbors, our coworkers and our families on just what life in the military is like, for service members and their families. Look for ways to start that conversation: civilians, talk to military families around you and military families, talk to the civilians in your life. In honor of National Day of the Deployed, I’m starting that conversation here today.
Every day, there are thousands of military personnel deployed around the world, whether or not people realize it. And trust me when I say that a lot of civilians don’t realize it.
We live in a world that, despite all the ways there are to connect, seems to favor being as disconnected from others as possible. There is no concerted effort supporting the military the way there was when our grandparents and great-grandparents were young. Deploying troops aren’t given a big sendoff or a heroes’ homecoming in the general community the way they were 70 or 80 years ago. People aren’t sacrificing meat and stockings to ensure that the “boys” overseas have food and parachutes.
From the comfort of our sofas and behind our iPhone screens, we can easily pretend that men and women in uniform are all at home. We pretend because it’s easier than confronting the truth and dealing with the uncomfortable reality that men and women are dying for our freedom every single day.
They are still out there: in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Niger, in Syria, the list goes on and on. Even if you have unliked it on Facebook, the war is still going on, 16 years after 9/11. And frankly, I’m not sure any of us really see a realistic end in sight. And as disheartening as that is, I think every person connected to the military recognizes that even if terrorism disappeared as we know it tomorrow, the deployments would not stop. It’s so important to remember that deployments aren’t just to the deserts of the Middle East: Japan, Germany and South Korea (just to name a few) all have large numbers of deployed troops housed within their borders. Deployments are still happening; they won’t stop happening.
So on the National Day of the Deployed, I have two messages for people reading this blog:
To my military-affiliated readers, especially the military spouses: I am with you. I see your struggles and your exhaustion. I FEEL those same struggles. I understand your tears. I’ve cried them too. Know that I have your back every single day, no matter which hat I’m wearing. We are going to get through this by relying on each other, by tapping into the kick-ass team we are. Please, reach out to me if you need help or resources or just a sympathetic shoulder to cry on. You are not alone.
To my civilian readers: please, don’t forget about us. Military families are all around you, even if you don’t live on or near a military installation. Our children go to the same schools yours do. We work and shop at the same places you do. We live in your neighborhoods. Even though your local news may not talk about us every day, we are still fighting, abroad and at home. We all have stories, skills and struggles that aren’t that far off from your own. Begin that conversation with us; we welcome it!
For everyone reading this blog: today, and always, remember all who are deployed. Say a prayer, pause to reflect on how lucky you are they exist or just flat out thank them.
You can learn more about the National Day of the Deployed here.
It’s so important to live your best life, no matter what curveballs the military throws at you, including deployment. It’s why believe so strongly in thriving during deployment, something I work to achieve each time my husband is gone and something I hope to help other military spouses do as well. But let’s be real here, not every day is a “kick butt, take names, be a rockstar at life” kind of day even in the best of circumstances. When you add a deployment into the mix, there are bound to be some hard days.
I don’t talk about hard deployment days that often, not because they don’t happen or because they are not worth sharing. I’ve always tried to look on the positive side of most things, including deployment. That doesn’t really gel with detailing my bad deployment days, but I think only posting the good stuff really gives the wrong impression.
Because no matter how many cute care packages I make, the days are still lonely and the nights are even lonelier. I can tell myself that A will be home soon until I’m blue in the face, but that doesn’t do me a whole lot of good when the dog is sick in the middle of the night. It doesn’t matter how busy I am or how many people I surround myself with, my heart still aches when I remember that my favorite person in the world isn’t coming home tonight.
Hard deployment days happen to me probably more often than I would like to admit. Or at least, more often than old me would have wanted to admit. They have a way of taking even the most pulled together, confident people and turning them into big ol’ hot messes. You think that maybe you aren’t cut out for this life. You reach for the wine or the chocolate or maybe you shed a tear or two. You’re not sure you can do this whole deployment thing anymore.
But eventually it’s tomorrow and you get up and get on with it, not because you necessarily want to, but because you have to. Life doesn’t stop because you’re going through a deployment and you can’t stop because you’ve had a hard deployment day. When I remind myself of that, when I force myself to use the little kernel of inner strength I have left, when I put on my big girl panties and just get on with it, that’s when I beat the hard deployment days.
Deployment is hard; it will always be hard and sometimes that catches up with you in a perfect you-know-what storm of awful. It happens to all of us, whether we’re on deployment #1 or deployment #21. But you can survive them and get back to thriving during deployment. In the end, you are stronger than even the hardest of deployment days. Remember that.
Do you have hard deployment days? How do you survive them?
My husband had been gone for six months and to say I was excited about his homecoming would be an understatement. The house was clean, his favorite beer was in the fridge, the “welcome home” banner was hung. His homecoming went perfectly.
The next morning, he went out to run some errands, but ran into a bit of an issue. For some reason, his car was dead and needed a new battery.
Ok, that reason was likely because I hadn’t driven it in six months.
Fine, that reason was definitely because I hadn’t driven it in six months.
Whoops. You see, my husband drives a stick shift and I do not. So when he’s deployed, it doesn’t get driven terribly often (cough at all cough) and clearly starting it a few times a month was not enough. Lesson learned.
You see, the kicker about deployment is that life goes on and juggling it all solo sometimes means you drop a ball or two, no matter how many deployments you’ve been through. And that’s ok. None of us are perfect when our loved one is home so why should we expect to be when they are gone?
So when you do screw up (which you will eventually), what should you do? Yes, learn from it and look for ways to keep it from happening again (if that’s even possible). But the most important thing is to not beat yourself up about it! At the risk of sounding a little cliche, it happens to all of us and tomorrow is another day. You are doing the best you can.
And just to prove that you and I aren’t alone in the land of deployment screw-ups, some of my favorite fellow military spouses shared their biggest ones:
I’ve done the dead battery so many times I had to get the self charging jumper cables. Usually my screw ups are all car related! I only end up on the sides of highways during deployment. Here’s one for you: I booked a ticket to Spain before hubby found out he would not be getting leave during that port call. Luckily Delta was kind enough to give me a refund. Sigh. -Kayla from KaylaRoof.com
I also locked myself out of our car, and he had the other key on deployment! I have had lots of sick kids and emergency room visits. But perhaps the biggest mistake was when I tried to send cake in jars in a care package. They must not have sealed correctly and arrived moldy. Yuck! -Lizann from Seasoned Spouse
Does TDY count? This last time I locked my keys in the car when I brought my newborn daughter to her doctor’s appointment. Don’t worry she was not in the car, but I did have to wait outside with a colicky newborn for roadside assistance. -Kara from Foxtrot & Pennies
How does hitting one of his trucks with the other while parking in our apartment lot sound? LOL Then I also backed out of an office alley parking lot driving his truck and hooked the back bumper on the wire that holds the light pole. It was pretty scary. I had to have people help me get it unattached. – Melissa from Insure the Heroes
My husband has to head on a last minute deployment a couple years ago and he didn’t have a chance to deal with his motorcycle. So I just covered it in the garage and we both forgot about it, except it was never winterized and come spring, cost a small fortune to repair from the damage of the gas and oil left on it all season. – Kim from She Is Fierce
The water pump started leaking on our Land Rover. Somehow, my husband figured out what was wrong with it when I sent him a video and told me to have it towed to the mechanic we use. Easy, right? Except that I somehow got the name or address of the shop wrong, had it towed to the wrong place and didn’t realize it until they called and tried to charge me over $1000 dollars to put my car back together when it needed a $300 water pump replacement. There was a lot of back and forth, but in the end my husband ordered the part himself, had it overnighted to me to bring to the mechanic so that we only paid for the labor. Our regular mechanic very nicely checked everything over for me for free (and replaced a hose that the guy had attached incorrectly). – Kristen from White Gloves Optional
During my husband’s 1st deployment my Mom continuously kept screwing up my husband’s e-mail address and she (she was using a common mis-spelling of his 1st name). She ended up writing this O-6 (not my husband) so much by accident that she eventually even sent him a care package and a card for Veteran’s Day. – Christine from Her Money Moves
The TDY story I have is – I traded both our cars in for one since we were moving to Germany. In the changing of stuff over to the new car I managed to forget not one but both garage door openers, I had my keys BUT! The screen door for the front door was locked and can be only unlocked from the inside and the back door had the dead bolt on and can only be unlocked… from the inside. At this point it was after the dealership closed so I couldn’t go back. So I had to break into my own house by climbing into the kitchen window over the sink, all the while hoping the MPs wouldn’t drive by (they did routine drives behind our house) and while my 2 year old and 2 month old waited in the car. – Fran from Freeborboleta
1) My daughter broke the shower handle, I panicked, and we couldn’t turn off the water!!
2) My mother thought she was helping him by washing his motorcycle gear while he was gone. It was his rain gear and was not supposed to be dried in a dryer…yep – ruined! – Kelsey from Anchored Together By Land, Air or Sea
Does trying to start the lawn-mower count? Tried for ages on the front lawn, with the kids watching and waiting. After quite some time, a passerby eventually offered to start the mower for me (no offer to mow though). Got the job done and decided I wouldn’t be doing that again, so future until the boys were big enough, paid someone to come mow. Turns out I didn’t have all the steps in the sequence. – Leanne
So join us in owning up to our biggest deployment screw-ups and share yours in the comments below!
If there was just one thing that you can’t really understand about deployment until you ACTUALLY go through it, it’s probably how much your daily life is thrown off schedule. Think about how much significant members of your family (spouses, parents, significant others, event children) do to keep the house running and life moving forward. Removing them doesn’t remove the need for their contributions, it just shifts them to someone else and changes the way they have to get done. Cooking during deployment is the perfect example of that.
I’m very lucky in that my husband shoulders a significant portion of the kitchen duties. But even if he didn’t, I get used to cooking for two people and then suddenly, I’m down one whole mouth to feed. That changes the way I shop, cook and eat. It would be the perfect excuse to shift into college eating habits (pizza, carbs, take out), but I try not to let that happen. Instead, I really try to focus on ways to make cooking during deployment easier, more fun and less wasteful.
Tips for cooking during deployment
Make a meal plan.
One of the best ways to reduce overbuying is to plan out your meals before going to the grocery store. I do this even when my husband is home and it really keeps things on track! Each week, I sit down and plan out what I’ll eat for the next 5 days (weekends are a little more fluid) and make my grocery list accordingly.
This helps me determine what ingredients and how much of them I need to purchase. For example, if I know I’ll eat chicken two nights, I can buy a pack of two chicken breasts, rather than buying two and only needing one.
Re-package and freeze.
But don’t worry if you overbuy a little bit! You can re-package and freeze many of your groceries, especially meat. Just make sure to freeze things thoroughly and keep an eye on how long things sit in your freezer, as eventually things do go bad. This chart gives you guidelines for how long to keep different food items.
Consider buying frozen single serve fruits and veggies.
Not into portioning, repackaging and freezing fresh produce? No big deal. Most produce can be purchased with all that done for you! The frozen fruit and veggie section of the grocery store is a unsung hero for cooking during deployment. You can purchase single serving frozen produce and in just a few minutes, you’re on your way to dinner.
The best part is that freezing fruits and veggies often preserves their nutritional value, making this tip both healthy and easy!
Split bulk shopping hauls with friends.
Who doesn’t love bulk shopping? You’re talking to a recent Costco convert, but buying in bulk when you’re cooking for fewer people doesn’t always work. That’s where friends come in! Share produce, meat or even shelf stable foods with friends (especially if they have significant others who are deployed too) is a great way to take advantage of lower prices without worrying about stuff going bad before it’s eaten.
Cut recipes in half.
If you’re not such a fan of leftovers (cough me cough), consider taking favorite recipes and cutting them in half. You may still have some extra, but it won’t be quite as overwhelming and you won’t have to eat the same thing at every meal for a week straight.
I wouldn’t suggest trying to cut a meal for a family of four or more down into a single serving. That’s too much math and it can really mess up the taste of the finished product. Look for recipes designed for two or three people and cut those down; a great one is my hummus chicken recipe.
But even if you make too much, you don’t necessarily have to eat exactly the same meal multiple nights in a row. Look for ways to reinvent your leftovers a bit so dinner is new each night.
For example, I like roasting a chicken for dinner, but can’t eat an entire chicken at once! So I eat enough for dinner and save the rest for later in the week, knowing I can turn it into burritos, quesadillas or chicken salad.
Make it fun.
Cooking dinner is a very social event in my house. My husband and I chat while we prep meals and we enjoy eating dinner together. So when it’s just me, things can feel a bit lonely. But there are a few ways to make things a bit more fun!
Turing on some fun music, trying new recipes or even inviting over a friend or two for dinner help make cooking seem less like a chore and more like my husband is home again.
How do you handle cooking during deployment? What are your best tips for making it easier and more fun?