Deployment Stories

Understanding military family life

Deployment Stories: Understanding Military Family Life

All you have to do is what’s best for you and your family.

Thelma met her husband when they were both enlisted and assigned to the same ship. After two years of dating they married, at 19 and 21. The following year her husband, currently serving as the executive officer aboard a ship, was commissioned and sent away for officer training. Thelma was three months pregnant with their first of three children. In Thelma’s words, “When he got commissioned, we knew we were in it for the long haul. We decided only one of us would be gone and the other would stay behind with our children.”

At first, they looked forward to many parts of Navy life. They wanted to live in different places and have their children see the world. Now, as they approach their 40s, things are different. They have moved a total of 11 times in their near 19 years of marriage. In her words, “With a bigger family, your house grows, you have more stuff, more to take care of, and less interest in moving. Each time we move, there is always the shock from the kids, but we try and stress all the new things to see and do and eventually they come around."

It hasn’t been easy. Their oldest son is now in high school and realized that many of the other kids have had friends since kindergarten. He said he didn’t know what that was like. Thelma’s heart broke, but helped shed some positive light by explaining to him that she approached every move and the new people as having a big bag of tricks – each time they moved, she was able to add another good friend to her bag and use them whenever she returned to that same place. At the same time, she is grateful that they won’t have to move again until after he finishes high school.

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With respect to deployments, she has lost track and believes they are currently on deployment six or seven. How have they managed with three kids? Thelma stated the previous year was very hard on them with husband away for training most of the time and the sudden loss of a loved one, but with the support of family, friends, and church, the latest deployment and 2014 have gotten off to a good start. Her advice? “Don’t try to be a superhero because you just can’t do it all yourself.” She stated that she used to try to fill every moment during deployments with lots of activities to ease the sadness of separation, but her incredibly packed schedule left her stressed and exhausted. In retrospect Thelma believes, “All you have to do is what’s best for you and your family.”

She also stressed not to hesitate to accept help. For the first time in years, she lives in close proximity to her mother and siblings, who come often to help her while husband is deployed. Although it was difficult to accept the help in the beginning, she quickly found herself overwhelmed learned to say, “I accept and appreciate you help.” Thelma also advises spouses that are feeling sad or lonely while a loved one is away or deployed, to experience those feelings rather than pushing them away. She feels that denying one’s current emotional state will only delay moving on to the next and make separations that much more difficult. Most importantly, she knows that not everyone will understand what you are going through. She stressed the importance of surrounding oneself with a good group of positive people and that support is a key part of surviving deployment, long-term separations, and military spouse life.

Michelle L. Kelley, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology at Old Dominion University. She has conducted research with military members and their families for 25 years.

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