Michelle L. Kelley, Ph.D.

Michelle L. Kelley Ph.D.

Deployment Stories

Deployment Stories: Understanding Military Family Life

Tips from a submariner’s wife

Posted Oct 02, 2013

Abbie, 29, and a mother of three small children, met her husband, who was a reservist, her first year of college. In 2005 he was deployed to Iraq. Like so many others, she recalls the first deployment to the Middle East as tough. She was lucky to get an e-mail once a week and a phone call once every two weeks. Staying in touch was hard, but they communicated via old-fashioned letters and packages. She feels fortunate though because she had her own career goals. Her advice for young women and men dating military members is simple. Stay focused on your own goals.

After returning from Iraq, he was able to return to school and she and her marine married in 2007. Now that her oldest son is almost six, she said, things are especially hard. He understands that daddy is gone, but doesn’t understand why. While military separations are always hard, being a submariner’s family has unique challenges. When submarines are underway, they are in stealth mode. There is no communication, no Skype, e-mail, or phone calls. Families know when they are back when the ‘boat’ is at the pier. For young children being able to ‘see’ daddy on Skype really helps; in contrast, just hearing his voice can make them wonder where he is. They need the visual and tangible reminders of daddy. According to Jean Piaget, a psychologist who studied children’s thought development, what Abbie describes is what Piaget called ‘preoperational thought’ (Flavell, 1963). That is, children often have difficulty understanding another person’s point of view, in this case, why daddy is gone. Moreover, they have a much easier time understanding what they can see. To lessen their worries, Abbie puts Hersey kisses in a jar. Each day they get a ‘kiss’ from daddy. They can see the candy disappear and know that daddy is coming home soon. Abbie warns, though, that cruises and deployments can get delayed so be prepared to ‘sneak’ a few kisses back in the jar.

Despite the challenges of raising children and working, she feels a military life has unexpected benefits. Other military families get what you are going through and consequently there is a closeness that many non-military families may not have. She explains it as sooner or later everyone gets in over their heads, but someone in the circle always steps in to help out. She feels it’s almost karma. The challenge though is to reach out especially when you first move so frequently. She says, the first time or two you move, you are hesitant to reach out. She says she was that person, the person who didn’t feel comfortable reaching out. She cautions that while online ways of staying connected with extended family and friends is fine, it is important to have human contact. Although you don’t need a harem of friends, she feels one or two close friends are keys. Now that she is a seasoned military spouse, she says she will reach out to new neighbors. When she and her family moved to D.C. so her husband could go to school, she couldn’t wait to meet wives with young children; however, her husband came home the first day and said that none of the others in his program were married or had children. To those who may be struggling to meet new people, she suggests considering clubs, volunteering, or just heading to the park. You can still be a fly on the wall, but you will meet new people.