By Lizann Lightfoot
Deployments are difficult for everyone. It doesn’t matter how long they are, where they are, or what branch they are with. Every deployment brings its own set of challenges. For the service member who deploys, those challenges are often tangible–physical discomfort, the danger of combat, stress, lack of sleep, and the loneliness of missing home while being sent to the other side of the world. But what challenges does deployment for military families bring?
What about the military spouses and family members left behind? Their lives appear to go on as normal. They work, take classes, care for children, celebrate holidays, and seem to keep up regular routines. Everyone expects them to miss their service member, but it is very difficult to explain deployment from the spouse’s perspective to someone whose husband has never deployed to a combat zone. Nevertheless, I will try.
Deployment for Military Families
My husband is a Marine who has deployed seven times. I was with him for all those deployments, either as his girlfriend, fiancée, or wife. Most were combat, but some were not. They all brought their own hardship and challenges. It was often the unexpected difficulties that I struggled with the most. I now find myself writing for the military spouse community and creating deployment resources to make deployments easier for military families.
I am in no way comparing the spouse’s deployment experience to the service member’s. And I will never say that the spouse’s job is harder. But I think that when discussing deployments, there are two sides to the experience. The service member’s struggles are often front and center in the public’s eye. While the spouses’ difficulties are hidden in the shadows. Ignoring someone’s struggles does not make them any easier to bear. So here are the biggest invisible challenges that military spouses and family members face during deployment.
6 invisible deployment challenges for those on the homefront
- Lack of communication: One of the biggest struggles for spouses and significant others during deployment is the unpredictability of communication. The options are typically one-sided, meaning that only the service member can initiate a phone call or video chat. In that case, a missed phone call can ruin your whole day, because you have no way to call back. Even in areas where the service member is lucky to have regular internet, communication can be suddenly suspended if they conduct training or go through a River City blackout. This means spouses can go days or weeks at a time without any contact from their service member. They don’t know when the next contact will come, and they have no way of knowing if their loved one is safe during that time.
- Uncertainty and fear: Of course, the spouse at home worries. During a combat deployment, they worry about the ultimate tragedy of injury or death. Even during non-combat deployments, they worry that their service member is missing important family moments and how the kids will recover from their parent’s absence. We are told to assume that no news is good news, but the nightly news always covers stories of plane crashes, service member deaths, and other tragedies. That constant uncertainty and fear sits like a knot in my stomach every day that he is gone. I may hide it and carry on like everything is normal, but it is always there. It can lead to lack of sleep, mental health issues, and relationship problems.
- Paperwork and legal problems: Military spouses have a hard enough time getting anything done on base when their service member is there. Things become infinitely more difficult when they are deployed. Trying to handle banking arrangements, taxes, buying or selling a house or car, or even renewing an ID card can turn into a frustrating drawn-out process. Even with a Power of Attorney, some companies still ask for a service member signature and seem confused that the paperwork can’t be returned overnight. These seemingly simple chores can be exhausting, especially for a spouse who has no childcare and needs to go to every office with all the kids in tow.
- Solo parenting: For those who have children, deployment is an intimidating situation that requires them to readjust all their habits and handle everything as the only adult in the house. Since military families are typically stationed far from relatives, there may not be an emergency contact person anywhere nearby. This is particularly difficult for spouses who must give birth alone or care for a baby without any relief. Some can afford childcare (if they can find a job), but on many bases the childcare waitlist is several months long. Others try to juggle raising kids with a work-from-home business. It is not an easy life, and it makes deployment weekends even more frustrating because the other parent is not there to share in family activities.
- Financial issues: Many people expect that service members make more money during deployments, but this isn’t always true. If they are in a non-combat country, they do not receive additional pay. In fact, they may have to pay for extra expenses like food, internet, and entertainment. Meanwhile, the spouse at home may work reduced hours or have trouble finding a job if they are at a new duty station. The spouse may need to make financial decisions on their own during emergency situations or if something unexpectedly needs to be repaired. This lack of financial stability is a common frustration for military families during deployment.
- Something always breaks. Some call it the deployment curse. It seems to be a guarantee that once the service member is gone, the spouse at home will deal with broken appliances, car trouble, and/or sickness—sometimes all at once! While these inconveniences can happen to anyone, they are especially challenging during deployment when there is only one adult and no local support system. Handling repairs and sickness alone upsets routines and can make spouses feel like they aren’t able to keep up with the demands of deployment.
All these deployment challenges are common in the military spouse community, but they are not often discussed. I created the Deployment Masterclass to help spouses work through these problems and become more confident about their ability to handle deployment. I know deployments can be challenging for families. Even when they have been through one before, so I invited experienced military spouses to share their insight for these and other problems. The Masterclass resources are designed to give spouses support and peace of mind. That way they can feel prepared for anything deployment throws their way. If you are facing a deployment, I invite you (or your spouse) to sign up! The class is open for enrollment now. You can learn more about the Deployment Masterclass here.