I have never experienced a deployment with C. The closest I came to separation was his orders to PCS to Turkey, which were canceled a couple weeks before his departure date. However, the six-month process of preparing to say good-bye for 15 months, as he packed half our apartment in preparations to move to a war zone, triggered fear, doubt, and all the “what ifs.”
Airmen enlist. They literally sign a contract stating they want their profession to involve deployments with risk of death. Military wives sign up for the same reality in a different way. I chose to marry C and knew that deployments were part of the package deal. However, we did not discuss if he should enlist or if he should be active. We did not discuss if he should be a military cop that is combative or a safer, slower deployment tempo job. We did not discuss the pros and cons of each branch. He already had 6 years in and wanted a career in the Air Force. The choices were to accept immediately the military lifestyle or move on, and I knew C was “the one.”
Deployments are an abstract and a distance concept for dependents. If it is not experienced, the idea of deployment is what the news constructs or tv dramatizes. And even when you know it is part of the military lifestyle, there is a small part of you that still thinks oh that won’t happen to us.
It was not until the Turkey orders that a light switch clicked. This will happen to us. Then what do I do? How do I change my routine? What if something happens to him? I’m not there to help. I just have to sit and wait and hope and pray that something doesn’t go wrong for six-months.
I was upset. Nervous. Anxious. Emotionally distraught. I never experienced a moment before when I was assisting the one I love in packing for war. It was no longer a stranger on the tv news overseas, it was not my fiancé and our life; it became personal. And that sounds unpatriotic and unsupportive, but one does not understand this moment unless they live the moment themselves.
C was frustrated with me. He kept saying, “You knew this would happen. You just need to deal with it. I am military and if you can’t handle that then we shouldn’t be getting married.” He was in a mental space that was trying to be strong for himself so his head could be overseas while trying to be strong for me. The tension leading up to PCS or deployment is indescribably thick. You desperately want to make the most of your time with each while also learning to be independent with a new routine to make the good-bye easier. You’re both irritable, scared, nervous, and anxious for the departure.
I did not want to waste any time that we had left together in case something terrible happened. Leading up to his orders being officially canceled, I felt that he was going to be taken from me at any moment. He was constantly told that he would be leaving, not leaving, leaving, not leaving, leaving, not leaving over and over again. One night he would come home and say, “I am not leaving anymore, they do not need me overseas.” Then the night after that he would state, “I am going. My orders are still processed.” It was the highest sense of relief flooded with fear over and over and over again.
After his orders were canceled, I still found myself clinging to him. My schedule revolved around his schedule rather than just doing our own separate tasks each day like before his orders. He was not PCSing or deploying yet. The light switch flickered in my head: well, now he is still on tempo for deployment. We met two years ago and the tempo is two to three years. At any moment he can get a six-month notice and be gone, again.
I am still on high alert and constantly stressed. And now I notice the news stories of soldiers dying overseas. Or the potential threat of another war. More red flags in my head, more fear of what could be. And I cannot do anything to change the situation. C always tells me, “Nothing will happen. I trust my training so don’t worry about it,” as I think everyone trusts their training, but there are still casualties in war.
Our whole life balances on the “what ifs.”
- What if C did not reenlist?
- What if he went reserve?
- What if C were to PCS?
- What if C were to retrain?
- What if he is sent back to Afghanistan?
- What if he is sent to Syria?
- What happens if he gets injured?
- What happens if he dies?
There is no simple solution that can guarantee his safety or our future plans. It is difficult to live as a normal life when you know a deployment is pending. It is difficult to prepare for the worst and even harder to stay optimistic for the best scenario.
I am still grappling with the “what ifs” and trying to communicate with other military wives who have experienced deployments. How do you cope with the six months leading up to the deployment? How do you stay strong for your love in preparation of war? What do you do to keep your mind off the news and danger overseas?
My military wife friends were calm about deployments since they have experienced their husbands leave multiple times. They stated, “It is easier when they are gone and a new routine is established. You just have to avoid the news, keep busy, and thank God for Skype and Facebook.”