If you quickly open a soda,
there is some chance the contents will foam up and spill over the top. Shake
that bottle for thirty seconds before removing the top and you'll have a “much
more intense” experience. Talking with people about relationships with loved
ones in the military is like opening a bottle that has been violently shaken.
The pressure inside is so great that the questions and experiences come out
fast and strong, and they spew in every direction. Below is just a sampling of
comments about loved ones on deployment.
Anonymous wrote: Guys usually don't communicate the way women do. I know my
husband loves me and missed me on deployments. Did he ever write that in a
letter? No. The best I would get was a "miss you Babe" on a phone
Fadeintoyou82 wrote: My boyfriend is deployed. We had been together for 7 months
before he left. Everything was going great the first half of the deployment,
then out of nowhere he starts to become distant and disconnected. Then he tells
me that he doesn't know if he has the same feelings for me anymore.
HappyLittleGirl wrote: I am experiencing my first deployment away from the most
fantastic man I've ever met besides my father. We've been dating for 8 months
and love each other. He's in the Navy and deployed somewhere in the Middle
East... I love him dearly and I know he loves me... but I worry that he doesn't
nicolem28 wrote: I'm engaged to an AF guy and he's been gone 50% of our
relationship. This trip he's on now has been awful since he has minimal
communication opportunities, so I understand how the doubt can creep in.
Lyndsey wrote: Military relationships are special. if they make it through
the training and first deployment they can make it through anything.
I've again asked one of our special partners, Mike Jones, to talk about loved ones on deployment. Mike is a former US Army Captain with two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the co-founder of Not Alone, a non-profit organization serving military personnel, veterans, and their families. Note: I use the term “soldier(s)” referring to personnel in all branches of military service.
Dawson: It seems that
with a lot of our callers, the lack of communication with a deployed spouse or
boyfriend/girlfriend is what puts a lot of pressure on relationships.
with those back home is difficult for several reasons. A lot of time soldiers
are in isolated situations with limited or command-only communications. If
you're frontline like infantry soldiers, you are busy 24-7-365-360 (every hour,
every day of the year, all around you). You're either on patrol, on guard duty,
or crashing. There's very little down time, but even then, the enemy may decide
it's time to lob a few mortars or attack the compound. A lot of that down time
is focused on getting ready to go again.
Dawson: Perhaps, it's
more that just the number of emails or the amount of talk-time. If couples
really don't understand or feel what the other is going through, they'll still
have a disconnect ― whether they communicate a lot or a little.
Mike: It's really
important for spouses at home to try to gain some situational awareness
regarding their deployed soldier. Talking to other experienced military wives
helps. One of those things to understand is that a soldier needs to stay
completely focused on the assignment at hand... not home, not family, not kids,
not you... their assignment. If their heads are not intensely focused and in
the game, someone can get hurt. Even when a unit is just walking down a road,
every one is looking in a prescribed direction for particular things. If one
guy loses intense mental focus and is not looking the right way, you have a
sector uncovered. Soldiers are trained to switch off everything else when the
mission is on.
Also, there are times when
soldiers don't seem to have much to say. Spouses need to understand that it's
hard sometimes to switch back from being “warrior guy” to “relationship guy.”
And sometimes he just can't talk about what's going on because it's either too
hard on him or he fears it will be too hard on you. So, he give you small talk
about trivial things. If a spouse doesn't understand this, she can take it
personally and begin to doubt his feelings, which leads to more awkward
conversations... It can snowball on you if you're not careful.
Dawson: Do deployed
soldiers typically feel guilty about being away from home and family?
Mike: Mostly, they
are so engaged with what they're doing, they don't have time for that. But in
some cases; yes. If you've got a deployed soldier feeling guilty about being
away, the last thing he needs to hear is complaining about problems at home.
That's like pouring salt into an open wound. He might even begin avoiding the
Dawson: Do you have
suggestions for how loved ones should approach those rare, unscheduled,
middle-of-the-night phone calls?
something along these lines: “Honey, we're okay here. We've had a problem with
_____, but we've got it under control. Mom and dad are helping, and so is my
brother. The FRG (Family Resource Group) is there when I need to talk about
Army stuff. We're all good. I love you (i.e.
don't be concerned about me being unfaithful). Be safe, stay focused, we're
all going to get through this!”
Dawson: While it's
difficult for spouses and girlfriends/boyfriends to understand what their
deployed soldier is going through, by comparison it's much easier for soldiers
to understand what it is like at home. True?
Mike: No, not true
at all. A lot guys have no clue about how difficult it is for wives and
girlfriends at home. Part of that is because some of them don't have much
emotional intelligence to begin with. So, they're not big on empathy for their
loved ones, even when they are home. So, it's not a deployment thing, it just
Like I said before, some
guys have a harder time flipping the mental switch from combat focus to
home-life focus. Their life in a combat zone is so intense ― fear mixed with
exhilaration, a sense of mission accomplishment mixed with the pain of losing a
comrade. At times problems at home that are huge to their spouses, seem trivial
to them by comparison.
Again, the more spouses and
love ones can gain some situation awareness about these things, the easier
deployments will become, particularly combat deployments.
Dawson: It sounds like
the soldiers and their loved ones all have their own individual battles to
Mike: Very true.
Spouses, parents, children, girlfriends or boyfriends all have different types
of battles to fight, but you all go to war together as a team. If you can hang
onto that kind of perspective, things are going to be a lot easier. The worst
thing is fighting the battle of deployment and fighting one another at the same
Dustin wrote: I would like to say that it takes a stronger spouse to have
the other spouse in the military.
Next week: MILITARY
RELATIONSHIP (part 3): Coming Home from a Deployment
podcast by military wives, forums by military personnel and their families
dealing with deployments and combat-related issues, or more information on Not
Alone, go to www.NotAlone.com.
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