The Realities of Being Deployed

Written by Jeffrey Brown

From the inception of military history, there have been deployments. At some point in their military service, most members will experience some form of deployment, whether it be to a foreign land or temporary duty (TDY) for training. defines deployment as activities to move military personnel and materials from a home installation to a specified destination. While this description of deployment is technically correct, the true impact of military deployment cannot be summed up in a single sentence.

This May, we will celebrate RED (Remember Everyone Deployed) Day, which serves as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by military personnel and their families during deployments. It’s a day marked by wearing red to show support for deployed service members and to honor their commitment and service to their country. RED Day not only raises awareness about the challenges faced by deployed troops but also fosters a sense of unity and solidarity within the military community and beyond.

In honor of RED Day, let’s take a closer look at deployment and what it really involves.

Understanding the Impact

Each year, thousands of military personnel are deployed abroad. In 2023, the U.S. Department of Defense reported over 160,000 personnel deployed outside the United States. Studies by the V.A. and the U.S.O. show that six in ten service members experience deployment during their career, with one in five deploying multiple times. Deployments typically last from six to eighteen months, significantly affecting personal and family life and contributing to increased stress and mental health issues among service members and their families.

As a former service member of the United States Army from 1998 – 2007 and an active volunteer for many service member support systems, I think having a successful deployment while mitigating stressors affecting many of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines comes down to an effective support group. Like many soldiers serving during the 1990s to 2000s, I deployed multiple times: Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Egypt. I can attribute my ability to cope with separation and the harsh reality of conflict to the family and friends who supported me during my deployments.

Navigating the Deployment Journey

Getting Ready: Training, Stress, and the Importance of Support Networks

Deployment preparations typically begin one to two years before deployment, during which units undergo training and readiness evaluations. This period introduces stressors related to separation and operational uncertainties, highlighting the importance of support for military families and their service members.

Effects of Deployment on Military Families

The deployment phase is what all the training was for. In the deployment phase, units will move equipment and service members to a predefined location for short-term or long-term operations. In this phase, service members will spend the most time away from family and may experience the added stress of mission operations. It’s important to understand that communications may also be spotty during deployment, and service members may go days, or even weeks, without the ability to contact their loved ones.

Deployment is already emotionally and mentally taxing on the service member. I remember one thing that stood out more than any physical or emotional challenge when I was deployed: the overwhelming sense of helplessness. While deployed, a service member can’t fix issues at home that they would generally be a key part of. If a child gets sick, the car breaks down, or a loved one is going through a difficult time, it is up to the spouse to handle everything. Even though spouses are the ones shouldering the burden of home life, these unexpected events can add to the overwhelming stresses of the deployed service member and why support for military families is essential.

Deployment Resource for Spouses: Managing Responsibilities and Finding Balance

In the same sense, spouses are the backbone of the home when their soldier is deployed. Dinners have to be cooked, kids have to go to school, bills have to be paid, the house needs to be cleaned, and the list goes on. If you are a working spouse, you cut the time to do all these things in half. On top of all that, you still need a little time to yourself. The adjustment required to be the sole homemaker is hard, and it is stressful, but it is manageable.

Here are some tips to find balance:

  • Creating a support system before deployment and activating that system during deployment can help.
  • Create a task list that breaks down everything you need to do daily, weekly, and monthly.
  • Set goals and try to stick to those goals as best as possible.
  • When you get overwhelmed, ask for help from your family, friends, loved ones, and neighbors.
  • Remember, your neighbors may be in the same situation and would love to help someone or have someone help them.

Reintegration: Transitioning Back to Everyday Life

Most service members think of returning home as the end of a deployment. However, returning home from deployment requires as much work as pre-deployment training. Post-deployment means reintegration training, briefings, medical evaluations, and many other essential steps before a service member can return to their regular duties. While the service members are back at their base of operation, they can expect more long days and nights of post-deployment operations, preparing themselves for reintegration into everyday life.
Reintegration training may seem a little unnecessary, but it is vital to reconnecting with loved ones and returning to regular life. While service members are deployed, life changes completely for service members, spouses, and children. These changes are hard to overcome for everyone involved in military relationships.
As unusual as it sounds, people will get irritated with each other because life is changing again, and it is a natural reflex. Tempers may flare. What is the best way to deal with this? Open communication. Whenever a situation arises that causes stress or anger, sit and talk. Talking is the best way to deal with emotional issues.

Utilizing Technology for Communication

Fortunately, we live in the technological age. The easiest way to stay connected with loved ones and maintain military relationships is through phones, texts, and email. Set a time each day, add it to your schedule, and try to call or text your soldier. Take into account the time difference of where they are deployed. Remember, if they don’t answer, it’s most likely not because they are ignoring you. They may be on duty, which requires them to practice OpSec. If you don’t reach them by phone, follow up by email and wait for a reply.

Boosting Morale with Care Packages

One of the things I remember making the most difference in my morale while I was deployed was care packages. These packages can contain anything not on a list of banned items. The unit command will provide that list if you ask. Simple things like a favorite snack, deodorant, or even socks make all the difference to the deployed service member. Pay attention to how long it takes mail to get to the deployment station and plan accordingly.

Building a Support Network

Community support is a powerful tool in helping military families cope with extended separation. Social networking is one of the best platforms for finding family support systems. Most bases have sponsored social media accounts, but there are also many private accounts such as wife’s groups, husband’s groups, children’s groups, book clubs, and many more platforms for your family members to reach out to. The Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) blog keeps families informed and their branches can connect you with support networks in your area.

Supporting Our Troops and Their Families on RED Day

This RED Day, honor the dedication and sacrifices of our troops and their families by wearing red on Friday, May 17. You can also donate to support ASYMCA’s services and programs that help military families during deployment. SAIC will triple-match donations dollar for dollar, up to $25,000, to give more military families the resources and support they need to thrive.