So your child is being deployed…
When my son was getting ready for deployment to Iraq, so was I (getting ready for his deployment, I mean.) I scoured the web for information on what we (his parents) should do in advance of his deployment to no avail. So as his unit was redeploying (returning), I posted a blog entry about what others should know before their children went off… which I’ve updated with other useful information provided by spouses and other parents. (I use the word “soldier” ‘cause it’s just easier than Soldier/Marine/Airman/Sailor/Coast Guardsman.)
Take nothing for granted. So you think your child knows you love them? Tell them anyway and every chance you get. They’ll get miffed and frustrated at times telling you, “I know [Ma] [Dad]!” Ignore them. Tell them anyway. No one has ever said, “I said I loved him/her too often.”
Get paperwork. Get multiple copies of their power of attorney (a POA). Make sure it covers the types of transactions you’ve agreed to be responsible for – banking, insurance, property transactions. Get separate POAs that cover different situations if you need. Make sure you either have or know where all the rest of his/her papers are (car title? lease? Will?)
Get a copy of their deployment orders as some vendors require these to discontinue service without a penalty (cell phone companies, for example) or to cancel a lease. Be sure to remove ALL of the social security numbers from the copy you send to anyone (I put a piece of paper over that column when I copied the orders.)
Deployment is one big roller coaster ride. Hang on – it’s going to be one hell of a ride! They’re leaving. They’re delayed. They’re leaving. They call. They don’t call. They’re in Kuwait. They’re leaving for the AO (area of operations). They arrived. They email. Then they don’t. They get internet. The internet connection is down. The phones are down. Everything’s down. They’re going on a week’s mission. They’re back. They’re getting R&R. It’s not for 6 more months. UpDownUpDownUpDown. It’s a long year.
If you don’t already have one, get a passport. We will all pray you will never need it except for vacations, but it can save you a day or two in travel time while someone tries to arrange this for you if you need it later. Be aware, that very few families have to travel outside the U.S. even when their child is wounded. It is only the rarest of circumstances in which you might need to travel.
Communication is key to their mental survival. Send mail. Get their friends to send mail. Aunts, Uncles, cousins. Send postcards. Send cards. Send pictures. Send newspapers. Send their high school or college newspaper. Email. They might not respond as frequently as you write (or as often as you’d like) – but don’t let that stop you (after all, they are fighting a war). Your letters and cards take a first class stamp. If you want to make it easier for them to write, include pre-addressed post cards and envelopes to make it easier for them to write you – those do not need stamps as they mail letters and cards for free. And remember, if there are breaks in communications (no email or instant messages) repeat after me:
No News Is Good News Because Bad News Travels Fast!
Make use of instant messaging and technology to maintain communication! Your soldier will have access to computers and most have a number of instant messenger programs. It’s the way you and your soldier will most often communicate more than any other. You can program sounds to signal whenever he (or his buddies) is online. Even if you don’t want to jump up and have a conversation in the middle of the night (you say that now…), you will be able to determine that they were online while you were asleep or out and it will give you some peace of mind (really). And you can forward it to your cell phone or other wireless device (like a Blackberry). You never have to be out of touch with your soldier.
Absolutely invest in a WEBCAM for you and your soldier (they really aren’t that expensive). My friends all say it is absolutely priceless to see your soldier’s smiling face — LIVE! One spouse blogger told me that “a mini-tape recorder with the microcassettes are small & easy to pack as well as durable” because there is nothing like a soldier hearing voices from home and for those at home to hear their soldier’s voice… Also make family movies, especially if your soldier has children, they are fun not only for your soldier but all his friends will get a smile from them, too.
Send STUFF. Send packages. Send their favorite food. Send books, comic books, magazines, DVDs, music, games, and their favorite things. Ask what they need, but even when they say they don’t need anything, send something. Send happy stuff — you know whatever makes them laugh or feel good. We recorded our son’s favorite television shows (with commercials — they loved the commercials!) and those DVDs got passed around to everyone — it was a part of home.
Be sure to learn the mailing rules – no porn, no pork, no alcohol. Don’t worry about sending too much – unfortunately, they have brother soldiers who rarely get any mail and your soldier will share. Go to your Post Office and ask for FLAT RATE BOXES (the discounted ones for sending to military addresses!) and CUSTOMS FORMS. Get to know your postal clerks — they are on their fourth or fifth deployment and they are a wealth of information!
Pick out some family photos that will make your soldier happy. Cut them down to wallet size and laminate them. A piece of home… and why he/she serves.
NOTE: If you order things to be sent to your soldier, DO NOT HAVE THEM SENT DIRECTLY TO THE SOLDIER. You will have no way of knowing whether they were ever sent or received (happened a few times). After the first few months, we learned to have things (gloves, goggles, clothing) shipped to us and then we re-packaged it in flat rate boxes to him. And it’s my understanding that you CAN get tracking receipts to most of the postal facilities in the “093″ zip codes.
Support their efforts. No matter what you read elsewhere or what your feelings about the war are, support their efforts. It isn’t about you. They need to hear that you appreciate their sacrifice and efforts. If you can’t say something nice, say nothing. BE PROUD of your son/daughter. Be VERY proud ‘cause damn they’re good!
If they’re not telling, Don’t ask. There are some things your soldier can’t talk about. There are things your soldier doesn’t want to talk about. Don’t push it. When they want to talk, they will. If he’s in the listening mood, you talk. If he’s in the talking mood, listen. Try not to add to their stress. Don’t argue with them. Let them blow off steam – they aren’t angry at you most of the time. If a conversation seems to upset them – get off the subject, change it or agree with them. They have plenty else on their minds and they shouldn’t have to worry about you. You can smack them up side the head for being disrespectful when they get home.
Educate yourself. Don’t believe everything the mainstream media tells you. In addition to reading the news sites and military blogs, look for specific information from the Army (or Marines or Navy). Most units have an official website while soldiers are deployed with mailing addresses, contact information for the Rear Detachment, the Family Readiness Group (FRG), etc. The sites also usually include newsletters from the unit commanders in the field and the Brigade and Battalion through the course of the deployment. The letters won’t give you detailed information on operations, but they make you feel connected to your soldier and they will tell you generally about their camp or Forward Operating Base (FOB) and what they are doing — promotions, births, etc. And they usually have some pictures! It will do you a world of good. Really.
Join support groups. Get on the Family Readiness Group (FRG) email list. If you are local to your soldier’s duty station, involve yourself with the FRG. Look at sites like www.support3rdid.com, www.SpouseBuzz.com, www.military.com, and Band of Mothers etc.
There also may be private support group websites started and maintained by family members during the deployment. Find them – they are a wealth of information and rumor/myth busting and a hand to hold and shoulder to cry on when you’re down.
Keep yourself busy with other things. That will be hard as keeping track of your soldier and trying to communicate with him/her will consume a lot of your non-working (and in some cases working) time. You will think about them night and day. All perfectly normal, but they want you to have a life. As my son Noah said, “That’s why we’re here – so you can live normally there.” So do it.
You also might want to do a scrapbook. When the 3rd ID deployed, the Society for the 3rd ID had commemorative “Back to Iraq” t-shirts that they sold… and bumper stickers, pins, etc. so I ordered some of those and put them away for my son. I also printed and saved news articles, blog entries, instant messages, emails from his friends, the battalion and unit newsletters and put them all in 3-ring binders (there were Volumes I, II and III). They may not appreciate it now, but they will (a) when they have children, and/or (b) they write their memoirs (wink). They will have tangible reminders that they made history…
HERE’S A FEW REQUESTS FOR CO’s AND NCO’s :
Try to insist that your soldiers give someone’s name to the FRG so that they have someone getting the emails.
If you’re putting out newsletters, please put it out regularly (not just occasionally). Yes, we know you’re running a war over there – but these newsletters are a precious link to our soldier and we count on that information. We LIVE for any information about their situation we can get our hands on (and it goes a long way to stopping the rumor mill back home.)
Please show parents the same respect and involvement that you show to spouses. Be sure your FRG includes parents and girlfriends and be sure your soldiers (especially unmarried soldiers) know parents can be included!
HERE’S SOME ADVICE FOR SOLDIERS:
Call, write or email as often as you can — at least once in a while. Yes, dang it, we know you’re busy and yes, dang it, we know you’re tired. But we are sitting back here worrying night and day. And no — telling us a thousand times, “Don’t worry” will not make us not worry. Believe it or not, not only do we worry about you, but we are actually interested in how you are and what you’re doing, what you need… We’re not asking for an hour by hour accounting, but we would like to know a little of what you’re experiencing and how you are. At the very least, a simple, “Hi all! We’re doing fine. We’re safe and thinking of you. Going to get some sleep now. Love you all… [insert name] — will do.
Get used to the fact that we (your parents) will cry. We will cry when you leave. Cry when you come home on R&R. Cry when you leave after R&R. And we’ll cry when you get home. Get used to it. It just is. It’s liquid love and it runs from our hearts to our eyes.
This list of suggestions are from my personal experience… but there are many pre-deployment checklists available for free on the web from the American Bar Association and Operation Homefront’s. For others, just search “pre-deployment checklist”.