The Distraction of Army Service
As we enjoyed our third daughter growing at home, news surrounded the post 9-11 scene in America. Rumors of wars and threats emanating from Iraq were increasing. It was then our family took a holiday trip back to Texas, in January of 2003. We visited Austin where my parents had recently moved. We visited the Alamo in San Antonio and enjoyed the company of relatives that were normally so far away. Having been on our own in Tennessee was marvelous, seeing close family intermittently was more appropriate and workable for us. We were growing together as a new little family so much more, and it felt healthy. This little jaunt back to Texas had come about suddenly, it was good timing according to my husband's unit command. How naive I was not to realize why. During our long drive back home he got a call on our cell phone. It was "the" call. Friends from his unit on the other end confirmed, as soon as my husband returned, they were to prepare for deployment. I don't know why as an infantryman's wife I was stunned into disbelief. I looked at him as we drove, full of fear and sadness. It was our first deployment as a couple, well at all. It was HIS first combat deployment. This was not the back forty or a training exercise, this was it, the Middle East. I had a couple more weeks left with him, and they were not as he or I would have imagined they would be. No. Pre-deployment is a horrible thing. Couples go through a cycle that is not gratifying at all...what I imagined would be some surreal time of staring longingly into each other's eyes and cherishing every moment (laugh out loud) was not so...
"Stage 1. Pre-deployment
The onset of this stage begins with the warning order for deployment. This stage ends when the Soldier actually departs from home station.
This stage is characterized alternately by denial and anticipation of loss. As the departure date gets closer, spouses often ask: "You don't really have to go, do you?" Eventually, the increased field training, preparation, and long hours away from home herald the extended separation that is to come. Soldiers energetically talk more and more about the upcoming mission and their unit. This "bonding" to fellow Soldiers is essential to unit cohesion that is necessary for a safe and successful deployment. Yet, it also creates an increasing sense of emotional and physical distance for military spouses. In their frustration, many spouses complain: "I wish you were gone already." It is as if their loved ones are already "psychologically deployed."
As the reality of the deployment finally sinks in, the Soldier and Family try to get their affairs in order. Long "honey-do" lists are generated dealing with all manner of issues. At the same time, many couples strive for increased intimacy. Plans are made for the "best" Christmas, the "perfect" vacation, or the "most" romantic anniversary. In contrast, there may be some ambivalence about sexual relations: "this is it for a year, but I do not want to be that close." Fears about fidelity or marital integrity are raised or may go unspoken. Other frequently voiced concerns may include: "How will the children handle the separation? Can I cope without him/her? Will my marriage survive?" In this very busy and tumultuous time, resolving all these issues, completing the multitude of tasks or fulfilling high expectations often falls short.
A common occurrence, just prior to deployment, is for Soldiers and their spouses to have a significant argument. For younger couples, especially those experiencing an extended separation for the first time, such an argument can take on "catastrophic" proportions. Fears that the relationship is over can lead to tremendous anxiety for both Soldier and spouse. In retrospect, these arguments are most likely caused by the stress of the pending separation. From a psychological perspective, it is easier to be angry than confront the pain and loss of saying goodbye.
However, the impact of unresolved Family concerns can have potentially devastating consequences. From a command perspective, a worried, preoccupied Soldier is easily distracted and unable to focus on essential tasks during the critical movement of heavy military equipment. In the worst-case scenario, this can lead to a serious accident or the development of a Soldier stress casualty who is mission ineffective. On the home front, significant spousal distress interferes with completing basic routines, concentrating at work, and attending to the needs of children. At worst, this can exacerbate children's fears that the parents are unable to adequately care for them or even that the Soldier will not return. Adverse reactions by children can include inconsolable crying, apathy, tantrums, and other regressive behaviors. In response, a downward spiral can develop in which both Soldier and spouse become even more upset at the prospect of separating."
My husband was home and I wanted it to stay that way. I realize we were in the wrong profession for that to be a realistic expectation, but I was an idealist. I had hoped after he joined it would be the years our country wasn't going to get into any war. Rewind to the year he enlisted, February 2001. Three months after his jump training ended and our arrival to the first duty station, September 11 occurred. The beginning of my little idealistic bubble, bursting. Back to January 2003, three kids and a close call on a scary delivery, I was preparing to say goodbye indefinitely to the man who endured with me and the love of my life.
*This entry is a continuation from the complete story of our daughter's life. See the entire 'Her Story' here
Pre-Deployment information from: 'The Emotional Cycle of Deployment: A Military Family Perspective' By: LTC Simon H. Pincus, USA, MC, COL Robert House, USAR, MC, LTC Joseph Christenson, USA, MC, and CAPT Lawrence E. Adler, MC, USNR-R