A life can change with a phone call, a plane ticket or a knock at the door.
For someone married to, engaged to or seriously involved with a person in the military, extreme transitions in lifestyle happen at a moment’s notice. A phone call or a knock at the door can mean the unthinkable for the partner of a soldier.
The University of North Carolina and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences examined medical records of 250,000 women married to active-duty soldiers. The study found that women whose husbands were deployed from one to 11 months were more likely to suffer from depressive disorders, sleep disorders, anxiety and acute stress reaction and adjustment disorders.
This study demonstrates that the burden of deployment can severely affect partners as well as soldiers. Having the tools and the ability to manage the stress and emotions of deployment is crucial to overcoming psychological and physical obstacles.
Staci Chiomento, a military spouse for eight years, and a former soldier, recalls the moment when representatives of the U.S. Army knocked on her door to inform her that her husband had been killed in action in Iraq.
Chiomento says that she forced herself to open the door.
“Everyone in the Army knows that when the guys in dress uniform knock on your door it is never to tell you something good,” she said. “I felt like if I didn’t answer the door, it wouldn’t be real.”
Cattina Kentcy, a military spouse for seven years, agrees.
“I hid in my bedroom closet as soon as I heard the doorbell ring. I just couldn’t bring myself to answer the door. I already knew my husband had died, but hearing the news from ‘them’ made it real,” said Kentcy.
The partners of soldiers must make an infinite number of transitions. They must prepare for deployments, and adjust to living life without their partner. And they must prepare to have their stomach drop from the ring of a phone or a knock at the door to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Loneliness comes naturally when a partner leaves for a long time. Accepting and coping with the loneliness is a key to a successful deployment. Family, friends or support groups provide a positive outlet to express your emotions. Bottling emotions and denying the need for help carries many risks.
“I catch myself picking up the phone and trying to call my husband’s cell phone, and then I remember he won’t answer because he is deployed,” said Vonda Howell, a military spouse for 16 years. “So, to help deal with his absence I try to keep the house just as it was before he left. I don’t move any of his stuff. All his clothes, shoes and toiletry items stay exactly in the same place as when he left. It helps me to remember that he is coming home. It’s funny because I catch myself dusting off all of his stuff, and I can’t help but laugh at myself.”
Finding the right activities can help deal with the overwhelming emotions and stress, and provide the individual with a healthy way to cope and deal with deployment.
Partners need to be strong not only for themselves, but also for their partners.
John Donnelly, a Navy corpsman for 17 years and the husband of a servicewoman, has experienced deployment from both sides.
“Family dynamic and a good support system are very important to the successful completion of a deployment for both partners involved,” said Donnelly. “When I was deployed I relied on my wife to take care of the household responsibilities and understand the situation I was in.”
“Now that my wife has been and is deployed I provide her with the same understanding and family support. Knowing that you have strong family support is reassuring to everyone in the situation.”
Howell says, “It’s very important to respect your husband, marriage and yourself not only when your husband is at home but especially when they are deployed.”
Rising above the obstacles may be difficult. But military partners find ways to cope. They juggle the deployment with everyday challenges, attempting to maintain a consistent lifestyle for their children and themselves.
Monique Guerrero, a military spouse and soldier, says that she plans activities for the time he will be gone.
“It can be easy to get into a funk,” Guerrero says. “So having pre-arranged commitments helps to force me out the door when I start feeling sorry for myself.
“Before he leaves I also go out and buy a stack of cheesy cards. I pre-address and stamp them so that, when life gets busy, I can just grab one fill it out and throw it in the mailbox every few days.”
Whether through work, school or children, most military partners agree that it is important to stay busy during the deployment.
“I worked, kept the kids involved in activities and participated in the neighborhood childcare program with the FRG [Family Readiness Group] while my husband was deployed,” Chiomento says. “Staying busy, building a network of friends and having adult communication is a big part of the transition.”
Guerrero says, “Life gets really busy when he is deployed because I tend to really throw myself into my work and my life. Things that I don’t do as much when he is home like going to the gym and focusing on my hobbies, I do more. I keep myself busy with the typical stuff, you know like cleaning house and shaving my legs.”
Brittney Hall, whose fiancé is going through his first deployment, says she has really immersed herself in school and work.
“This has been the hardest thing I have ever done,” Hall says. “It is so hard to maintain a relationship over the phone. I want to actually do stuff together not just talk, but on the upside we have been able to save enough money to buy a house and move in together once he gets back.”
Consistency is important, but during deployments those stateside find they structure their days around when and how they can communicate with their partners. Telephone, email and webcam are popular outlets of communication; but when it’s 8 a.m. in the United States and 5 p.m. in Iraq, it makes communication difficult. Those stateside must accommodate the schedules of the deployed. Deployment dictates not only the time of the communication, but also the substance: the military regulates when and how couples can talk and what they can talk about.
“The obstacle of communication worries me a lot,” Howell says. “Sometimes I worry about us drifting apart or forgetting about each other. I don’t want him to come home and be different or think that I am different. Even though we can’t communicate like I want to, we still email and talk on the phone whenever we can. This helps me cope with his absence.”
Staying pro-active helps.
“The world doesn’t stop turning just because my husband is deployed.” says Chiomento.
The previous was submitted by Samantha Arrington, a graduating journalism major. The people interviewed for the article are local residents.