By: Elizabeth Jackson
Shocked.  That is what I was after my husband of 20 years was called up from the Army Reserves, and within 5 weeks was deployed to Afghanistan for a year.  I previously knew only two people in the whole world who had ever deployed to the Middle East, so I had no clue what to expect or how to manage with our three children and my full-time work schedule.  But those two soldiers and their amazing military spouses became my go-to friends and an incredible source of wisdom during his deployment.
 
Here are the top 7 things I found most useful while he was gone.

  1. Post photos of Dad around the house, so my children would feel a connection to him.  This really helped my 4-year old daughter remember what he looked like.
     
  2. Order a soft-covered photobook from Snapfish or another online photo site of you and the children, so your spouse can carry pictures of you with him.  The one we got fit into the pocket of his BDUs.
     
  3. Start a Daddy Kiss jar full of Hershey kisses.  This was a very helpful way for me to answer the question from my daughter on when Daddy would be home, and frankly a simple “kiss from Daddy” often turned an emotional meltdown into a loving moment.  I would point to the jar and say, “In many months.”  Note, the flower vase I used held about 70 kisses.  I kept topping it off every few days, as the idea of a jar that could hold 365 kisses was a bit too much for me.
     
  4. Communicate in all different ways.  Skype was a useful tool, but often the signal or video would drop.  And when the kids were at school when he Skyped, weeks would go by before my husband could see the kids.  E-mail is always great – it is there when you or he has access.  But there are also newer technologies like the new Summer Link WiFi Series™ of products that allow your deployed spouse to remotely see your baby even when they are sleeping, take pictures, and even record video.  The video monitors are encrypted with multiple levels of security.  No reminder of home is too small or too large.
     
  5. Enlist the help of older children or neighbors.  My boys, ages 9 and 11 at the time, were incredibly helpful and took on the task of “the men in the house.”  I gave them an allowance for their help when they did chores without being asked like emptying the dishwasher or taking the garbage to the corner.
     
  6. Take a little time for yourself.  One girlfriend wisely told me to buy 12 gift cards for a manicure at the beginning of the deployment, so they were there on the counter as a reminder to treat myself.  I did not listen, and only towards the end of his deployment did I actually exercise or go out with a friend once or twice.  I should have made that a priority for my own sanity.
     
  7. Accept offers of help.  Even if they are the vague, “Let me know how I can help,”  have 2-3 answers.  “Yes, actually, could you please help me pump up the bicycle tires?”  Or “Yes, actually, can I give you cash to pick up a few groceries for me when you are out?”  You need the help, and people want to help.  They just don’t know how.
I hope you find these tips helpful for your deployment.  And I hope you share your tips with others as well.

And for those who continue to serve today, here at home or overseas, I say THANK YOU.  You truly are doing the most honorable job in the world.