After nearly a decade at war, deployments have become a way of life for America's military families. Many families have had to adjust and adapt to one, two, and sometimes even more deployments.
Army spouse and mother Rebekah Sanderlin has dealt with more than a half-dozen deployments during her husband's career. She shared her lessons-learned and tips for coping with separations with Lee McMahon, who wrote "Army Spouse Shares Deployment Tips" for the American Forces Press Service.
Sanderlin has two main tips: buy plastic sheet protectors for documents and start planning early.
"It is absolutely essential that the spouse at home has all the important documents in one, easy-to-find place," the 28-year-old mother of two advised.
Sanderlin said sheet protectors and a three-ring binder are useful for storing birth certificates, Social Security cards, shot records, Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System enrollment forms, physical forms, and photocopies of passports, driver's licenses and military identification cards.
Sheet protectors can come in handy in other ways as well. Sanderlin said she used one to cover a photo of her husband. She taped it to the back of the car's front seat so her children could see him every day.
As for preparing for the actual move, servicemembers should start planning early, Sanderlin said.
"Several months before the deployment" Sanderlin said, "the servicemember-spouse should begin transitioning chores over to the at-home spouse. She [or he] will be the one doing everything and it's best that all the kinks get worked out ahead of time."
It does not hurt to try and be a mind-reader either, Sanderlin said.
"Try to foresee possible problems," she said. "I think it would be helpful for soldiers to pass a list around where they could give the names and numbers of plumbers, electricians and handymen that they have had good experiences with. When it's the middle of winter and the wife comes home late at night to find burst pipes, she's not going to have time to check the references on a plumber."
Families also should broach the difficult topics beforehand, such as a spouse's final wishes, Sanderlin said.
"My advice is for the military couple to do this packet together; that way the spouse already knows all the wishes," she said. "My husband and I managed to lighten the mood on this a bit by discussing my wishes at the same time. That made the conversation a little less awkward. We also discussed what we would want to happen to our children in the event of both of our deaths."
As for children, parents should think about the events that will be missed, such as birthdays, and what accommodations can be made beforehand. Sanderlin said her son had two birthdays in some years, with one way in advance so his dad could attend.
Deployments put huge stresses on military families, Sanderlin said.
She advises servicemembers: "Do not lose sight of the big picture. What really matters is that you come home, safe and sound, to an intact family. Keep your eye on that prize and make sure that all the choices you make help you get to that goal."
And her advice for the spouses back home? "What works best, in my opinion, is for the spouse at home to look at her personality, her lifestyle and her responsibilities and make the best decision she can," Sanderlin said. "There are no awards given to spouses and no one will think higher of her for enduring more than she can handle, especially if the price of that endurance is her own sanity."
For more information on preparing for deployments, check out the American Forces Press Service Web special report, "Focus on Family: Know Before You Go."
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