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Deployment: The First 24 Hours

By: LIFELines

The first 24 hours after your Sailor or Marine deploys are the time you remember everything you meant to say … but didn't; everything you wanted to ask … but didn't; everything you faithfully promised to remember but have already forgotten. After the ship has sailed or the plane or helicopter has taken off, your first inclination is to go home, crawl into bed, and pull the covers over your head for the duration.

Everyone has his or her own way to get through the first day. The following personal stories are from real Navy and Marine Corps spouses from all ranks, all ages. You will learn that pain shared with friends is less painful, and you will discover some new and creative ways to help you through the first, worst 24 hours of a deployment.

Ann: How Can I Laugh When I Feel So Sad?

There are only five of us left standing in the rain, watching the ship slowly fade away into the mist. No one is talking as we wrap our arms around each other for comfort and support. We know this is the hardest moment — of the hardest hour — of the hardest day — of the next six months of our lives. I remember thinking how handsome my husband, Jerry, looked this morning. At the very same moment an emotional battle was raging inside me, tremendous patriotism and pride on the one hand, and the pain of living without him for the next 178 days on the other.

I look over and see my friend Carrie, so sad, silently leaking giant tears that are splashing in the rain. Now my eyes are spilling over, and suddenly it's like newborn babies in a nursery — one starts crying, and they all join in.

Embarrassed at our undignified show of emotion, we quickly put on our dark glasses and attempt to look somber and dignified. What a sight we must make … five women huddled together at the end of an empty dock, in the rain, wearing dark glasses! As usual, Carrie is the first to smile, then Sally snorts, which sets us all off, and suddenly we start laughing so hard we can barely stand.

Friendships are formed here today, and friends are how I will get through the next six months. We are all proud Navy and Marine Corps spouses facing the next 178 days without our mates.

Jerry: Burned Toast and Cold Coffee

I'm Jerry, Ann's husband, and I can still see my Annie down on the dock, shivering in the rain. I want to yell, "Go home, already! You're going to get sick!" Now my worrying begins. I worry if she will remember to lock up the house at night, check the air pressure in the tires, pay the bills on time … my list of worries would fill a book.

Nothing has been normal around our house for weeks. This morning I saw how bad things were when she put the coffeepot in the refrigerator and cried when she burned the toast. Ann does not cry over burned toast. As usual, she tried her best to pick a fight before I left. Fighting with her is the last thing I want to do! Nowadays, there's a lot of talk about how hard deployments are on our families, but let me tell you, floats aren't exactly fun for Sailors and Marines either. We miss our families every bit as much as they miss us.

Kelli: A Gallon of Ice Cream and a Big Wooden Spoon

My name's Kelli. I've been married to my Marine for 16 years, and as you might imagine, I've had plenty of experience with deployments. There are two different ways I approach the first 24 hours. The unhappy, pouty me goes straight home, pulls the blinds, and sits in front of the TV with a big wooden spoon and a gallon of chocolate ice cream waiting for Charles to call. I know it's crazy to wait for the phone to ring, but I can't help it. This is how I've faced some deployments.

The healthy me faces the first 24 hours by packing a bag for an overnight campout or mini-trip somewhere with the children for a day or two. I pack my bag the same time Charles is packing his — it's deeply important to me that we both pack our bags together. When departure time comes, the children and I leave the house with Charles. I take our four children in one direction and Charles goes in the other.

My advice is to get away from home, even if only for one night. I've learned I can't live my life waiting for the phone to ring because the Marine Corps is always sending Charles somewhere. The children and I miss him the most the first 24 hours, then our lives begin to fall into a pattern until he returns, when there is a new challenge — getting used to having him home again.

Charles: Children Grow So Quickly

Kelli neglected to mention that we have four children under the age of 10 and another one on the way. Leaving Kelli and the children is always hard. I don't worry about her not being able to manage without me because she'll do fine. The hardest part of deployments is realizing I'm not going to be there for the important growth changes in our children. Children grow so quickly that it almost seems every day brings something new.

Kelli is great about videotaping the kids and keeping a journal filled with the normal, everyday activities of family life. The Internet is a real blessing because our phone bills used to be truly amazing.

I've also been reading aloud and videotaping the children's favorite bedtime stories at night when the kids are asleep. Kelli will surprise them with these stories after I've deployed. This is a good way for me to stay connected to the children because they get to spend time with their dad, even if it is only on television. There is a literacy website that covers deployments and reading to your children that we have found to be very helpful.

Sally: My First Deployment

I'm Sally, and this was my first deployment. The first 24 hours after Joe left I don't know who cried more, our 3–month–old baby or me. I knew this would be a hard time for me, so I called my mother to come stay with us. She didn't need any excuse to some spend time with her new grandbaby. After she leaves, my sister is coming for a visit, and by then I should have things under control.

The first 24 hours, I cried, ate, and cleaned house — not necessarily in that order. When I wasn't crying, I was eating anything chocolate, and when I wasn't eating I was feeling guilty about what I had eaten, and cleaned house to burn off some calories. My emotions were all over the place just like a roller coaster.

For some reason I had an obsessive need to clean closets. I wore the T-shirt Joe slept in and sprinkled some of his cologne on my pillow. My way of coping is to work or exercise so hard I'm exhausted at bedtime and have no problem falling asleep. Having my mom come for a visit made me feel much better.

It did get easier after the first day. My advice is to have a plan to help get you through the first 24 hours. Don't just go home thinking everything's normal, because it's not. Don't let it sneak up on you. Have a plan.

Hey, What About Me? I'm a House Dad

I've been happily married to a Senior Chief Petty Officer for more than 12 years. Betty had three children from a previous marriage, and we have three together, so that totals six (the last time I counted). Whenever Betty deploys, I want to spend that first night with the guys; otherwise, I'll just sit around and mope. I invite friends over for chili and few hands of poker. I keep busy all day cooking and getting ready for the big game.

Betty's sister takes the kids for a sleepover because the change of scenery helps divert them from the fact that their mom's deployed. We believe in giving the children the most consistent home environment we can. The kids will push me to the max over the next week or so, trying to get away with things they wouldn't dare if their mom were home. The easy way would be to let some bad behavior slide, but I don't give them much slack — they know the rules. I can already hear them yelling, "Why are you being so mean?" Keeping the kids under control is my biggest challenge when their mom's gone.

The past couple of weeks, Betty and I worked on a list of projects and activities to keep the kids busy. I have an old Jeep the boys and I are going to try to fix up, and I'm going to paint the girls bedrooms. They are excited about picking out the new colors for their rooms. My advice is to get some projects going to keep your children busy, and be sure to take pictures or videotape them to share with their mom.

Marianne Espinoza, USMC Spouse

My girlfriend's husband took our children out to McDonalds to allow us time to talk over a nice glass of wine. Sharing my feelings with my friend was the best medicine for me because it helped remove my stress. When my husband deployed last year, I started a workout program the day after he left. I lost 17 pounds and three dress sizes by the time he got back. I looked great and felt awesome! My suggestion is even if you don't need to lose weight, the exercise will make you feel good.

Janelle Field, USN Spouse

My advice is to gather all my fellow spouses for a countdown party. The best thing about the first 24 hours is you actually start counting down the days until your spouse comes home. I found my greatest support among other spouses. Without a doubt, the first day is the longest and toughest to get through. Have projects for your children, like a countdown calendar, or plan things they want to do or learn before your spouse comes home. I highly recommend not being alone for the first day; it's better to invite a family member or friend from back home out for a visit.

Jessica Denny, USMC Spouse

I have two children to keep me busy, so the first 24 hours fly by. My advice starts at the pre-deployment brief. Ask if anyone would like to go out for lunch or dinner on D day. Look around the room, and if you spot someone who looks a little lost and sad, go over and talk to her. When you worry about someone else, you don't have time to worry about yourself. Don't be afraid to talk to other spouses at the pre-deployment brief.

Sandi Crocker, USN Spouse

The main thing is not to focus on what you've lost. When you feel lonely, let yourself feel lonely — then move on. I like to stay very busy the first 24 hours. I may not want to spend that night alone, so I invite some other spouses whose husbands have deployed over for dinner and a movie (a comedy — not a romantic movie). I've learned it's best to keep to your regular schedule. Don't go home and think, "If he were here right now we would be …" How many times have you said, "If only I had the time, I would … "? Well, now you have the time.

Julie Lagoski, USMC Spouse

Invite some friends to your house for a potluck dinner, asking each one to bring dessert. Explain that calories don't count during the first 24 hours of a deployment. Call some friends and go sightseeing or shopping. Plan some activity to keep your mind off the goodbye. For the first 24 hours, keep reminding yourself that this is only temporary and that you will get through it.

When all is said and done, the advice everyone seems to agree on is the importance of keeping busy and having friends. After the first 24 hours, your Sailor or Marine is one day closer to home. Let the countdown begin!