Random musings from a Marine Corps wife...
If you are a military spouse, either brand-spankin' new or seasoned and as salty as they come, the chances are pretty good that you've spent a decent amount of time away from your husband/wife. Whether it be two weeks in the states at a leadership conference or a 12 month deployment in a combat zone, separation is inevitable and it's only a matter of time before the military decides to send your spouse away again.
I am grateful that I, myself, have never experienced my spouse deploying. While I've spent plenty of days counting down the time until three months of Officer Candidates School (both junior and senior summers), six and a half months of The Basic School, and three months Supply Officer School were over, these situations were relatively low stress. Granted, there was always the nagging fear that Ben could get accidentally injured or possibly, although unlikely, dropped from the Officer Candidate program all together. However, I've never actually experienced what it was like to go to sleep every night not knowing whether my husband would be safe that night, the next day, the day after that, etc. Deployment is the worst case scenario for separation in the military, however, it's just one of the many situations that can force your spouse to be away from family for an extended period of time.
Quite soon, Ben is leaving for a military exercise. He will be spending upwards of six weeks in South Korea (the dates are not set in stone) but it is important to note that this is not a deployment. While it's impossible for me not to feel sad about Ben's impending departure, I know I shouldn't get myself too worried about it. A military exercise is a completely different ball game than a deployment, but it seems like the lines get very blurred between the two. Since I've got nothing but this training exercise on my mind now that Ben's leaving in only a few days, I figured I'd try and differentiate all of the different ways a military family might encounter separation. As a military spouse, it'd be foolish to think that we'd get all 365 days of the year with our husbands/wives around but that's just part of the lifestyle we married into!
Deployments. Like I said, deployments are completely different from training exercises. While the word deployment gets thrown around a lot on social media and conversation, there are very few people stationed on Okinawa who actually get deployed which I am extremely thankful for. From what I've gathered during my six-ish years around the military (this all started wayyyy back in my freshman year of college when Ben got accepted into his officer program), deployments currently seem to be averaging around six months long. Although, that's not to say that there are still lengthier, if not twice as long, deployments going on right now as well.
When your husband/wife is deployed, there is little information given to you as a spouse. You do not know where they are or where they're going, when you'll be able talk to them next, or what exact date they'll be coming home until a few days (or a few weeks if you're lucky) out. Revealing too much information about a deployment is a violation of OPSEC and can result in disciplinary action, which could be very severe for your service member. Needless to say, deployments are typically very secretive and information is restricted for the safety of the operation.
Deployments can be in combat or non combat zones, however, the risk to your service member probably seems to always be there. During a deployment, your spouse will be providing real support for an actual operation*. GRANTED like I've said, Ben has never been deployed so maybe there are unique situations for everyone, but what I described is pretty much what a standard deployment looks like. These are also in terms of a Marine Corps spouse, I know many Navy wives who consider a three week exercise a deployment which always confuses me!
*Some deployments are MEUs, Marine Expeditionary Units, and I am not entirely sure but these deployments might be heavily training based as well... Like I said, there are many exceptions.
Training Exercise. A training exercise, on the other hand, is an entirely different situation. If your spouse leaves for a training exercise, it'll most likely be for a few weeks or a few months. They will report to one of the United States' bases or designated training exercise locations. Ben and I know people who've been to Thailand, mainland Japan, Australia, Mongolia, the Philippines, South Korea, Hawaii and even right here on Okinawa for exercises. These destinations are comparatively safe, as they should be, considering that during a training exercise your spouse will be doing just that - training. During an exercise you, as a military spouse, will know where there are and you will most likely get way more opportunities to talk to your spouse and learn more about the exercise. They might even have their cell phones and computers available to call or Skype you. Communication is much more open (obviously within reason), although that's not to say that you should spread the details of your husband/wife's training exercise all over social media (duh).
TAD. Working for the military, I deal with TADs seemingly every day. Usually, whenever I need urgent assistance from a coworker they always seem to be on TAD.... My luck and timing are very poor! TADs stand for Temporary Attached Duty and they are pretty common within the entire military (this includes Marine Corps Community Services, the organization I work for). From my own personal experience, TADs occur when there is a need to do work off island, usually a training conference or a trip to gather data. We recently had our program manager for MCCS Tours+ go to the Philippines to collect hotel and excursion information for potential tours in that country. On the green side (military side) TADs are taken more often than not by higher ranking service members. They are pretty much work trips, nothing too exciting and nothing abnormally dangerous.
School. If you're one of the unlucky few, your husband will be sent to a military school while you are stuck staying behind at your duty station. While I've seen some schools last a month, others like The Basic School (TBS) drag along for six and a half. School is school, your spouse will go to class and will be bogged down afterwards with a ton of work that needs to be done.
Military school are much more than just classes and tests though. For instance, TBS consisted of weeks where Ben would be in the field doing mock combat situations with absolute zero communication with the outside world. When he wasn't in the field, Ben would have pass or fail hikes which would range anywhere from 6 to 15 miles, all while wearing an 80lb pack. He'd do graded land navigations alone, some of which were at night, in the dense North Carolina woods which could take upwards of eight hours. Needless to say, this wasn't your average "school" experience.
While military school might sound a preferred separation scenario for your spouse, it can also be one of the worst when you factor in the stress of passing graded events and courses.
Duty. I hesitate to include duty because after all, it's only a 24 hour long gig, but it's on my list because it can be pretty inconvenient and it's always a bummer. Duty will occur roughly once a month for a Marine. While the details of duty may change from command to command, more often that not your husband, wife, mom, dad, etc., will have to spend 24 hours awake watching over the battalion headquarters and making periodic rounds to ensure that the marines living in the barracks are not misbehaving and that nothing abnormal is going on. I HATE duty with a burning passion. For the first six months of 2017, my husband's command "coincidentally" kept putting my husband on for either weekend or holiday duties. Let my husband have duty during the week, I'm at work anyway, I don't care, but weekend duties?? During our 48 hours of freedom??? Don't get me started.
Work. You might be wondering, "Why is this girl writing about work? Everyone works..." While you may be correct, the military takes the whole "work/life balance" to an entirely new dimension - aka there is none. For instance, the other night my husband had to suddenly leave our house at 9 pm to go to work and did not return home until 11:30 pm and then left again for physical training (PT) and 4:30 am. When marines need work done, it gets done no matter what the time. I really never have a clue what Ben's expected work hours actually are because it kind of seems like all hours of every day are on the table. Sometimes he'll be done at 5 pm every day for a week and then the following week he'll get done at 9 pm every night and will work through the weekend to get his job done. He's pretty much on call 24/7.
While I sometimes complain that my husband spends much more time away from me than I'd like, I always try and remember that it's my spouse who takes the brunt of these long, crazy work hours and commitments. My husband will have to sleep on a cot in a tiny "shipping container" filled with 12 marines and sailors for upwards of six weeks, but the only complaint I've heard from him is that he will miss our tradition of watching Sleepy Hollow on Halloween. In fact, he's actually quite excited to get out there and practice everything he's been training for, as any Marine should be. Who am I to not support him or his mission? When my husband swore into the Marine Corps, I was standing right there when he pledged to serve his country first and foremost. My husband "married" the Marine Corps and as his wife I'll proudly support him 100% in whatever the military throws his way, even if eventually it eventually means that dreaded 10 month deployment...
We're Kara and Ben, a Marine Corps family currently stationed in Okinawa, Japan. Enjoy our adventures, travels, photos, thoughts, and life together halfway around the world!
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