Deployments: Another part of business

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Deployments are a fact of life in our business. We are asked to perform our specialty in foreign lands and sometimes under extreme circumstances. We prepare for that physically with our physical fitness program, mentally by training on your core task and through specialized contingency courses, and spiritually by seeking guidance from whatever means you do. But what about the people that are left behind? The spouses, children, parents, and coworkers, what prepares them? What takes care of them? The answer is diverse. Let me tell you a story that I lived and maybe you can take some life lessons from my family and my experience.

I worked in a small office of six people when I was informed of my deployment to Iraq. As most have experienced and many more can imagine, I remembered exactly what I was doing at the moment I was notified. I was consoling a coworker who had just been notified of his brother's suicide. My immediate thought were the words that came out of my mouth, "I'm not leaving tomorrow am I?" Thankfully the answer was no and I was able to get my friend to our First Sergeant and orderly room to arrange his emergency leave and his travel. As we walked to our orderly room my friend asked me if I worried about deploying. At that point it had not sunk in. I was worried about my wife, not for myself. I knew she would be fine because she is a strong woman and I had several months before I had to leave to prepare both of us.

The next several months flew by. Will preparation, Powers of Attorney, weapons qualifications, Chem Warfare, trips to the logistics and readiness squadron for my mobility gear and a short vacation made the time fly by.

After we returned from our vacation in June 2005, my wife and I learned that her grandmother had passed away at the end of May. Three weeks later her grandfather passed as well. The timing was not good with my looming deployment. My wife's thoughts of losing me were really hard to imagine. A couple of silver lining moments were that we had an opportunity to see her grandfather and my wife's mother came to visit as well. Unfortunately, when we started to settle back into our routine, our lives were again shaken.

For several days at the end of July we were unable to reach my wife's mother, which was very unusual. We contacted to the local police department because she lived alone. The police confirmed our fears that my mother-in-law had passed away. Shocked would be an understatement to describe how we felt. We prepared for the emergency leave and flew back to Texas. The next three weeks were easily the most trying of our time as a couple. We leaned on each more than we had any other person. The burial arrangements and the other details surrounding a loss are never easy and are always full of memory and emotion. We had planned on starting a family and having my mother-in-law move in to help with the baby. She would ask us every time we spoke to her when she would have a grandchild?

After we packed up and returned to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, she got what she wanted. My wife and I learned that we were going to have a baby and that she was due in early April. My planned redeployment from Iraq was the third week of April. We talked and prayed. We spoke to our leadership and to our Chaplain. We set up our support structure that would be there for my wife while I was downrange. We decided that it would be better for me to be gone while she was pregnant than when the baby was here.

My wife had lunch with my colonel once a month, and the unit invited her to unit functions. She spent time with our friends, especially with Michelle, who's husband was deployed with me. They have two children.

The deployment went by quickly. E-mail and digital pictures were the preferred means of communication. We were very lucky. We corresponded almost daily. What a change from World War II, when you get your letters months after they were written. We spoke often too, sometimes twice a week. I even got an opportunity to video a "Merry Christmas" message while I was gone. All these comforts made the time in Baghdad go by quickly and allowed me to focus on the mission.

The sense of accomplishment was astounding. Iraq had two elections, a change of leadership in their "Congress" and thousands of Iraqi police and military were trained.

We had a number of challenges that we had to overcome before, during and after I was deployed. Everybody does. You need to get yourself in the right mindset to deploy. Talk to people who have deployed, especially to your location. Ask about what went wrong and right. Think about what you can do now to prepare yourself and talk to the folks at the Airman and Family Readiness Flight. I had several months to prepare; you might not be so fortunate. The Aerospace Expeditionary Force cycle has a "preparation time" that you need to take advantage of. The one thing you always need to be is flexible, but being flexible is much easier when you are prepared!

By the way, my deployed supervisor looked out for me and did his best to allow me to leave Iraq early. Through his efforts and the efforts of my friend, Maj. Rob Westover, I was able to get home in time for the birth of our daughter Genevieve. I was lucky; many are not. A special thanks goes out to my wife Lara for her patience and to Michelle, Rob and Lt. Col. Chamberlain for getting me home... just in time.

Other items to think about:
- Wills
- Specific Powers of Attorney
- Who is taking care of pets if your spouse gets sick
- Does the ID card of dependents expire while you're gone
- Give important phone numbers to your spouse (people you work with)
- CDC offers "Give Parents a Break" and "Parents Night Out"...great stress relief
- Paying the bills (do they come to your e-mail address and does the spouse have access)
- Who has the checkbook (talk to each other when you use a check)
- Vehicle registration (another Power of Attorney?)
- Insurance (home/car/etc)
- Income tax return
- Home repairs (water heater, toilets, roof, garage door, washer and dryer)
- Air conditioner / heater (especially in Texas)