SEPARATION is something you have to get used to as an army family but when the dreaded deployment starts, how do you cope without your soldier at home? Jill Misson reports…
YOUR partner is being sent overseas for months with patchy comms and R&R on the distant horizon. That’s a daunting prospect, whether you’re newly married or an old hand.
The team at AFF receives a range of queries about the impact of deployments and longer exercises.
“Having staff who are or have been in an army family and have been through separation before does help, as we really understand both the practical and emotional issues,” said Michelle Alston, head of policy and research. “Families discuss how they’re facing challenges with supporting their children and how sometimes they feel isolated, often far away from their own family and friends. They also ask us questions, such as how to claim travel warrants or how to manage spousal employment,” added Michelle.
Before two units in 12 Brigade deployed to Estonia on Operation CABRIT, they ensured families were well-informed with good support in place.
“My experience is that soldiers worried about issues at home are significantly less effective at work,” said King’s Royal Hussars’ adjutant Captain Tom Kirkham. “We produced an information leaflet and ran talks which focused on details of the operation, any financial changes spouses could expect, methods of contact and procedures to use in the event of an emergency. The regiment also runs a closed Facebook group.”
Planning an active social calendar was also important, explained Captain Jeff Tibbett from 1 YORKS: “We held a monthly coach trip, bingo and cinema nights and coffee mornings in addition to ‘stay and play’ and youth club.
“Families away from the patch were involved as much as possible, for example we sent them cinema tickets and arranged transport and accommodation for our homecoming parade.”
Everyone has different needs
Separation can take its toll on any army spouse but the support each family may need varies greatly and may differ from one tour to the next as their circumstances change.
Sam Hodgson’s baby was taken ill during 1 RIFLES’ deployment to Afghanistan. She recalled: “We had no idea that Aria had health issues. A few weeks into the tour, she was diagnosed with an unsafe swallow and aspiration pneumonia.”
Sam praised welfare for organising childcare for her other children while she attended medical appointments.
Laura Anderson’s husband is on his first deployment. She told Army&You: “We’ve been separated while he’s been training in Canada and Kenya but never for this long or into such an area of high danger.”
A new job and solo trips to see more of Cyprus are keeping her busy but Laura also feels part of a community. She said: “As everyone is away from their families, we’ve banded together and I have a strong support system and good friends.”
Leah Ann Humphreys has felt more isolated because her husband was deployed for nine months as an individual not part of a unit. She said: “It has left me emotionally broken.
“I haven’t had a single phone call from a welfare officer to check on me and that would have made all the difference.”
Her children have struggled to settle into boarding school.
“We felt they would cope better being distracted by the busy, fun school life but the strain of not being able to talk to daddy has really made it difficult for them. We are now looking at counselling to help my daughter manage her bottled up emotions and even my laid-back son clings to me more.”
Mum-of-five Sarah Bewley said: “My boys all miss their dad but the younger two are particularly vulnerable to mood swings and random weeping.”
Finding ways to help
If your child isn’t coping well, you can contact your local AWS community support development worker. Rebecca Wakefield said: “Parental separation can be tough and we do understand that. We will make a good connection with your child and draw on a network of other support services.”
Dealing with deployment while you are pregnant can cause extra anxiety so it’s important to find ways to relax and prepare for the birth. Katy McGarry from Mumborneveryminute is a midwife and military spouse who runs courses for expectant parents and Bumps & Brunch sessions around Tidworth.
She said: “I encouraged the serving partner of a military couple who attended one of my hypnobirthing courses to record my relaxation scripts in his own voice as he was going on exercise abroad.
“His partner went into premature labour and had the baby eight weeks earlier than they expected but she was able to hear his voice throughout the birth and felt he was with her.”
Abby Wilkinson is a military spouse and registered nurse who delivers mental health courses at Bramcote. She recognises that many spouses hold back when they talk to their soldiers in theatre: “One of the most common issues is avoidance; not talking about things such as the washing machine breaking or nan being ill because you don’t want to burden them.”
She advised: “Investing in yourself by finding a hobby and filling time so you don’t ruminate on the negatives really does help. By stepping out of your comfort zone and going to a coffee morning you’ll meet people going through the same who you can offload to.”
If you know someone who is home alone, show them you care. “Knock on their door or send them a card,” suggested Leah Ann. “They may be the most outgoing person but, on the inside, they could be crying out.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You may be counting down the days, but you can still make the days count.
AFF: aff.org.uk BFPO: gov.uk/BFPO Army Welfare Service: 01904 882053 Big White Wall: bigwhitewall.com MoneyForce: moneyforce.org.uk HIVE: search your location for HIVE blogs online Home-Start: home-start.org.uk Forcesline: ssafa.org.uk/get-help/forcesline or 0800 731 4880 Free deployment survival pack: theindependentspouse.co.uk
Army Welfare Service: 01904 882053
Big White Wall: bigwhitewall.com
HIVE: search your location for HIVE blogs online
Forcesline: ssafa.org.uk/get-help/forcesline or 0800 731 4880
Free deployment survival pack: theindependentspouse.co.uk