How do you prepare for such a long period of separation?
Avery: I collect important documents together and sell vehicles that we won’t need for the nine months. I try to get organised but there’s also a fair amount of freaking out and swearing!
Linda: Us too! We try to spend time together as a family to create memories which Deacon and I can talk about while my husband is away.
What about your children? How do you ready them?
Cheryl: It’s easier now that the girls are older and to some degree have their own lives to be getting on with but they also understand the dangers of operational deployments and can get scared for their dad. Thankfully this last tour was peaceful.
A: We bought Daddy Dolls which have my husband’s photo printed on them. We talked about daddy leaving and filled two jars with 270 chocolate kisses one for each day he’s away so daddy can kiss them every day.
L: Deacon has known for a while about his daddy leaving, we try not to make a big deal out of it. We showed him where he was going and talked about how we could all keep in touch.
How do you keep in touch with your soldier?
C: We emailed each other every day and spoke whenever possible.
A: We talk on the phone on average twice a week and Skype on Sundays.
Nine-month tours attract no R&R entitlement (in the British Army the soldier gets two periods of R&R of 14 days) – how do you feel about that?
L: We never had R&R. I think it is a double edged sword. Disruptive yes, but in the end seeing your husband and having your child see that his parent is alright is worth it.
Getting back to normal on his return was for me, one of the hardest things about my husband’s deployment. What do you do to reintegrate your soldier back into the family?
A: Try not to make it too overwhelming with the kids. He is not used to caring for them by himself; it’s too much of an adjustment to do it without preparation.
A report in 2009 stated that it was not the length of tours that caused issues with family dynamics but the number of deployments. Would you agree?
A: I think the number of deployments is harder than the length due to preparing and reintegrating the soldier with their family. After a while of waiting for the deployment to begin you mostly just want them to leave to start the clock ticking and get on with the “new normal”.
L: I‘d agree – once they are gone it does tend to get easier and you can see an end. Constant leaving is much harder on the kids.
Thankfully for me, my husband stayed with the rear party while 75th Fires Bde deployed. But the spouses I’ve met in America have shown me that families can and do survive long separations. It’s not easy but with the support of organisations like AFF, it is possible.