Making it through your first deployment may be the toughest thing you ever do. You feel like it will never end. The days that once flew by now just drag on. You will get through this and we will help you. Here are some “survival tips” from Military Spouses that have been there, done that, and have the T-Shirt.
Stay busy! – Find a hobby, go back to school, whatever you do just stay busy. Nothing makes the day drag on more than sitting around with nothing to do. The busier you are the faster time will pass.
Do not keep yourself glued to the news – The likely hood that you will see your loved one is slim to none. And worrying about something you have no control over when something “bad” happens there will just drive you insane. Most of the time the news is wrong anyway. Consider it an enemy. If you want to hear some kind of news point your browser to the DOD website and check out the Armed Forces Press service and get your news from there ONCE a day.
Get a cell phone – Instead of feeling like you are a prisoner in your own home waiting for that phone call from your love, get a cell phone, that way you can still continue your life and talk to him or her. And if you have to or want to leave the house you can just forward your home number to your cell number.
Have a cell phone that has Internet or Yahoo Msgr or some kind of chat – If you can afford it, look into getting a cell phone that has internet and Yahoo Messenger on it so you can always stay connected to your love. Sometimes there will be huge lines at the phones but none at the internet cafe, so you may find that they are on the computer more than they call you. If you have a phone with Yahoo Messenger, Internet, or some kind of chat app you can leave the house without worrying if he or she can contact you online.
Stay Positive – No news usually means good news. Deployments are hard on you both and he or she is going to need your positive strength and support. Plus being negative will just put you in a bad mood and that is the last thing he or she needs to hear in your voice when they call home.
Keep the kliddos busy – Enroll your children, no matter the age, in some kind of activity. This will keep them busy and in turn also keep you busy, whether its a sport or play date, kids need the interaction. They worry too even if they can’t say it. It’s important that while you understand that you need to keep busy and are having a rough time to remember that they are too.
Spend time with other spouses – Spend time with other Military spouses as much as possible. There is no one else who is more understanding to your situation than that of a Military Spouse who has been there and done that too. Sure “civilian” friends are awesome as well to have, but unless they have been a Military spouse too they will not understand what you and your family are going through no matter how much they say they might.
Take time for yourself – We all love our kids, friends, and family, but remember to take some time just for yourself. Whether it be a day at the spa, or getting your hair done in a new style, remember to take at least 1 day a month and pamper yourself. It will relax you, de-stress you, and rejuvenate you.
Accept help – If you need it ask for it and if it is offered accept it. Yes being a Military Spouse is our super power, but even Wonder Woman needed help every now and then.
Helpful Tips A-Z
Accounts & Authorization
Make sure you have any necessary authorization from your spouse to handle things like withdrawing money from jointly-held accounts, resolving billing or paycheck problems, etc. Make sure that your bank, credit card, and other financial accounts are held in both names, listed as “Sally OR John Doe” rather than “Sally AND John Doe.” That way if there’s a problem with the account you don’t need your spouse’s signature or authorization to solve it.
If you’ve never handled your family’s finances, sit down with your spouse and discuss how he/she has done the bills up to this point. Begin by making up a list of your regular, monthly bills such as your mortgage/rent, utilities (i.e. electric, gas, water, phone), car payment, student loan, and credit card bills. For a list of other typical expenses and an interactive budget worksheet, click here . Once you have a list, make sure that you’ve located your checkbook and have adequate checks (or know how to pay your bills online). Make sure that you know when your bills are due. Since you know you’ll be under stress and have more to do managing what your spouse did or what two of you previously did together, don’t try to rely on your memory. Write down the “due date” of your recurring monthly bills on your calendar and highlight to make sure you send your payments in on time. If possible, you may want to set up automatic withdrawal from your checking or savings account for any recurring monthly expenses (i.e. mortgage, car loan). You can stop in at your local bank branch to set up automatic withdrawal. While you’re there, you can meet with a bank representative to ask questions you may have about using checks, withdrawing or depositing money in your account; and loan or credit options. That will help ease your stress, save you time, and ensure that your payment isn’t late.
Depending on your contract, canceling cell phone service can be costly. Some companies will allow you to “freeze” your account while your spouse is deployed and pay just a minimum monthly payment to maintain your account. Check with your wireless provider to see what help, if any, they can offer.
If you haven’t been responsible for managing your family’s finances it can be easy to misuse credit cards while your spouse is deployed. Before your spouse is deployed, ask what cards he/she used and for what type of expenses. It’s important to keep current on your bills, meaning that you send your payment in on time. If you’re having difficulty paying your bills, contact your credit card company. At the very least you want them to know that you want to keep current on your bill, but you’re having difficulty. They’ll note that on your account and may offer ways to help you such as extending your payment date. Some companies will lower or waive the interest rate on your card if your spouse has been called up to active duty. Try to keep a close eye on how much you’re charging, and if you’re charging things that you used to pay with cash. Using credit inappropriately can add up quickly and put you under a real financial strain.
The Department of Defense now requires families with two parents being called into active duty, and families headed by a single parent called to active duty, to have a family-care plan. The plan should outline specific directions on who is to care for the children, how children will be transported to their designated caregiver, and what financial arrangements are in place to provide for the children while their parent or parents are gone. In addition to regular expenses such as food, clothing, tuition or daycare fees, you’ll also want to make sure to put aside money for any emergency medical needs and for transportation such as plane or train tickets in the event that you need to send your children to stay with designated friends or relatives while you or your spouse is deployed. If you or your spouse is in the National Guard or is a reservist, see “If Your Spouse is in the Reserves or the Guard” for more information on military benefits regarding child care. Stop by your base’s family center if you need help in preparing a family-care plan.
Keeping In Touch
It can be logistically difficult and costly to keep in touch with your spouse while they’re stationed overseas. Ask your family care center if you’ll be able to send packages or mail and if so, how much will it cost? Will your spouse have access to e-mail? Do you know his/her e-mail address? If you want to talk by phone you have three options:
Using your current long-distance service
Using a calling card
Using a pre-paid calling card
Using your phone-based long distance service can be costly. Call your long-distance provider (listed on your phone bill) and ask if they provide military discounts for regular long-distance and overseas calls. Some long-distance providers are offering reduced rate calling cards. Calling cards enable you, or your spouse, to make calls from any location using a calling card number and PIN (personal identification number). For example, Sprint offers a Spring Military Calling Card exclusively for active-duty military personnel. More information is available at their website . Additional information on discounted phone services is available at several websites including: EasyCall, and EZPay Long Distance. Prepaid calling cards allow you to pay up front a certain sum of money for a specific amount of calling time. For example, you can pay $25 for 500 minutes of calling. You can obtain a pre-paid calling card at local drug stores, warehouse stores, or online. Check on the card to make sure you or your spouse can make international calls with the card. The American Red Cross also offers prepaid phone calling cards in $15, $25 or $50 increments. The card also has an option to set up a voice mailbox where messages can be left for the service member. Voice mail messages can be retrieved by phone or e-mail. Cards can be purchased on-line at Military Connect or by calling toll free 1-888-682-7020. You should also check with your base’s family center to see if you can obtain a free “Operation Uplink” calling card courtesy of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (Operation Uplink) or other similar organizations that donate cards free of charge to service members. You can also access more information on phone discount programs for military personnel by checking out Military Dial or the Federal Communications Commission’s website (Military Call Home).
Send him care packages and letters often. Remember he is not there at home and does not have many of the everyday luxuries that most of us take for granted. Plus he/she will feel a need to stay connected and what better way through pictures and letters. Face it we all love getting mail (well unless it’s a bill, lol)
For Care Package shipping supplies, call the Post Office at 1-800-527-1950 or 1-800-610-8734. Request boxes, customs forms, and tape. You should consider getting the new “flat rate” boxes. To use these supplies, you must ship Priority Mail, which is not much more expensive than regular. Remember to ask your Marine what items are prohibited in-country. DO NOT send dirty magazines, pork products, alcohol and/or tobacco. Even if your Marine requests these items, don’t send them. He will get caught and he will get in a LOT of trouble.
Legal Assistance and Power of Attorney
You may want to consider a power of attorney document. A power of attorney document gives you, or somebody else that you designate, the legal authority to act on you or your loved one’s behalf for financial, health-related, or other business matters. The legal assistance office on base should be able to help you with this decision.
If you don’t already have a military ID card, you’ll want to get one as soon as possible. Check in with your command or unit readiness office for information on how to obtain an ID card and for the location of the nearest ID card facility in the area. Having an ID card, along with your service members’ orders to active duty, will help you obtain medical benefits and commissary privileges. If you already have an ID card, check its expiration and make sure you know how to renew it if it’s due to expire while your spouse is gone.
Planning for the worst
Who to contact for emergencies:
For minor emergencies contact your Key Volunteer or the Family Readiness Officer.
For major emergencies contact your American Red Cross. They will verify the emergency and get a hold of your husbands unit who will then decide if your husband can come home (this is usually only if you have a life threatening illness/injury, pregnancy complications, or when a close family member is dying (i.e. HIS/HER dad, mom, brother, sister). However if it is unsafe for him to leave or if he is needed, no matter the emergency he will not be coming home.
Red Cross Assistance
The Red Cross provides assistance to all sectors of the military and their families, whether they are active, inactive, retired, in the reserves, serving in their local community or deployed. The Red Cross provides communication links, financial assistance and counseling. You can get more information on Red Cross assistance through your local chapter (listed in the phone book or by accessing their website Red Cross) or by contacting your on-base Red Cross station or field workers.
Sources of Help
The military offers several sources of help for service member dependents during active duty including:
Pre-deployment briefings. If you can’t attend a briefing, contact your local family center for more information – they offer information and services by experts on a wide variety of topics to help you prepare.
Employee benefits book.
Financial counseling personnel. Most bases or posts have financial professionals on staff that can provide you with information about financial options and programs created specifically for military families.
Your on-base community. Even if you’re living off base, military spouses bond closely and can provide invaluable services and support.
Your base’s family readiness coordinator.
If you’ve never done your family’s taxes before, you may want to get professional help. You may be eligible for a tax extension, or exclusion, depending on your spouse’s orders. Check out the IRS’ website (IRS) for information on military exemptions and for online help in preparing your taxes. You may also want to consider using a tax preparation firm such as H&R Block or Jackson-Hewitt, or a smaller, local tax preparer. You can find a listing of local firms in phone book. Make sure you ask up front how much they charge for their services.
What if he/she is hurt or killed:
If he is hurt, you will be probably notified by telephone.
If he is killed, a Chaplain and Casualty Assistance Officer will come notify you in person.
While Your Spouse is Gone
Trying to maintain stability at home and work while your spouse is deployed is difficult. While your spouse is gone, you can avoid unnecessary stress by:
Sticking to a budget and keeping an eye on credit. When a spouse is deployed, you’re now suddenly faced with trying to cope with things on your own. There used to be two of you and in some cases, there was more money, or at least fewer expenses, prior to your spouse being mobilized. Of course you’ll encounter unexpected expenses while your spouse is gone, but keeping to a budget can help provide you with structure and help you resist emotional overspending, which will create greater stress over time.
While you’re managing the family’s finances on your own, be careful about using your credit cards for items that you don’t usually charge or writing a lot of checks without keeping track of how much money you’re spending. Making sure that you record the checks you’re writing, balancing your checkbook, and reviewing your credit card bill will help you keep track of how you’re doing financially. Although most families will be facing additional expenses and/or reduced pay, some service member’s families will find that they have additional income. Think twice before spending it. Why not use it to pay off some debt or deposit it into your savings account? Depending on how much money you’ll receive, you could consider opening a money market fund or depositing money in a Certificate of Deposit (“CD”) with your local bank.
Staying connected to community. Seek out people in your same situation. These friendships can help ease the stress and provide you with help you might need, especially if this is the first time that your spouse has been deployed.
Seeking professional help. If you’re having trouble financially, legally or emotionally there are resources you and your family can take advantage of. Contact your base’s legal assistance office or family readiness office for help. Following is a list of additional websites that may provide you with help.
Use that extra little bit of money that you will be getting to hire a babysitter for day. You do need a break, and your children and your health will thank you for it. It’s a very stressful time, make sure you pamper yourself at least once a week. Even if that means that you cuddle up with your favorite blanket on the couch and read a book.
If you’re not going to drive his/her car while they are gone, call your insurance and have them reduce your rate to the “in storage” rate.