5 Steps for Handling a Surprise Deployment

Steps for Handling a Surprise Deployment
Marines load equipment to prepare for deployment. (DVIDS/Claude Flowers)

Imagine you are at home, enjoying an afternoon snack with your kids when you get a text message from your husband or wife. You are immediately excited ... until you read the contents: “There’s a chance I’m going on a surprise deployment. In 30 days.”

What? This is completely unexpected! Your spouse was not set to deploy for at least six months. Now there is a chance they are leaving in a month?

After you get done screaming into a pillow, there are important actions you need to take. Whether your spouse gets orders for an unexpected deployment, temporary duty or even a move, procedures should be in place to ensure the least amount of stress. Here are 5 steps you need to take to handle unexpected orders and a surprise deployment:

Visit JAG

You need power of attorney (POA). You will probably need more than one; a general one will only get you so far. Depending on how long your spouse will be gone, you may need to visit the DEERS office. To do so, you will need a special power of attorney that states explicitly that you are allowed to update or add to the DD 1172. Maybe your ID is expiring soon, maybe your child is almost 10 and will need their first ID card, maybe you are pregnant. Whatever the case, having the special POA to visit and update DEERS will mean less stress for you in the long run. If your name is not on your spouse’s car title and registration, you also may need a special POA if you want to sell it or re-register it. If you live on a military installation and even think you may want to move, get a special POA that allows you to clear housing. Even if you never use these special POAs, having them in your back pocket is a good idea.

Gather Your Paperwork

Once you have your POAs, gather them with the important documents you will need while your spouse is gone. A copy of deployment orders are great to have if you want to move or get discounts at the daycare (and free hours!). If your base has a special program for deployed families, you'll also need a copy of the orders to be able to sign-up for those activities and discounts. You should also get a copy of your spouse's will, DD-93 (Record of Emergency Data) and Servicemember’s Group Life Insurance (SGLI) forms. No one wants to think about the worst happening, but if it does, you will want these documents on hand.

Meet the Command & Family Readiness Group

Short-notice deployments will be hectic but do not let your spouse leave without knowing who to contact should an emergency happen. If no emergency arises, you will still need a point of contact in order to know when the welcome home ceremony will be. Make sure you know who to call. If there is not an established family readiness group, there should still be someone who is staying behind as the point of contact for the rear detachment. Find that person and make friends, or at least be friendly. You do not want to be the only person not on the email chain for important information.

If your spouse does not know who the appropriate point of contact is, make him or her give you the contact information for someone who is not deploying. Your spouse might not have time to run down the family readiness group’s contact but you will. Whether your spouse is leaving for school or some other training, you need to have some sort of contact information for his unit. You never know when you may need to reach out.

Prepare Your Children

Usually, you have lead time to prepare your children for a deployment. If this is not possible, it is still important to sit down and talk about what is happening, where your spouse is going, for how long, etc. Reassure your children that leaving is a normal part of being in the military and that they will still do all the things they did the week before, just Mom or Dad will not be here. Consider making a countdown calendar or jar of candy “kisses” as a fun way to incorporate the length of the deployment. Show them a map of the world with where you are and where your spouse will be going. Children are very visual; the abstract "I am leaving for a year” might not sink in, but showing them the days of the calendar they will be able to mark off will help them see how long the separation will be.

Treat Yourself

Despite all your planning, you will still be stressed. Whether you are the one leaving or staying, there will be a level of stress that will not go away until your family is reunited, so you still need to come up with a way to relax. The gym on post is free; go there a few times a week. Start a coffee group with the other spouses. Start a new hobby. When my husband deployed for the first time, I taught myself to sew. Not only was it relaxing, but at the end of a project, I had something tangible I could hold, show up to the camera and say, “Look at what I have been doing!” Plan things to do when your children are off from school. Staying home and staring at each other will not help your stress levels. Whatever you do to relieve stress will also help pass the time. The faster time passes, the sooner your spouse will be home.

Whether it is a school, TDY or surprise deployment, your spouse could come home tomorrow and say they are leaving next week. Hopefully, these steps will soften the blow and make for an easier transition.

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