The separation, the worry and the unknown add layers of stress to every deployment. Conquer the separation by knowing your options for keeping communication online.
How do you maintain communication when your other half is in a combat zone, on the other side of the world or in the middle of an ocean? With the creative use of apps, respect for each other’s needs and understanding, deployment communication builds an even stronger relationship.
Deployment Expectation Management
Like with most things in a relationship, establishing what each person expects of the other is key. During my husband’s first deployment, the lines of communication were unpredictable and brief. Which is why we were surprised when, during his second deployment, the regular option to video chat made the separation worse instead of better. After a month or so of tension, we had to rework our communication expectations. Video chatting made him intensely homesick, so we stuck to email and weekly or so phone calls.
It may be tempting to ask your service member for as much communication as possible. But, first, consider letting your service member set the tone for your expectation conversation. Remember that this is something that might change over the course of a deployment. Get comfortable from the beginning talking about how much and what kind of communication you need and revisit the topic as needed!
The What & How of Deployment Communication
From the periodic letters of World War I and II to today’s instant messaging, front lines communication has evolved at a mind blowing pace. Even as recently as 2004, phone calls were hard to come by in the form of MWR phones requiring an hour-plus wait and a phone card.
Video messaging, text messaging apps and international calling are all available to today’s military community. Tiffany, an Army spouse of four years, used the app Magic Jack to communicate with her husband in South Korea. “He is able to call me and anyone in his family using this app for free. It’s free to call anyone in the US or Canada.”
The available options depend on Wi-Fi, deployment location and your service member’s schedule. Possible options include:
- Email – Lets your service member read and respond on their own time
- Facebook Messenger – Allows for a natural conversation and easy to use while you’re out
- Skype – Video chatting and audio calls, but connection can be inconsistent
- Facetime – Apple-based video chatting app with the same connection challenges as Skype
- Magic Jack – International calling app that powers free calls to US phone numbers
Amid all of the high-tech options, don’t forget the value of a handwritten letter. There is something personal about taking the time to sit down and write a letter. It may not be as instantaneous as messaging apps, but it’s worth the wait (at least now and then).
Wi-Fi, satellite phones and tablets have changed the way we communicate through deployments. But what is the right technology for your service member?
Consider how the technology will be used. A laptop is a must for those who enjoy gaming as a way to relax. There is increased risk of damage during both transit and down range conditions. Many service members have reported both theft and struggles to keep laptops working, especially in forward locations.
If general browsing and chatting is the dominant use, a tablet may be a better fit. Laptops, tablets, iPods and smartphones with the network connection suspended are common options. It is also possible to purchase satellite phones that will work overseas, but be very careful of rates and international fees that can add up quickly!
Too much of a good thing
Too much deployment communication? Is that really a thing?
Yes, it is. There will be times when your service member needs to focus on his or her job, as pointed out by Rebecca Alwine for AUSA, and that might mean times when your normal communication schedule needs to be on hold.
Too much communication can negatively impact the spouse at home as well. It is tempting and too easy to find ourselves glued to our phones or computers to ensure that we don’t miss a call or message. There should be a special name for the torture that is a missed call from a deployed spouse. But your wellness depends on being engaged in your day-to-day life, something at odds with a schedule ruled by your spouse’s computer time.
For those of us with kids at home, video chats can be a double-edged sword. Keeping the deployed service member a part of daily life is important. For kids struggling to understand deployment, it can also be a source of confusion and trigger for turbulent emotions. It is normal, and healthy to set limits for how much communication is right for your family.
With many deployed service members now enjoying consistent communication, the sudden loss of contact can be a shock. Your service member’s access to communication can be suspended due to casualties (someone is wounded or killed), unit movement, OPSEC violations, and the expected technical difficulties can all result in a communication blackout. In general, these instances are not in your service member’s control.
In the case of a stateside emergency, know and understand how the Red Cross messaging system works as outlined by Lizann at SeasonedSpouse.com.
Deployment Relationship Maintenance
Throughout your separation, evaluate your communication style with this simple question: is it making your relationship stronger?
On NextGenMilSpouse, Michelle advises “there’s a time, a place and a way to say what you’re feeling and you shouldn’t bottle it up during a deployment or separation.” Learn how to talk through the inevitable relationship challenges of a deployment in a way that respects your partner.
Each deployment, even for the same couple, will feel different. A new location, different technology availability, and your service member’s assignment can all impact changing communication needs. Experiment with different channels and be open to feedback from your service member about their communication needs.
About the blogger
Kristen is an Army wife since 2006, herding her 8-year-old son, two dogs and one horse through military life. When she’s not wrangling the Tricare appointment line or building communities online in her role as a digital media strategist, she listens to podcasts, spends an hour longer than she said she would at the barn and Googles the stuff her science-minded kiddo talks about. She celebrates all those spouses creating their own definition of military spouse success at White Gloves, Optional and shares her own trial-and-error attempts at balancing home, work & all that other stuff, too!