This week, a close friend of mine is joining this incredible community of strong women (and men) who make up the silent ranks. Months ago, her husband made the decision to join the Army Reserves and after many delays and reschedules, he finally leaves for Basic Training this week. I clearly remember those feelings of excitement, pride and nervousness as my own husband left for his Basic Training a few years back. It was all new to us and I had no idea what to expect.
Like our family, my friend’s husband is joining the military a little later in life than the majority of those going through Basic Training. I’m sure at some point he will be labeled the “Old Man” as mine was, but he’s also going in with more life experience and humility than many of the younger recruits, so I have no doubt that he will make it just fine. Also like our family, my friends have a young daughter and live far from any semblance of a military community. So as he leaves for his basic training, I can’t help but think about the things that I know now, about military life and living through a separation from my husband, that I wish I had known back then. Things that might have made that time just a little bit easier that looking back with hindsight I might be able to pass along to my friend to help her through this time alone.
Don’t expect to hear from him often. They will have very limited access to phones while at Basic Training. He will make his standard phone call once he arrives to let you know he is there, but after that it could be weeks before you hear from him again. And then the phone calls will be very short. In that first phone call, he should give you his mailing address. Begin using it right away, which leads me to the next one…
Write letters. Lots of them. He will treasure your letters and some days they may be all that keep him going during training. He will look forward to them at every mail call and will read them over and over again. Even if your letters only include a drawing from your child and a short note about what you did yesterday, he will hang on every word. And make sure to keep every letter that he sends. They will be your most priceless treasure and an incredible testament to your marriage one day.
Don’t send food in care packages! Not good, just not good. Trust me. Send only letters, blank paper and envelopes, stamps, and calling cards unless he tells you otherwise. Depending on where he is and who his drill sergeants are the list of acceptable items may differ.
Make time for yourself. It’s hard to find this time when it’s just you caring for the house, the finances, the children and working at the same time. It feels like there is never a moment to rest and the world balances on your shoulders. But time for you is so important. Even if it is just a few minutes for a hot bath or a walk down the street, find the time. You will be much more rested and refreshed to take on the rest of the day.
Accept help and learn to ask for it. In the beginning many people will ask what they can do to help, tell them. Most of the people are genuine in their asking and really want to help, but they don’t know what they can do. Be specific and tell them, “Sure, can you watch my daughter for a few minutes while I run to the store?” “Can you help by mowing the lawn?” It’s hard to accept help when you want to appear strong and show everyone that you can do this alone, but there is no weakness in asking for help.
Murphy will visit at some point. It never fails; Murphy loves to visit when our husbands (or wives!) are gone. Within the first week of my husband leaving for deployment both kids got sick, the heater went out and the washing machine broke. I thought it was a sure sign that I was not going to survive the deployment. But after a deep breath and some Internet searches I called in reinforcements for the kids, a repairman for the heater and I diagnosed and fixed the washing machine problem all on my own. Surviving that first week made me realize that things would go wrong, but that I also was smart enough and strong enough to handle whatever came my way. Just remember to breathe.
It’s OK to break down and cry. We know we need to stay strong for our kids and our spouse who is away, but it’s also important to remember that it’s OK to cry. We miss our spouses. We miss holding them and having them by our side through the good and tough times. There is nothing wrong with crying and it can help your children share their feelings and emotions about missing their parent as well. If they see mom or dad sharing their emotions in a constructive way, then they will realize that it’s OK to share theirs as well. So have a good cry or a temper tantrum (my favorite) to relieve the stress, and then pick yourself back up and continue on.
You are stronger than you think. There will be days when you don’t feel that you can go on. You’ve had enough and are ready for your spouse to come home so you don’t have to take care of everything by yourself, you don’t have to carry that darn phone with you to the bathroom another time and you just aren’t alone anymore. But you will and you do. You will continue on and one day, sooner than you think, you’ll be watching your Solider walk across a field in formation having successfully made it through training. And he will have made it through in part because of your strength. You held down the homefront and made it possible for him to concentrate on his job. You are stronger than you think and one day you will look back on this time and realize just how far you have come.
Attend Family Day and Graduation. If you can, go. Next to a deployment homecoming, this is one of the most memorable days. Seeing my husband proudly walking in formation and walking across the stage in his Class A uniform made the entire separation worth it. My heart swelled with pride at what he, and our whole family, had accomplished. If you can make it to the ceremony, it is definitely worth the trip.
You are not alone. You will feel like you are the only person in the world going through this difficult time and the no one understands what you are going through. You are not alone. There are resources out their specifically designed for you to help you through this time apart. Resources, like Homefront United Network, are here to connect you to other spouses going through the same thing, encourage you when you need it most, and help you realize that you are not alone and that you can do this. Reach out. Speak up. Ask questions. You will be amazed at what an incredible military community is out there, ready and willing to help carry you through.
What advice would you give to a new military spouse? What do you wish you had known when your spouse left for Basic Training?