What does military deployment really mean for families? We are all familiar with the notion of deployments, meaning that a military family member is leaving loved ones to serve our country. But for military families, there is much more involved than the actual separation.
The deployment process begins well before the soldier leaves on a mission. Each phase in the cycle has implications not only for the service member but also the entire family.
If you are not part of a military family, you may think that deployment is filled with stress and negative implications for families going through the experience. Although many families see deployments as stressful, they also see it as part of the military lifestyle (and research supports this view).
Families may walk away from the deployment with a newfound sense of resiliency, better relationships and a sense of positive growth for individuals and the family unit as a whole.
The deployment cycle has seven stages: train-up, preparation and mobilization, deployment, employment, redeployment, post-deployment and reconstitution.
The cycle begins when the possible deployment alert or notification is issued. This time is known as the preparation and mobilization stage and can last weeks, months or even a year, depending on the circumstances of the deployment. During this time, family members begin to face the reality that their soldier will be separating from the family.
The deployment phase is the one most people are familiar with, when the soldier departs from home and arrives at the deployment destination (known among military personnel as the “theater”).
For families, dealing with the emotions and realities of not having their soldier at home may be difficult. The positive outcomes may begin here, as families begin to grow and practice effective coping and resilience skills.
The next phase, the employment stage, involves the soldier performing an assigned mission for a period of time. During the employment phase, families adjust to their new routines, roles and responsibilities. We know that during this period, families often develop a sense of confidence as they survive (and even thrive) in facing the challenges of deployment.
This phase continues until notification is received for redeployment.
The redeployment phase can take several forms; it can be a move or transfer within the theater (example, moving from one area of Iraq to another) or it can be a return to the home station. In cases of the latter, families begin to anticipate and prepare for their soldier to return home.
We know that the longer the deployment, the more complex this task can be, since more changes are likely to have occurred for all individuals involved. Often, this period is filled with anticipation and even apprehension about the reunion.
The post-deployment phase is probably familiar to most — it occurs when the soldier returns to home base. That often happens in conjunction with reconstitution, which is when the soldier is reunited with family members and returns to the community.
This phase can last for varying periods of time, as families and soldiers take time to readjust and re-establish connections.
We often think of deployments as beginning when the soldier leaves and ending when the veteran returns home to a joyous reunion filled with hugs and tears.
But for military families, deployment is much more than that. There are challenges and opportunities for families throughout this lengthy process.
It is important for community members to remember all that goes into serving our country as a military member or military family member. We owe them all a great deal of gratitude and support.
Pamela Payne is on the faculty of the Weber State University department of child and family studies. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of WSU.