Deployments and Separation: Long Distance Relationships, Military Style


Not all military deployments are created equal. Regardless of whether they are short or long, dangerous or not, they have one thing in common, separation from family. The challenge, however, is that different types of deployments have an impact on how communication is maintained, and even the mindset of the service member.

Service members take the separation as a matter of course, as do their spouses and children. When a young man or woman leaves their parents to join the military, it’s expected for them to be separate from their family. Instead, when a service member marries, the difference is the spouse is not always fully aware that the life will include a cycle of separation, and a long-distance relationship.

In my experience, each deployment required a different mindset, both for me and my family. When I wasn’t in danger, so to speak, that stress was minimized...but stress still existed for my family. Preparing for each type of deployment, and the return, can be beneficial for both service member and spouse.

In-country “Deployments” or Temporary Duty

This is when a service member is sent to another stateside location, either for training or to perform duty in a different area. The Army has sent me on Temporary Duty (TDY) to official Army schools, to augment recruiting duty, even to learn how to drive Humvees. While these separations were challenging, both for me and my family, the challenge was mostly due to the separation and the frequency. There were times when we were in training where my wife and I couldn’t talk for weeks at a time, and other times where we talked daily, a phone call morning or night, that sort of thing. Texting really wasn’t a thing back then, but frequent communication back and forth was both easy and necessary. Of course, when I was TDY, I had a lot of free time on my hands, so I did things like go on a ten mile run through the Gettysburg battlefield  and go kayaking down the Rappahannock...all with my wife’s approval and blessing, of course. It doesn’t change the fact that while I was out having “fun” she was at home NOT touring Civil War battlefields or going kayaking.

Operational Deployments

Operational deployments are those that service members are sent outside of the country. Often for  things like hurricane relief efforts, deployments to non-hostile zones like Kuwait, or peacekeeping deployments to Bosnia or Kosovo in the late 1990s. While these are not without danger, they are safer than deployments to an active combat zone. Two of my five deployments have been operational deployments, one to Bosnia (my first one when I was not married), and one to North Africa (my last one, when I was married). Communication may be less frequent than during a TDY, but there’s still a good chance that communication is fairly consistent. Again, the “fun” that I was having was running the logistics for a multinational training camp and having lunch with the Mauritanian Minister of Defense, while my wife was focusing on grades, parent-teacher conferences, and getting the yard mowed. One of the things the military does to try to do, is reduce the stress of separation. omething that might increase it if couples do not communicate. They hold morale, welfare, and recreation events to do just that. It’s hard for a spouse, up to their arms in laundry, to get an email from their service member with pictures of them hanging out with a bunch of NFL Cheerleaders. When the service member is raving about winning the camp spades tournament. Meanwhile,  the spouse is wondering, “Where’s my fun?”  

Combat Deployments

This is the big one, the type that most spouses dread. The danger is there. Again, not all “combat” deployments are created equal, my third deployment to Afghanistan was shorter than my previous two, the security threat was present but not elevated, and I actually slept in the same building as my latrine. If you didn’t know, that is  extremely uncommon. I was serving in a role where I didn’t have responsibility for anyone other than myself and the job I was sent there to do. The other deployments, however, were much more dangerous, and much more challenging when connecting with my wife. Communication was sporadic, and there were times when it was impossible. Those spouses whose service members have been deployed to combat can probably tell you times about “commo blackout,” in which most, if not all, communication between the service member and the spouse is  blocked. Of the three deployments, these have the least amount of communication, while providing the greatest amount of stress for both the spouse and service member.

This is a part of military life. Long distance relationships are challenging. The unique impact of military service as a reason for separation, adds more stress on top of an already difficult situation. How have you handled communication and connection while separated? Fellow MSAN Blogger, Erin Kidd, shares her story of deployment communication here.  We would love to hear your success stories and advice!. Please comment or email us!