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Reserve Airmen, families learn to manage deployment expectations

  • Published
  • By ORLANDO
  • 512th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Reserve Airmen learned to identify and prioritize their deployment expectations during a presentation at an Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon event in Orlando, Florida, March 26-27.

Designed for those who are preparing for deployment, the presentation emphasized the need for deployers and their loved ones to have candid conversations about the expectations they have about their deployment.

“There are two types of expectations—those you can control and those you can’t,” said Lynn Hull, a retired Air Force Reserve officer who facilitated the presentation. “Today we’re talking about the expectations you can control.”

Hull, who deployed several times during her career, said Airmen and their loved ones should discuss expectations related to communication, finances, roles and responsibilities and reintegration.

Communication:

Hull advised Airmen to think about how they would like to communicate with family and friends while deployed and how frequently they would like that communication to be.

“We struggled with communication during my first deployment,” Tech. Sgt. Christopher Fleming said about himself and his wife, Chanise.

Fleming, a load planner assigned to Niagara Falls Air Reserve Base, New York, will soon depart for his second deployment

“After listening to the presentation, we feel more prepared to verbalize and manage the expectations we have for one another,” he said. “This time we have a better mindset going into deployment.”

Today, Airman rely heavily on technology to communicate with their loved ones at home. However, Hull reminded Airmen some deployment locations may not cater to pre-established communication plans.

During the presentation, Hull provided participants examples of nonconventional means of communication.

For example, she shared the story of an Airman’s boyfriend who wrote compliments about her on slips of paper he compiled into a box she took with her on deployment. There were enough compliments for the Airman to read about herself for everyday she was deployed.

Nonconventional forms of communication like this help Airmen and their loved ones remain bonded during deployment, Hull said.

In addition to planning how and when to communicate, Airmen and families also need to determine what they want to talk about during deployment to prevent placing any stress on them and their families.

“Do you want to only talk about the good things going on during deployment and at home?” asked Hull. “Or the good, the bad and the ugly?”

Familiar with the demands of deployment, Hull recommended that participants use journals to document their lives during deployment.

Upon an Airman’s return, the journals would be swapped with one another. This would allow families to learn about the deployed environment and Airmen to learn about what home life was like while they were gone.

Finances:

Deploying does not mean taking a break from finances. Hull asked participants to consider finance-related issues, such as what they use money for, what are their financial worries and how will they manage finances while separated.

Airmen must answer these types of questions in order to maintain financial security while deployed, Hull said.

Prior to deployment, Airmen should determine how their financial responsibilities will be taken care of while they are away. They should consider setting up auto-pay for their bills or transferring the responsibility to a spouse, significant other, family member or friend.

If an Airman authorizes someone else to handle their finances, they should ensure the authorized person is aware of and understands all of the Airman’s financial processes.

Most Airmen manage their finances electronically, Hull said, and they should remember to share passwords to their bill-paying websites or apps. If two-factor authentication is set up on any of the websites or apps, Airmen should consider removing the second authentication step to so their accounts are easily accessible to the person overseeing their finances.

Roles and Responsibilities:

“Who’s going to do what when you’re separated?” Hull asked the participants. “What do you do every day that needs to continue to be done while you’re deployed?”

Before deploying, Airmen should create a list of their daily activities, regardless of how big or small they are. Whether relative to children, household chores, animals, car maintenance or other activities, Airmen need to delegate these tasks to a trusted person who can properly execute them.

“I remember thinking, ‘Who’s going to scrub the floorboards? I’m the only person in the house that scrubs the floorboards,’” Hull laughed as she reflected on a time before one of her deployments.

During the presentation, family and friends who will take on their Airman’s responsibilities during deployment were encouraged this can create opportunity for newfound independence.

“A spouse once said to me, ‘My husband always pumps the gas,’” Hull said. “Well, guess what? That spouse had to learn how to pump gas while her husband was deployed.”

Family members and friends who take ownership of an Airman’s responsibilities during deployment should remember they are a part of the Air Force just as much as their Airman is.

As Hull said, deployment does not just affect an Air Force member. It affects families and friends too.

Reunion and Reintegration

Reacclimating can be difficult for some Airmen after spending months in a deployed environment. It’s important for Airmen to determine what they’d like their reunion with family and friends to be like. Airmen can ask themselves these questions to help them plan their homecoming:

 Who do I want there?
 What will my first two weeks back home look like?
 Will I want down time or will I want to engage in activities?
 Do I have any medical needs?

“Reunions are emotionally charged,” Hull said. “Everyone has an image of what their reunion will look like, but it won’t look that way unless you plan for it to.”

Chanise Fleming said the reunion after her husband’s first deployment was not what she expected.

“I was hoping for a reunion like you see on TV,” Chanise said. “I stressed myself out with expectations and thought so much would happen when he came home. I didn’t consider the time or recovery he needed after deployment.”

Like reunions, Airmen and their loved ones should plan for reintegration, Hull said. Airmen should acknowledge their families will become used to a routine that doesn’t involve them while they’re deployed. Thus, Airmen should not be surprised when they come home to routines that are different than from when they departed.

“I suggest a two-week observation period, Hull said. “Don’t just pick up where you left off. Observe the new norm of your family. You may have to reintegrate into who your family has become, and if deployment changes you, the person you’ve become.”

Just as importantly, single Airmen should recognize reintegration with family and friends may take time.

Moreover, Airman may feel nostalgic about deployment.

“Deployment can be very simple,” said Hull. “You wake up, go to work, go to the chow hall, finish work and then go to sleep. An Airman may miss this. They may miss their comrades.”

Fortunately, several resources are available to assist Airmen with reintegration. Hull advised Airmen and their loved ones to make an appointment with Military OneSource as part of their reintegration plan.

Pulling it All Together

Airmen and their families were reminded dealing with deployment is never easy but can become easier with properly managed expectations.

Hull left participants with a final note about deployment.

“We’re conditioned to think ‘bad’ when we think about deployment,” she said. “But it offers so much. Deployment tests your limits and pushes you and your families out of your comfort zone. It is an adventure. An opportunity to embrace change, create bonds and serve in a way most people never will.”

The Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon Program aims to connect Reserve Airmen and their loved ones with resources that will help them before, during and after deployment.