Deployment & Christmas

This year around 7,500 British troops will be deployed over Christmas. For every soldier posted overseas there is a family missing them, it could be a husband, wife, children, boyfriend or girlfriend,mother and father, sister or brother…the list goes on. After spending 6 months apart from my husband this year I feel very grateful that he is around at the time of year when families get together and enjoy each other’s company.

A few years ago the military was more visible in the nations Christmas celebrations and coverage. We saw news snippets and stories from Iraq and Afghanistan. Troops enjoying a Christmas lunch cooked in a field kitchen and opening care packages sent from all over the world. Now, with the changing nature of the U.K. military, we don’t see so much coverage of what our troops are up to.

I’ve realised in my almost 3 years as an army spouse that families play such a pivotal role in the health and well-being of our military personnel. This time last year we were gearing up to move from the Highlands of Scotland to the South West of the U.K ahead of my husbands deployment. There was a certain pressure to see people, make sure that we spent time with family, caught up with friends who we might not see together for a while. Amidst all of the socialising there’s a lot of planning, when do we move, how do we move, what about my job, do I actually want to live alone for 6 months or should I move in with my family etc, etc. Then you’re trying very hard not to argue with each other, conscious of the long months ahead you’ll spend a part you try to keep the equilibrium. On top of that I was acutely aware that my partner was heading off to a job and a country that could potentially be quite stressful, I wanted him to feel prepared and calm. I wanted to make sure we minimised the things he might worry about back home.

Preparing for deployment is stressful and emotional. Then once your partner is away you are flying solo, often trying to settling into a new community and location at the same time. Spouses left behind on deployments carry the responsibility of creating a stable environment for their children, trying to keep things going on an even keel, balance budgets and maintain a healthy relationship with their deployed spouse. This involves fractured phone calls as signal cuts in and out and thoughtful care packages, crossing fingers that when you pop it on the scale it will be light enough to be sent free of charge.

It’s a juggling act to say the least and it can be a lonely journey. I’ve always found the hardest comment to deal with (usually from those not within the military community) is: ‘you knew what you were getting into when you got married’.

It’s an insensitive comment and very misjudged because no-one, military or otherwise, knows what is heading their way when they get married. Life itself is an unpredictable journey and marriage is about learning to sail the voyage together. Being a military family means you are reminded more often of the unpredictability of your situation. How you fare in the journey depends on the strength of your relationship, the support of your family and community and the belief you have in yourself that you can make it through the long lonely months.

Midway through my partners deployment he sent me a photo, and this Christmas a family member had it framed for us for a Christmas present:

Gavin Williamson the Secretary Of State for Defence officially promoting my husband to Major. This photo means a lot because behind it is years of commitment from us both, hours of conversation discussing whether staying in the army is the right direction for us and moments of doubt where we wondered if we’d made the wrong decision. This photo also represents the moments you miss as a military couple, the achievements you hear about secondhand because you just can’t be there in person. So in this photo, which captures a fleeting moment, I see achievement of a goal that we’ve been aiming towards for a while and I feel so proud, I feel that in some ways the hard times are worth it.

So if my experience of deployment has taught me anything this year it’s that the disruption of deployment affects families long before, and long after, the duration of a deployment. So over Christmas I’m thinking of all the families who have a loved one deployed, all of those who have a deployment on the horizon and all of those who are grateful for the return of their loved one. You might feel uprooted at times but you can do it, and at some point I hope it feels worth it as it does for me when I look at this photo.

There’s an experience we share as a military community an appreciation that things don’t go to plan, in fact that having a plan is not always very helpful.

Deployment goals

My husband will now be away for 6 months, and I could feel really sad about this.  However I’m a strong believer in making the most of things and I intend to enjoy the next 6 months and make some lovely memories with friends, family and, of course, my dog.  I decided for this deployment to have some goals which are all about me, it’s helping me to fill my free time with things I enjoy doing.  I’ve kept these goals straightforward and easy to achieve.  Here they are:

#Goal1 – Dog training 

As you can probably tell I’m wildly in love with my fox red labrador Ziggy.  He’s a loyal companion and running buddy who’ll set the pace for miles.  Due to my obsession it’s fair to say I’ve let him get away with a fair bit.  He’s a pretty cheeky character who, if given the chance, will run round the house with a toilet brush clamped in his mouth and avoid capture for a good half an hour.

Since he’s a super smart dog (bias? Yes!) I think it’s time we put that brain to good use and start some dog training.  We’ll be kicking off 4 one-to-one sessions in May and I can’t wait.  My overall goal is to get into gun-dog training, but we’ll take this paw by paw

#Goal2 – Write my grandad’s memoirs

My amazing Grandad turns 92 this year, he’s still playing golf and is one of the biggest inspirations to me.  Every time I see him he tells me a different story about his life and I’m always blown away by his memories and adventures.  This year I’m going to start documenting his memories and I can’t wait to discover aspects of his life I’ve not yet heard about.

#Goal3 – Get creative 

I’m a somewhat closet creative, I enjoy making things and doing things but they usually turn into things which aren’t very useful so it sometimes it feels like a waste of time.  I’ve decided to try a few creative activities and see if I’m secretly really good at something.  So far I’ve started knitting and I’ll be attending my first pottery class (I’m imagining Ghost of course) next week.  Would love any tips on creative activities I could try out!

#Goal4 – Get outside

Living in the Highlands meant we were outside more than we were inside.  Now we’ve moved away from the mountains and the beach I need more motivation to get outside.  I’ve started exploring the Cotswold countryside around where we live and hope to start documenting what we find on our travels.

#Goal5 – Makeup

Literally makeup.  This is a random goal, but I’ve been doing my makeup the same way since I was 16.  So it’s time for a makeup lesson so I can act my age (but hopefully look younger).  My hair is going grey and I’m severely allergic to hair dye, so it’s time to up my makeup game and embrace the grey.

 

 

Feeling part of the furniture

Our first home happened to be a house which we own, when we bought it the decor hadn’t changed since the 70s so we spent many nights and weekends stripping the wallpaper, painting and laying floors.  It started out as a set of walls and become a labour of love.  Then just as soon as we’d made it comfortable we found out we’d be moving, so we rented out our first home and experienced our first army quarter.

When selecting your army quarter you have the choice to have an unfurnished, part furnished or fully furnished pad (you pay more for part or fully furnished).

For our first quarter we took quite a lot of furniture because we couldn’t afford to buy (still can’t!) and all our existing furniture needed to stay in our old house for our new tenants.  We took:

  • Sofa
  • Dining table and chairs
  • Bookcases
  • Side tables
  • Beds
  • Dressing table
  • Drawers

All our rooms had built in wardrobes (really great!) and generally there’s lots of storage. Mixed in with all the army issued furniture we have an eclectic selection of other furniture to make things feel more homely.  Most of this comes from charity and antique shops.  For our next move I’ll be updating our curtain set – I’ll be hunting the charity shops over the next few weeks!

Planning

I find that there’s a balance to strike when it comes to planning.  Generally I’m a bit of a free-spirit, fly by the seat of my pants kind of gal.  This lends itself well to being an army wife…at times.

Sometimes however a bit of planning is necessary and as you might imagine my other half likes to plan, it’s in his army DNA.  Over time I’ve learnt to put some time and effort into planning, so that we can maximise the time we have together and make sure my work, home and army wife life don’t descend into chaos.

My husband is deploying soon and we’ve got a housemove on the cards so I’ll be posting lots about planning.  To start with here’s my general top tips:

  1. Have a shared calendar with your other half, this makes sure you don’t double book and allows you to visualise how busy you are (so you can remove some commitments if it’s getting too much!).
  2. Go on a date, and take your diary.  Often we’ll put time in the diary, to look at our diaries.  Sounds geeky but it always involves wine and sometimes requires gin.
  3. Plan in fun.  Don’t over do-it with an hour by hour plan of what you’re going to do on a Saturday afternoon but make sure you’ve got enough to look forward to in your diary.  If your husband is away fill that time with friends and family.  This is important as it takes keeps a good balance of practical logistics with the added sparkle of excitement.