What it’s like on deployment!
This isn’t a “I know better.” It’s also not an “aha, now everyone sees what it feels like!” The tone I’m hoping to strike is one of collective encouragement. A “you can do this!” We can do this. I’ve had a half dozen conversations of the same type this week, and heard two interviews that nudged me to write this.
Quite frankly, and completely honestly, I’ve been surprised to hear some people reference things like, America has never been through something like this. Not even the aftermath of September 11th, 2001. The person checked their comment, then saying something about how this is way worse, or much different. For our family, and many veterans, this is exactly what life was like for us after 9/11. Year after year, deployment after deployment. Everyone else is just finding out what it is like to be deployed.
If you’re a family of two parents, with kids, deployment was normally one person far away from home, one person at home doing literally everything. For months at a time. Alone.
Trust me, if anyone is empathetic to how you are feeling it is me, and us (veterans). Most people seem to be frustrated with the sudden changes to normal life, the home schooling, the inconvenience, the worry, and the anxiety, which is to say nothing about financial pressures. The sudden change and disruption is jarring. Most of us will toggle from joy to anger within minutes of building a living room fort with the kids that turns into a fight five minutes later. Sometimes there are 100 things to do at once. Sometimes you are bored out of your mind. Sometimes you’re on full alert and sometimes you just need quiet. It’s like this on deployment.
You are “away” from the rest of the world. At the very least you are away from many of the people you love. It is difficult to stay in touch. You are isolated in your own little forward operating base (your house). Yet, outside there is an adversary, an enemy if you will, lurking outside who you can’t see and don’t know where they are. You only make contact with the adversary if you go to “it” or “it” comes to you. But there are ways to mitigate making contact if you choose to do so. It all depends on how well “trained” (prepared) you are to deal with the adversary. But in the end, making contact with the adversary may be completely out of your control anyway. Of course, in our case, most of the time we wanted to make contact with the enemy. In this case we don’t. Either way, the conditions are the same. This is what it’s like on deployment.
For whomever is back home dealing with everything when the other person is deployed, they’re isolated too. Not completely stuck but certainly consumed with doing all the same stuff that you are dealing with right now. Cook, wash and fold laundry, take out the trash, clean up the cat or dog’s mess, help with homework, deal with crying, break up fights, get more and more frustrated and exhausted. Get no break from the kids. Rinse and repeat, hour-after-hour, day-after-day, for months at a time. There’s no going out to lunch. No cocktail parties. No babysitter. Luckily, in this case, if one has support at home right now, at least we’re able to share the duties together. This is what it is like on deployment.
To make matters more concerning, the part of the world you’re used to seeing, the part that makes up your micro “world” is now largely invisible. You’re locked into your own little forward operating base. It probably feels a little like the world with whom you normally interact is still out there interacting without you. It’s lonely, I know. You start to wonder if the outer world has completely moved on without you.
One finds themselves weirdly wondering if they are missing something. One certainly misses home, and normalcy. At some point during this process, you may find yourself wondering if things will ever look the same again? When will things be normal again? It’s like this on deployment too.
Things might look the same. They might not. I’m not here to posit any guarantees about how our worlds are going to look after the pandemic but that, as it turns out, is largely out of our control too. Having been on this roller coaster enough times though, if you manage to stay healthy, your world will very likely normalize again, and probably for the better.
So what do we do now?
First of all, accept that you’re “on deployment” and act accordingly. Accept that what you think is happening right now is actually happening, and it ain’t changing anytime soon. There’s no more “how it used to be” or “how I want it to be.” Right now, it is exactly how it looks. Shitty, weird, lonely, frustrating, and annoying. It’s like this on deployment.
Secondly, build your work rhythm and personal operating rhythm around this new reality. Be disciplined. About your fitness, about your rest, about time with each other at home. Don’t try to blend work stuff and home life. Do work stuff during “work time,” and home stuff during normal time. On deployment, you must try to keep work and “normal” stuff separate. Otherwise both are a distraction to the other, and dilute intentionality.
Thirdly, use what author Robert Greene calls Alive Time. Greene says there are two kinds of time in life, Alive Time and Dead Time. Dead Time is when we’re passive and biding. Alive Time is us learning and acting and leveraging every second towards our future. It’s pretty standard for folks on deployment to learn a language, finish a college degree, read tons of books, and get in the best shape of their lives. One of my best buddies did 5,000 pull-ups in 30 days. You can do the math. Email me if you complete it. By the way, this buddy finished it in 20 days.
Two other things you might realize on deployment. How your priorities get put into order, and how quickly you find out what things with respect to work are absolutely essential, and which things are fluff.
As World War I veteran of trench warfare, Erich Maria Remarque, and author of All Quiet on the Western Front wrote,
“Everyone knows that drill (formal marching) ceases at the front lines, and begins again a few miles behind, with all the absurdities of saluting and parade.”
Maybe the single most important thing to remember right now is you can do this! You can do it. Seriously. You have it in you. I’m not tossing anyone some empty, bullshit encouragement by saying this either. We’ve done it tons of times. My wife has done it. My friends and teammates, and their wives have done it. There’s no special training that prepares anyone to deal with this type of situation. You only do it one day at a time. One disciplined, intentionally planned day at a time.