090828-N-5019M-081One of the reasons we went with the ‘Postcards from deployment…’ feature a couple of years ago was to bring an unvarnished look at deployments from a sailor’s POV that doesn’t always make it to the light of day, except in rare fora like the “Carrier” series late last year. Charles touches on something everyone of us who have walked up the brow or launched to the ship on Day 1 of a major deployment have faced.  I well recall on my first deployment receiving a telegram  (yes, yes, this was pre-internet days), barely 6 weeks into what would turn out to be a 9+ month deployment, that started with “Your Mom’s OK and will be out of the hospital in a week or so.  Now, about your car…” The feeling of utter helplessness, that decisions you would normally be making are now in the hands of someone else can be, well, stressful. Beyond that too are the signature life-milestones — births, first steps, first day at school, holidays and anniversaries and deaths that pass sans our presence.

And such stress is not a good companion in the air, on the flightdeck or in the engineering spaces or bridge.  We all developed our coping mechanisms and learned to compartmentalize – and thus ensured long-term employment for any one of a number of “counselors,” shrinks and in some folks’ case, divorce lawyers upon our return to the beach. – SJS

SJS,

Yet another awesome day out here in the Western Pacific. We are getting some exercises in with the folks from CNFJ and prepping for our ultimate mission which will be putting 090901-N-8421M-001aircraft overhead in either OEF or OIF support. I happen to get a chance to swing by the site and get caught up on the comments so far. Tell Skippy-San, that I knew I had a spelling error regarding the man-made island in Tokyo that I visited after I sent you the note. I was just trying to remember and phonetically spell what I had heard and asked for while traveling via JR trains and Tokyo Subways. As to him wanting to swap places, I would be all for it. Take orders to Pensacola in a heart beat if it meant that I had my feet on dry land for longer then a few months. That kind of leads me to my topic of the day, deployment stress.

We [us in the military] aren’t aliens or oddities that don’t deal with some of the same things the rest of the civilian populace deals with. Rather our stress is even more complex and convoluted the normal. Most people are able to come home and work through the stress every day. Being in the military sometimes means being deployed and trying to have to deal with this stress from the end of email/postal link or the ever so infrequent phone call link (remember cashing a check for rolls of quarters to use the pay phone at Sigonella and then doing the math for the time zone changes?). Both sides deal with stress and the military is working hard to have pre-deployment classes so everyone realizes the stress and can work through it. They tell us not to leave with fights brewing 090902-N-8960W-045over our heads. Try to get things resolved as soon as possible before a deployment happens or see if an issue can be tabled until everyone is home and able to talk about it. It is accepted that everyone will be angry and say some things that aren’t nice on the ramp up to the deployment. Working through that before deployment is always stressed as well. All sorts of coping strategies are introduced by the staff of the pre-deployment classes.

All of us who have deployed know the stress that I will be talking about. It is where something happens at home and you as the deployed member can’t deal with it. Having to only send word home via email, letter, or twenty minute phone call via a Sailor Phone. The stress where you hear from the Spousal unit things like: “The car is broke and the mechanic is asking XYZ for repairs….”; “Johnny is becoming a terror at the house and starting to do poorly at school…”; “Yeller took sick a couple of days ago, I took him to the vet…”. You get letters like this and it tears you up inside. You know how to deal with it if your home, but out here away from it all, some of us are at a loss to deal with the feelings or emotions. Part of it comes from the fact that you want to turn 090904-N-8960W-010to someone for a shoulder, but your loved one isn’t there immediately. Even worst is the feeling that you know others onboard are probably going through the same sort of stress, but still feel like your alone in the water. Combine this with the regular work stress of trying to maintain a work center, a workload, and keep out of the negative spotlight in maintenance control; we have a storm brewing inside everyone.

There are a number of ways we seem to deal with it. Some folks write out long flowing emails/letters describing how they are feeling, telling their spouses how to deal with it down to the tiniest detail, and in general trying to offload some of this stress. Others will spend every off-shift hour making phone calls via the sailor phones trying to get help going where they can or work through the problem. Others still will try and turn to supervisors and leadership for direction. We in turn help point them to such people as the chaplains or even the ship’s psychologists as people to talk to. Some of us will compartmentalize the information and off load it while in port some place or they will go to the gym and work out the stress that way. Some will just take a day and everything that goes wrong will explode against people about little things, after a day of just venting they will feel better. The final 090904-N-8960W-003way is the worst way and I personally have only seen it done once on a deployment years ago. That is through hurting themselves. As someone in leadership, having to attend training trying to recognize this stress and intercede before the final option is exercised has emphasized constantly during workups in most of my cruises. The ones that usually go the final route are those in the first term/first deployment cycle.

Most of our first cruise folks are dealing with being away from home and again those feelings of being alone, even though they are around five thousand other people. It gets even harder when they are TAD to some place on the ship and only feel more and more alienated. This isn’t what they were expecting from the TV shows, the recruiter, the instructors at the various schools were telling them what the fleet was like. When you add to that a letter that begins “It isn’t you it is me…” from a girlfriend/wife, that usually seems to be the straw that breaks the back for a large number of our first cruise folks. It is hard work to bounce back from something like that, as supervisors we work very hard to pay attention to mood changes. Sometimes all it takes is some engagement, opening up a chance for someone to vent. Sometimes you need to be the initial contact and then refer them to other people who are better trained and prepared to help work through the issue. Engagement is always the word of the day for some of this stress.

I am going through my own deployment stress. Being a newlywed is hard, even more so when you were only home for two months before starting the in/out of the deployment cycle. I was smart and loaded up with nearly all the cards for the birthday and anniversary that I could get while in San Diego and Japan when I could. Every place I hit for a port visit I try and remember to hunt for some little curio to send home and share my trip with her. Even more then that though is just the thought that I really want to just spend time at home getting use to living the married life. We were dating while I was in work ups for my 2007-2008 deployment. Trying to get personal time in-between duty weekends, training detachments, etc. Got 090831-N-3038W-037married in Nov 2008 and changed commands that winter, only to start the whole cycle again. I have a slew of things to figure out beyond finishing up this deployment. The biggest tickler in the back of my head is finding a house where the two of us can live together, but the other thing fighting that is I am expected to rotated in January of 2011 (basically a year and four months from now) to another duty assignment. So even if I found a good house at a decent price could if I did have to move could I make a profit on it? Family is also a big stressor right now. My last deployment, some very close family members passed away, they weren’t in my immediate nuclear family, so I couldn’t take leave. The most that I could do was shoulder the news, compartmentalize it and move on. There wasn’t the time nor the money to make a transit from the Gulf all the way back to the US to make the funerals. When the deployment ended is when the emotional release happened, still very hard for me to deal with even now some of these thoughts. I am really in the mood for a break from this sea duty and want some nice shore duty place where I don’t have to see a ship for a while.

Oh, and the home front goes through deployment stress as well. It is even harder for them since most of the time they are in the middle of the storm that started the letter or email. It is really helpful if friends or neighbors are able to help out from time to time. Even something simple as helping to cook a meal because of a hectic week is appreciated from time to time.

Well that is it for deep thoughts from out here. I hope this little glimpse in to some of the other things that make up our lives beyond fun port calls and living out the dream of being Top Gun has been enlightening for your readers .

Sincerely,

Charles

2 Comments

  1. Byron

    Charles, you will be in my prayers tonight, that you and your wife are both up to the task at hand. The best thing I can tell you about handling the stress is both very simple and very hard at the same time: Keep the faith. In all things, keep the faith; in each other, with your shipmates, your leadership, the future, keep the faith.

    Next deployment, I expect to hear you have moved your sea bags to the Goat Locker!

    Byron

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