A deployment extension is difficult for service members and their families. You've been eagerly awaiting your loved one's return home only to find that your reunion plans must suddenly be put on hold. While there's no denying that this is a difficult period, there are things you can do to cope as a family and get through this time with a positive attitude.
Dealing with the initial emotions
From the moment you receive the news of the extended deployment, you may experience a flood of emotions, including sadness, disappointment, worry, and anxiety. Now you must regroup and gear up for more months of managing as a family while your loved one remains far away. During this difficult time, you may find it helpful to remember the following:
- The emotions you're feeling are normal. There's no getting around the fact that a deployment extension brings strong emotions and feelings of stress. You may be flooded with feelings for days or even weeks until you adjust to the news.
- You're not alone. Military family life is a life of constant change. There are schedule changes, family separations, and extended deployments. Active duty service members understand this reality when they enlist. For Guard and Reserve families, however, a deployment extension can feel more unexpected. The more you talk with others in your situation, the easier this time will be and the less alone you will feel.
Coping as a family
A deployment extension affects your family's plans and routines. These suggestions can help:
- Give yourself time to regroup emotionally. Your feelings are genuine. They reflect your disappointment and pain. Even though you didn't cause the situation and may feel a bit out of control, try to avoid taking your legitimate frustrations out on your friends, relatives, or children, who, like yourself, didn't cause the situation. You might want to take an evening off from your regular activities to do something special for yourself.
- Help your children handle the news. Discuss the extension news in an open, honest manner with your children. Keep them informed about the change of events and explain what information you have in words they can understand. Reassure your children that you will all be together soon.
- Tell teachers about the deployment extension and any updates. It's good to keep teachers and other adults in your child's life in the loop.
- Share your feelings as a family. Allow children to discuss their feelings, questions, and concerns. Encourage any questions they may have regarding the extended deployment. Listen and do your best to understand.
- Get back into a routine as soon as possible.
- Focus on the future by beginning to make new plans. The deployment extension changed plans you may have had for a reunion. You may have had a vacation planned, a special reunion with extended family members, or a celebration involving close friends and relatives. When you're ready, organize and plan for a new reunion. It will give you and family members something positive on which to focus.
- Limit exposure to television or other sources of information about the war. This can increase feelings of fear and anxiety, especially for children.
Handling practical matters
You may have financial and other practical matters to attend to during a deployment extension, including mounting bills and a reduced income, especially for Guard and Reserve families. It will help reduce the stress if you take care of these matters as soon as you can.
- Be sure the service member contacts his or her employer. Guard and Reserve members expected back at work will need to notify their employers about the deployment extension. Employers are mandated by law to hold a mobilized Guard or Reserve member's job for up to five years. For more detailed information, contact the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. Some employers will need a hard copy of the extension orders as proof to secure reemployment rights.
- Notify creditors. Often credit card companies, banks, and other financial institutions will reduce interest rates during a deployment and a deployment extension under provisions of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. To take advantage of this benefit, contact your creditors to let them know that your spouse has been extended on active duty and submit the required paperwork and documentation. Contact your unit or installation Legal Assistance Office for more information.
- Seek advice or assistance if you have financial issues. You may have financial issues to take care of as a result of the extended deployment. If you made vacation plans, for example, to celebrate the service member's homecoming, you may be able to get a refund on tickets or deposits by explaining the circumstances. You may have questions about dealing with a lease that is expiring or how to get through the next several months of expenses on a reduced income. For help reviewing your financial situation, you can talk to a Military OneSource consultant or take advantage of the financial counseling services at your installation Family Support Center.
- Remember that emergency help and relief are available through the military. Every branch of the military has a relief organization for members needing emergency help or relief. There are low-interest loans, grants, and donations available to service members and their families, as well as help with transportation, childcare, food, rent, utilities, and unforeseen family emergencies. Visit the following websites for more information:
- If you live far from an installation, assistance is available through the Red Cross.
Taking care of yourself
Once you've helped others cope with the news and have had a chance to get used to the deployment extension, take some time to focus on yourself.
- Seek support from others. You were expecting your service member home any day and were mentally prepared for a break and an extra set of hands around the house. Now you will have to postpone that break. To tide yourself over, share babysitting or childcare with a friend so you get some relief. Ask a relative to come stay with you for a few days or weeks if possible. Or go visit a relative or close friend.
- Keep busy and stay connected to others. Get together with relatives and friends for potluck dinners, card games, or a picnic with children.
- Talk with people who have been through deployments. They may have valuable suggestions and helpful ideas on how to get through this time. Talking to someone who has been through it or who is just a good listener always helps you feel better.
- Take advantage of the support services and programs. The military has many support services for families of active duty members. This includes information, counselors, the installation chaplain, family support groups, online support groups, and organizations and clubs for spouses, such as the Key Volunteer Network. Reserve families should contact their unit Family Readiness Group or chaplain; they can also use all of the services of the nearest installation.
Supporting your service member
The best way to support your service member is to stay strong as a family and to gear up to get through the coming months until you are together again. Because you were expecting your service member home, you may have stopped writing in recent days or weeks. With the extension, your service member may be without mail or word from home. So that there isn't a gap of support, send a letter or an email, if possible, as soon as you can and then keep it up.