Deployments are arguably the hardest part of military life, for both the service member and their spouses. Each deployment comes with its own challenges, and our old friend Murphy’s Law tends to be responsible for most of them. As if Murphy wasn’t bad enough, another challenge was thrown at us during deployment this year – COVID-19.
Not only have military spouses had to cope with quarantine-related lockdowns, but many of us have also had to endure extended deployments during the pandemic. Here is how three spouses courageously held it together during their own extended deployments, as well as the hope and encouragement they have to offer all of us.
There’s always room for growth
Deployment often shows us how strong we are through times of unparalleled uncertainty. That’s what Priscilla Borrego, an Air Force spouse, learned when her husband’s usual six-month deployment was extended for two-and-a-half additional months due to COVID-19.
During her husband’s deployment, Borrego worked full-time as a legal assistant for the Illinois State Attorney’s office, on top of managing virtual learning for her two children. While she was able to work from home, she recalls the entire experience as chaotic.
“I had to sit with my work stuff in front of me and a child on each side. I would check to make sure my daughter was doing what she was supposed to, then I would do the same for my son, then I would work,” she said. “This became crazy very quickly because of the amount of things I had to do to teach them, on top of doing it all by myself and working; [it] created a lot of issues and was VERY overwhelming.”
Despite the challenges that virtual learning and remote work brought during this deployment, Borrego says that, through it all, she was able to grow both personally and spiritually.
“I was able to step back and realize that God was with me the entire time,” she said. “I had to say, ‘Okay, things are spiraling out of control, his [coming home] date keeps getting pushed back, and my workload isn’t going to stop anytime soon. And then my kids didn’t want to do schoolwork, there were problems upon problems building up — so I was forced to start relying on my faith.”
She also said that this deployment showed her that not only could she rise to any challenge, but she could also learn from those challenges.
“Life is full of hardships, you have to deal with them and you have to learn from them. If you’re going through a storm, you have to be able to take something away from that.”
Build a life where you are
Some of the biggest challenges that come with military life are frequent moves and lack of familial support. This is why a lot of spouses opt to go back to their hometowns during a long deployment. However, it is also necessary to build a life where you are — make a home, find your tribe and get involved with your community. That’s exactly what Maggie Linsalato, a Navy spouse, has done at her current duty station.
Linsalato’s husband was aboard the U.S.S. Stout, a Navy destroyer that was out at sea for a record 215 days this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. During that time, Linsalato was also very busy. Not only is she a wife and mom of two, but she also serves as her Family Readiness Group’s (FRG) president, and her family was getting ready for an unexpected PCS.
“My husband got pulled for a special duty, and we weren’t happy about it. We bought a house here, and everyone always says ‘good luck getting out of Norfolk’, so it was a bit of a shock, to say the least,” she said.
Their PCS orders ended up getting canceled, but Linsalato was busy adjusting to her role as FRG president — during a pandemic, no less. She wanted to create an environment for spouses to be able to depend on each other during such an unpredictable time. But it wasn’t without a bit of trial and error.
“As president, I wanted to find a way to relate to other spouses. I wanted the less experienced spouses to feel like they could reach out to some of us with more experience,” she said of her efforts. “The theme of this deployment and the FRG board seemed to be ‘will this idea work?’ ‘No.’ As a social organization that couldn’t get together, it was very difficult, but we eventually found ways to make things work. We organized a few fundraisers and we have our meetings on Zoom, and everyone is involved.”
One valuable thing that Linsalato took away from this deployment was realizing that home is where you make it.
“Home isn’t where you grew up. It’s where your future is. It’s with your spouse, your community and your new connections in your new town. Don’t be afraid to put down roots. And don’t give in to the temptation to move back to your hometown when your spouse deploys. Give yourself a chance to find your own path and your own hobbies,” Linsalato said.
Relinquish control and accept what is
If this is your first deployment, one thing you will learn is that not everything goes according to plan. Barbie Jackson, an Air Force spouse, learned this very quickly when her husband’s first deployment fell in the middle of the pandemic, and he will not be able to come home for his mid-tour leave.
Jackson’s husband was deployed to Korea earlier this year for a year-long tour. He was scheduled to depart for his tour in February, but his date kept getting pushed back. She said that before he left, she wanted to plan everything out.
“I’m a planner and organizer, so I just wanted to have everything planned out and organized, and have a to-do list, but with his date getting pushed back, he told me I would have to wait to do that,” Jackson said.
His date ended up being changed four times. Jackson says that this deployment has not only been really challenging for her, but it’s been especially hard on their kids.
“My daughter is really missing her dad. They are the best of friends – they go on daddy-daughter dates, they play outside together, they play basketball. So she is struggling a bit more than I am.”
Jackson has also managed to keep herself busy during the deployment, and that it’s had the positive side-effect of getting to know herself again.
“I do home projects; I rearranged my bedroom and painted the walls. I’ve also gone outside a lot. I go for walks to clear my head. I think when your spouse is gone it’s important to try new things. For me, it was coffee. I never imagined I would drink a lot of coffee. Oh, and I took a salsa class!” she said.
She also says that she feels like she’s gained more confidence in herself during this deployment, and that she learned to stop telling herself “no.”
“I wouldn’t typically go to a mom group, but I figured I would just go and meet new people since I was always stuck in the house. You only live once, and you shouldn’t always tell yourself no.”
Jackson has some advice for other spouses going through their first deployment during the pandemic.
“Breathe. Everything is okay. You’re not going to be able to control the things that you want to control. Rely on your family and friends for support, they will help you through your struggle. And remember, the stressors in your life currently are only temporary.”Read comments