Posted on Feb 4, 2019
SPC Commissioned Officer Candidate
8.13K
29
14
15
15
0
868be48
I'm not deploying anytime soon, but the thought has often crossed my mind, when that time does come, what words will be sufficient when I look into my little girl's eyes and tell her that Daddy will be gone for a year. Will she understand? Will she be upset. We're pretty close and I think it could be pretty emotional.
Avatar feed
Responses: 8
Maj John Bell
4
4
0
Edited >1 y ago
My daughter was just three months old when I did my first 6 month rotation (Okinawa). We didn't want it to be a complete shock when Daddy came home. We taped (cassettes, because it was that long ago) 30 children's bed time stories. We had it recorded professionally because we wanted high sound fidelity. And we had a life size stand up picture of me in the crib side chair that my wife set up, whenever she went to bed, I was still able to "read" her bedtime stories. There was no trauma when I got home. She still has the cassettes, but we also had them digitized and she plays them for my grandkids.

My son was in kindergarten, my daughter in second grade the next time I deployed, Mediterranean MEU(SOC). I had just come off of a tour in Africa inspecting Marine Embassy Guard detachments, so they were pretty familiar with me being gone 3-5 days every week, four weeks a month. We did the bed time stories the same, but my son and my daughter were old enough to know the difference. We were completely honest in an age appropriate way, about a MEU(SOC) deployment, including the possibility of combat and what it might mean. My daughter took it all in stride. My son, not so much.

Sam wasn't a heavy kid, and he lost so much weight the school system demanded a pediatrician visit.
The pediatrician actually wrote a prescription for a slice of pie and ice cream with every dinner and did a great talk with Sam on how important it was going to be to eat that pie and ice cream.

He also cried a lot in school, and didn't have the will to stand up for himself against the school yard bullies, that he had before I left; so the school also demanded a social worker interview half way through the deployment. Fortunately, the people around Jacksonville, NC are used to these kinds of reactions from kids whose moms and dads are in the Marines. And the very first words out of the social worker's mouth when she interviewed my wife and Sam was "How long has Dad been gone?"

For about 2-3 months after I got back, Sam was pretty cool and distant with me. Then a switch was flipped and he couldn't get enough of me. He took a lot of things apart, especially clocks and small appliances. He'd bring me a box full of parts, apologize for breaking my stuff and then tell me he'd fix it himself, but he needed my help. So fixing things became our thing. I quickly learned to take him to flea markets every week so we could find things to disassemble and re-assemble.

I'm not going to lie to you, Sam's reaction to my deployment was a big factor in my decision to leave the service. I talked with a child psychologist who said that what happened with Sam was text book. The stars lined up and my 2nd deployment was just at a time when little boys don't do well with Dad being gone. He told me that girls typically did much better, but that 7th-10th grade was the worst time for young girls to have Dad deploy. He said most of the disruption would come in Jenn's relationship with her mother. The Psychologist said how quickly things got back to normal was dependent on how involved you and your wife were in your kids life when you weren't deployed, pre and post deployment.

With me knowing nothing else, the fact that you're asking, tells me that you are more self-aware than most. The separation will suck, but you and she will come out of it just fine.
(4)
Comment
(0)
LTC Jason Mackay
LTC Jason Mackay
>1 y
Cynthia C. - the service has funded Military Family Life Coaches to each Brigade sized unit and several per school. Their background is counseling, but they are sort of a first line triage that directs the service member, family member or child to more deliberate services based on the issue they are having. The priority is helping people with deployment issues, then all others, particularly children that are separated by combat and operational missions. Never seen anyone turned away, they helped everyone that sought them out.
(1)
Reply
(0)
LTC Jason Mackay
LTC Jason Mackay
>1 y
Cynthia C. - the Guard and reserve has different access to MFLCs, they are there but no as pervasive due to the dispersion of Reserve Component families.
(0)
Reply
(0)
Avatar small
CSM Darieus ZaGara
3
3
0
There are many tools at the Garrison Family Readiness that can assist with this conversation based on the child’s age. You said you are close, so no one knows better than you what type of conversation and or depictions would assist with this. Our children and that of my Soldiers over the years reacted differently, and sometimes deployment to deployment. Remember each time you go circumstances are different for you and your unit as they will be for your family. Be honest and speak their language. Thank you for your service.
(3)
Comment
(0)
Avatar small
LTC Jason Mackay
2
2
0
Edited >1 y ago
SPC (Join to see) this is a tough conversation you need to prepare for, brace yourself for, and be prepared to deal with whatever feedback you get. The conversation will vary depending on how old they are. My first deployment, my oldest was a toddler. My second, she was 5, her sister an infant. Third deployment she was 9 (old Hand at this point), Youngest was 4.

- the timing is variable and depends on the child. I wouldn't surprise them with this right before you go. Give them time to,process it. They are not dumb, they see you packing gear, as a RC soldier you are in uniform more. Mobilization etc.
- you have to be honest. Don't promise what you can't deliver on.
- there is nothing that prepares you to tell your 5 year old daughter that I will do everything I can to come back to you...but don't promise nothing will happen to you. You can't make that promise. I still see the big blue eyes staring back at me.
- A year was a hard thing to handle as a concept, complicated by your reappearance for mid tour leave then leave again. I thought this was harder for all of us.
- I explained that you made a promise to defend the country and you are keeping that promise. You are doing this for your family. You are going to help people and protect your friends. They can understand that.

My first deployment my oldest would walk around a high back chair I would usually sit in and point, looking at my wife...wondering where I was. Anxiety was high. My wife was a new mother and relatively new Army wife. I was a Company Commander in Iraq in just after the invasion. No one knew what would happen.

My second deployment I was in a BCT in the 101st in Afghanistan. Anxiety was high. iEDs and the reality of what we were doing was hitting home. my oldest who was five was convinced that it was my Battalion Commander's fault I was leaving. She was insistent she was going to talk to him and straighten it out. She would proclaim aloud "I need to talk to Colonel Whitson". No matter what I told her it all went back to him. I gave him a heads up, as we as a staff did things socially with him and his family. To,his credit Kirk Whitson was a father of three dealing with the same thing. He is a kind and supportive leader. Don't know why she thought it was all his big idea. It was the first time she was old enough to see me interact with my boss, who was loved by the Battalion and in particular junior leaders. I guess to her Kirk was the Army. This deployment was odd as I came and went several times as We had three trips to JRTC; I was on the in country PDSS; then deployed on ADVON-mid tour-then redeployed. My wife got them Daddy dolls. They were made from a full length picture of me in uniform. They had a voice recorded message in the doll where I told them I loved them. When I came back, my youngest was confused. My wife would ask where is Daddy, and she'd walk past me and get the doll and squeeze it so it talked. Then I'd say what the doll says, eventually she married it up. They both still have the dolls at 11 and 16. I'm sure they are voodoo dolls now. The school was outside Ft Campbell, and they were on it. they had MFLCs there.

Third deployment was NATO. 6 months in Afghanistan, stretched to 8 months. The girls were very swept up in the deployment support events (a positive). Oldest got extra attention at school. She was in a DODS school and they were on it. It was easier knowing 6 months, even though my rotation got monkey pumped with two more months because others couldn't count. This time we could FaceTime. The pressure was down as I was in ISAF HQ.no mid tour leave. In and out.

Something my family did, I think it helped, on deployment day, they took me early before everyone arrived and buses pulled. We said our farewells, whatever came out, came out, but at go time we were pulled back together. I focused on getting the unit out and was available to others not doing well.

Later on after my deployments, my oldest was unphased but my youngest took it hard if I had to leave for anything. A three day TDY. Going to the field. I had to break it down for her, how long, not going anywhere dangerous, etc. my youngest had been accustomed to me being there as I redeployed, then we all PCSed back to the states where I was a Garrison Commander, then PCSed to Carson where my unit was chopped to NORTHCOM, so no overseas missions.

The best thing you can do is to spend the time you do have with them. Sometimes together, sometimes one on one. Doesn't matter if it's mundane stuff or something fun. Just talk with them, not talk to them.

I'd recommend a conversation with your kids teachers and counselors at school. Even if they have no other frame of reference, they'll know there is a change at home and they can support. A little understanding can smooth stuff out.

If you are unsure about this, does your state have access to MFLCs? Talk to one before you try and have the conversation.
(2)
Comment
(0)
LTC Jason Mackay
LTC Jason Mackay
>1 y
Cynthia C. - FaceTime, Skype, and data pipes available to servicememebers is the best thing to happen for retaining connection, especially with kids. The down side is that if you have issues, it becomes a great platform to fight on. That's why you have to go into the deployment strong. Work on your challenges because they won't get better while you are gone. Another disadvantage is that if you all of a sudden don't have data connectivity, it becomes an issue. Why don't you call anymore?
(0)
Reply
(0)
Avatar small

Join nearly 2 million former and current members of the US military, just like you.

close