Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Picture A Day While You're Away- Otherwise Known as How I Survived a Deployment

My prayers go to the families of the Marines that were tragically killed in the training exercise.
I can only imagine a fraction of what their families are going through and my heart breaks for them.
These types of tragedies, deployments and periods of separation make military relationships so difficult, whether it's your sibling, child, partner, or spouse.

Did anyone catch last night's second episode of the new season of Army Wives (From the Ashes)? It involved the introduction of a lot of new characters, including the timid yet talented pie maker, Holly Truman.  When Roxy came to speak with her about a new business endeavor involving her delicious pies, it came to Roxy's attention that Holly was a newly married Army wife experiencing her first deployment.  Holly broke down and burst into tears.  She had only been married for six months when her husband left for Afghanistan.  Um is this a chapter from my life?  Ryan and I had only been married six months (lived together for three) when he left for his second deployment to Afghanistan.  I was finishing my senior year of college, finishing up my last year of ROTC to commission as an officer, and this was my first go-around being in a relationship, let alone married, and going through a deployment.  Holy shit. Yup, at times that expletive phrase could only describe what it felt like going through all of that.

I was far from any military base and surrounded by college kids.  Very few people could understand what I was going through.  I was 22, married, and my husband was deployed.  Not a typical situation you would find at the University of Wisconsin.  Not like I was part of the norm already.  I was in ROTC so I was one of the college kids you would find occasionally in a military uniform, in a sorority, worked multiple jobs, was a House Fellow (otherwise known as an R.A.), and so much more.  It was a lot to take on but I always appreciated being busy.  People often said to me, "I could never do it," and would look to me with such admiration and respect.  In all reality, you put yourself through all of that because you love someone so much.  That's all you can do.

Going into the deployment, my main goal was to make the most out of the experience.  I was not going to turn to alcohol, food, or to cheating (yikes on that last one) to get me through the separation.  Instead, I filled my life with a lot of positive energy.  I knew that I had to stay busy, more than I already was because it's the moment of true quietness that truly brings reality home.  It's a reality that you don't really want to think about, especially when the love of your life is in harm's way.

The two things that I was most known for in the deployment were my care packages and my Picture a Day While You're Away.  I sent Ryan at least two care packages every month.  I bought a Cricut, some cartridges and stocked up on a lot of scrapbook paper.  USPS provides a care package kit for the military members and I got a bunch of those kits and just kept sending care packages.  I got family, friends, and sorority sisters involved.  For me, it was a way of showing Ryan how much I love him and I pictured him opening each box and thinking of me.  It gets really cold in Afghanistan in the winter months and he was often sleeping in freezing temperatures.  With my Amazon Prime account, I stocked up on everything he could possibly need.  Since I was a House Fellow, the front desk of the dorm that I was an R.A. in would always recognize the Amazon boxes for me.  I turned a section of my closet into a care package center.  Here I would have those USPS boxes, tape, shipping labels, etc. ready to go and I also organized numerous things that I wanted to ship.  Some boxes had a fun theme to them and others were just essentials that he had requested.  Make sure to check out the post to see how I chose to decorate the boxes.

Although not something unique to me, I participated in a Picture a Day While You're Away picture campaign of sorts while Ryan was deployed.  Similar to a 365 project, a documented my side of the deployment with a picture every day.  I had recently gotten an iPhone while Ryan was on predeployment leave and of course had Instagram.  That app was so heavily used while Ryan was deployed.  Those pictures were used for my daily picture project and I included them as pictures in Motomail, but more on that later.

A 7 month deployment consists of:
-7 months of loneliness.
-31 weeks of worrying.
-236 days of sleepless nights.
-5,110 hours of trying to stay busy.
-306,600 minutes of the phone on the loudest ringer possible.
& -18,396,000 seconds of impatiently waiting for him to come home.


There were around 244 photos in this one album on Facebook.  I had friends in other classes, who I hadn't seen since freshman year, stop me on the sidewalk and tell me how much they enjoyed seeing the pictures everyday.  I had folks tell me that they couldn't check it everyday so on their Sunday night study break, they would go through each picture.  So many prayers and well wishes were sent our way and I feel so incredibly blessed to be surrounded by such amazing people.  What I want these select photos to show you, especially if you're about to go on a deployment, is that you can't let this or any deployment stop you from living.


There were times that it was midnight, I had The Notebook or P.S. I Love You in the background and I was crying myself to sleep.  Yup, that is the ugly side of manning the homefront on a deployment.  There were times that I was in an aisle of Walgreens or Target and insanely frustrated because I had no idea what the hell Ryan was talking about when it came to x,y,z products, just that he needed them.  It's not like I could call him up and ask for clarification.  No, you're on your own and you have to make those executive decisions.  It wasn't just silly, minor things that like that either.  I had to take a J-term course (winter break class) online my senior year.  I was freaking out.  One summer I had taken a course at another UW school to cover a set of science requirements and out of the blue, Wisconsin wasn't going to take them.  That would mean I would have to take over 18 credits my last semester.  That just wasn't feasible.  They did take the course, but I did take an additional online science course through UW-Milwaukee and I had no clue how to pay for it.  My student loans were going for my degree at UW-Madison and there just wasn't hundreds of dollars of chump change hanging around.  I made it work but those times when I could have really used Ryan to comfort me and help me work things out, but the country needed him.  Deployments are difficult and it's not a walk in the park.  However, it is up to you and your attitude on how you will make the journey develop.  Apart from keeping active and busy, I never wanted to distract Ryan from completing his part of the mission.  Me being nagging, overbearing, whining, crying, or just a plain ol' hot mess could cause him not be 100% dedicated to the deployment mindset.  That is the last thing I wanted.  So apart from care packages, I wrote him so many letters.  

An awesome program through the Marine Corps is Motomail.  It's like composing an e-mail, but it gets printed out on their end and sent to them like a letter.  I wrote Ryan almost every single day through that.  It was so easy to open up my computer and just write about my day to him.  I knew that he appreciated the letters and hearing about my day.  Apart from the letters, I would also record him mini tapes and send those in care packages as well.  Like my letters, I would tell him about my day or read him articles, etc.  His phone calls and simply hearing his voice would make my day.  I knew that hearing my voice, even if it was a recording, was something he loved.

In terms of self-care, I made myself incredibly busy.  I wanted to experience so many things and also to instill faith in Ryan that I was fine back home.  Living on campus, I didn't have a car, so I made great use of our free bus pass and other great student deals.  I love musicals and at the Overture Center, I could get really inexpensive tickets to shows.  I saw The Nutcracker, Beauty & the Beast, and a few other shows that were part of traveling Broadway troupes.  I also took classes including ballet and even a pole dancing class.  Both were so fun and something I had never tried before.  I also became a more serious crafter with crocheting, learning how to knit and quilt.  You have to be willing to try things on your own, which was never a problem with me.  I went to speeches and events on campus by myself and I also visited the Union South theater to catch movies on my own.  There are so many activities that are free or have a low cost in your community, definitely check them out! If you live on a military base, there are so many activities- make sure to get involved.

I also did and bought silly things as well.  The day before Ryan left for Afghanistan, I went to Build-a-Bear and made a German Shepherd and named him Valor.  I also got a G.I. Joe because I'm a novelty junkie like that.  My room was a mixture of student life, Badgerificiness, sorority goodness, and military love.

Whatever your deployment brings, understand that it will be over and if you ever need extra prayers sent your way, don't be afraid to ask.  Don't be afraid to let people in and don't be afraid to try something new.  You've got to be strong on the homefront and it is totally possible.

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  1. Thank-you so much for this post. We are getting ready for a deployment coming up soon, and this is exactly what I needed to read today :)

    1. If you ever need anything or just need a friendly face (or blogger site) to vent to, I'm always here. That was one of the hardest aspects of the deployment was that I was at school. Many of my friends whose husbands were also deployed were either in North Caroline or California. I'm so glad I could provide some comfort and guidance when it comes to an upcoming deployment. So many prayers and well wishes for your family!

  2. i loved reading this!! i cannot/could not/ would not be a military wife/ gf. It's not in my blood to be so strong and thank you and your husband for serving the country (you for ROTC). I admire every woman/ma who has to deal with this. My mother-in-law is Army Reserve, my step-father-in-law did a tour in Afghanistan and my brother-in-law did a tour in Iraq, it was tough...nit so much for me since I was removed a bit, but still.

    1. It's always a tough situation, no matter if it's your spouse or a brother-in-law. You become so attuned to news and anything military-related and sometimes it's difficult to explain how you're feeling to other people. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment and I appreciate the kind words :)

  3. Looooove this so much! You're so strong and I love how you worded this entire post.

    1. Thank you so much! Military wives, we've got to stick together and remain strong. Now that the tides have turned and my husband is the dependent, he's starting to understand what it was like for me. It takes a strong type of person to be married/dating anyone in a military or public service position.

  4. Replies
    1. Thank you so much! :)
      I know you've been a military significant other for awhile now, so you know the drill, but I am so happy for your engagement. Welcome to the united front of military spouses :)

  5. This is so sweet and I hope many military spouses see this. Its all about how much effort you both put into the relationship while you're away from each other, and it sounds like you poured your heart into it! I LOVE the pictures. You are SO strong :-)


    1. Thanks AJ! I am so glad that we met through the swap. You are one of my absolute favorite bloggers and I cannot tell you how much I love seeing comment notifications from you! :)
      Long distance relationships truly take so much effort from both parties. I have a lot of respect for military couples and simply couples who choose to stay together, regardless of the distance between them. I loved expressing my feelings for Ryan through messages of love and care packages. It was definitely one way that helped me cope through a challenging time.

  6. Replies
    1. Thank you! I hoped that this would give a lot of strength to other military wives and folks who are in long distance relationships. It was my pleasure to write this and thank you for taking the time to leave a comment :)

  7. Thanks for sharing this! Chris and I have not had to experience deployment yet but he has been stationed in Japan the whole time we have been married so I understand the separation and how much it sucks! I love all the cute little things you did for him! Such a fun and cute idea! I just started following you and am loving your blog so far!
    Courtney @ Air Force Wife and Our Life

  8. Hi Kimmie! I nominated you for a Liebster Award! If you'd like to participate, head on over to my page :)


  9. Wow, I'm so happy you posted this.I haven't had to deal with a deployment yet , but I have been dreading the day(well months)that I have to. Some of the things you did were awesome and I'll definitely have to keep them in mind. Thank you for sharing!