One of the biggest ways to keep your sanity during a deployment is to focus on milestones – events scattered throughout your time away from home which are far enough apart that a significant amount of time has passed between them but close enough that these chunks of time, often filled with long days, no weekends, and an overload of work, feel like they’ve gone by quickly.
In my experience, starting your countdown-to-home too early will make your time away from home feel longer than it actually is because that large number never seems to get smaller. I have a saying here, “the days and weeks go by quick but the months seem to last forever” and I think if you ask anyone who has ever deployed, they’ll also express these sentiments.
Unlike working back home in the states, deployed service members don’t get to enjoy weekends, they’re just another work day. This lack of weekly days of rest and relaxation will create a Groundhog’s Day effect, so trying to maintain a sense of time is nearly impossible, which, as I mentioned before, makes it feel like the days and weeks go by fast, but the months feel like they never end.
This is why breaking the deployment down into segments, organized by the time between events like birthdays or anniversaries makes time appear to go by faster than maintaining one big countdown. Think of it this way, telling yourself “there are only thirty days until my birthday,” rather than “there are 365 days until I get to go home,” allows your mind to think in smaller integers, which feels like it goes by faster.
When you’re done with that milestone and move on to the next, for example, “there are only fort-five days until my anniversary,” you’re still tricking your mind into thinking about small, quickly disappearing numbers. Otherwise, even though you’re already a month into the deployment, “335 days left” is still a large number and honestly feels like the countdown hasn’t budged.
So, why am I talking about so much about milestones? Well, to start, it wasn’t long ago that we passed a huge milestone on this deployment: we passed the halfway mark! This is exciting because it is, as they say, all down hill from here. There have been a lot of long days, long hours, and, depending on where our soldiers were, plenty of drama to go around, but the end is coming soon and I think we’re all ready to go home.
There have been a lot of milestones at home, too. There are, admittedly, milestones I would’ve much rather been a part of than the ones here, but never-the-less they happened. I am, of course, referring to developmental milestones with my son.
I’ve had the chance to video chat with my family on many occasions and I couldn’t help but notice several changes in my son since I first left on deployment. He’s grown like a weed – he’s now able to open doors – his speech has improved, and his personality has really begun to shine through.
It’s hard watching these developments from afar, but I’m grateful to have been able to witness them at all. The other day, while video chatting with my family, I couldn’t help but think about the service members of wars past, like World War II, who’d spend years away from home with their only communication with family being letters and pictures sent in the mail.
When I get home, I’ll have been away from home for nearly a year. One. I can hardly imagine what it would be like being away for more than a year, especially with a little one at home.
One of my biggest fears for when I go home is having my son be shy around me. My son and I used to video chat with my brother all the time before I left and the little man would love it. But, I noticed when my brother came to visit, he would be really shy around him for awhile. I’m expecting the same thing to happen to me when I get home – I won’t just be the man on the screen anymore. But at least I have the screen. I could only imagine spending all this time – or more – away from home without it.
All of that will pass with time, I know, but I’m so ready to have my little man in my arms again, dealing with this initial timidity will be hard for me. But, if deployment has taught me anything, it’s that if I keep my eyes on the milestones and not the end of the tunnel, everything should go back to normal pretty quickly.