Top Ten Ways To Deal With A Dangerous Deployment

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Some deployments are just long, not dangerous. Say your Marine will be unaccompanied to Okinawa for a year. Or your servicemember will be working requisitions out of an office building in Kuwait. Or your sailor will live on a ship so large you can drive a crane on it.

No one is perfectly safe on those deployments. Things happen. Still, something tells you that worrying about getting “the knock” is just self-induced drama, not reality.

Then there are the other deployments, the ones that really are dangerous. How do you handle those?

I went to my friend Sarah for help with that. Sarah is married to one of those guys who frequently deploys to dangerous places. He wears an armored vest with his blood type on it. He uses a weapon. To him, funerals are not things that happen to old people.

If your family is about to undergo that kind of dangerous deployment, here are the top ten ways Sarah says that you need to prepare:

1. Stop wishing your cat was a dog. If you are going to be married to someone who goes on dangerous deployments you must own it. “This life is unique,” Sarah says. “So many others are married to people who will never face danger. They may look down on your husband or even you for your lifestyle. But wishing your husband was like the accountant down the street is like wishing your cat would act like a dog. It’s not happening.”

2. Play Worst Case Scenario. Years ago there was a card game called Worst Case Scenario that laid out the instructions for what you should do if you find yourself dangling from an 87 story building. Or when to jump if your car drives off a cliff. Military spouses say that if you imagine the worst, then come up with a step-by-step plan to deal, then you are ready. Fix it. Forget it. Let yourself sleep.

3. Remind yourself the numbers are on your side. Sarah knows first hand that every soul we have lost in combat is one too many. However, you can–you should–you must– reassure yourself with the numbers. Of the two million Americans who have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 11 years, 6518 of them have died. That means that statistically, while your mate may be on a dangerous deployment, it’s unlikely he or she will die. That is cold logic. It is meant to pull you through during times emotion can disable you.

4. Kill your monkeys. The Buddah described the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys—anxious, restless, uncontrollable thoughts besiege us all. Monkey thoughts will come out of the jungle of your mind and attack during a dangerous deployment. The best way to hunt them down is to write them down—and then dispute them. A thought like, “He is going to die and I am going to be left here to raise his three pregnant stepdaughters and fight off his ex-wife with a broom” needs to be met with a non-monkey thought. Try: “He is well trained. Everyone in that unit takes care of each other. The girls are 3, 5 and 7. I can always feed them birth control like vitamins.”

5. Shoot the pity monkey between the eyes. Sarah says that the worst monkey that comes at you will be the pity monkey. “Many people will pity you,” Sarah told me. “After all, your husband up and left and might killed! You poor thing!!! Do not fall victim to the pity monkey that comes knocking at your door in the form of friends, family or even your own inner voice. That pity is undermining your confidence in you and your spouse’s life choices. And for someone else to feel sorry for you because your husband is in danger will eventually assist in making you think he’s responsible for your misery.”

6. Impress your kids. When you do not want to do any of this stuff for yourself, do it to impress your kids. They are the audience waiting to keep you on the straight and narrow. They will remember how you behaved long after the deployment is forgotten and your husband or wife or partner is a shriveled old vet at your side. “You make dinner because that’s what moms do,” Sarah said sternly. “Keep. Life. Normal.”

7. Get your shtuff together already. The command nags people to get their paperwork together—wills, family care plans—all that stuff that you don’t want to do because you don’t want to face what it means. No one wants to write down who will tell his mother that her child is dead. No one wants to consider exactly which friends to choose for pallbearers. Do it. Do it. Do it now. Scream and cry the whole time if you have to, but get it done.

8. Toy with your safety nets. Rely on any kind of support network you are given…even if you make fun of it while you are doing it. “FRGs, Wives Clubs…I used to mock them all until I realized that going to these meetings when your loved one is on a dangerous deployment is helpful,” said Sarah. “The existence of such a club is, in and of itself, comforting in some way.”

9. Swim the ocean of emotion. “Deciding from the start that every day is going to be a miserable, stressful, sour experience with you just waiting for that knock at the door will probably make you crazy,” Sarah told me. “You cannot prepare for grief of that magnitude. So learn to swim under the waves as they break and keep coming up for air. That means you give your emotions their due when they crop up and then keep moving forward.” A counselor really can help you learn how to do this better.

10. Live the life they are fighting for. Sarah reminded me that when our servicemember are downrange, they want to think about you living your life. “He wants to imagine the regular Monopoly game still going strong on Friday nights and you gardening or having the neighbors over for a glass of wine,” said Sarah. “That’s home. Not you curled up in a ball hating life.”

Deployments of all kinds take a lot of courage. It isn’t easy for anyone to pick up and leave their lives for months at a time. It also takes a certain kind of stamina to partner a servicemember during a dangerous deployment. Not everyone can do it. You can. Stick with us at SpouseBuzz and let us know what we can do to help you.








About the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom. Find her at

15 Comments on "Top Ten Ways To Deal With A Dangerous Deployment"

  1. Good tough love here. :) Great inspiration for two hours after dropping him off for the second half of a dangerous deployment.

  2. This is a GREAT article. Well done!!!

  3. This may be the best article I've read on here. Having/doing these deployments, i say i love it all.

  4. bethkingston | January 6, 2013 at 9:16 am |

    AMEN. This article should be a must read for all spouses whose husband will be on a dangerous deployment. As someone who has survived nine such deployments (and been on both sides of the FRG) I wish someone had spelled it out to me this clearly the first time around, and that I had been able to articulate it so well to the newbies for every deployment since. Am printing it out and saving it for future pre-deployment briefings. Thank you!

  5. You had me at #1, 2 and 3…and then it kept getting better! Really good stuff here.

  6. I wish that they would have some support groups for spouses of civilian contractors in hawaii. My husband is deployed right now and its so hard to get any support. He is a veteran as well, but here in Maui there isnt even much support for even military either.

  7. WOW… this was just what I needed :')

    My husband is going on a short but dangerous deployment which are common in his unit. This is our first deployment and we have a 11 month old son. I'm staying by myself for the first time in my life and I know almost no one in this post. I'm doing my best to keep it together and be strong for my son but it does terrify me at times. I know that's normal to be scared but it felt like no one understood what I was about to go through, not even my husband could tell me how to really be slightly mentally prepared for something that I've heard you can't really prepare for (other than in paperwork, etc) but this article was PERFECT. I have definitely thought about worst case scenarios and it's like ripping a bandaid, it's better to just deal with it as soon as it comes to your mind & not let it drag in your mind… Also, keeping life normal is going to be the hardest thing but when i think about what is best for my son, it gives me that little push to keep myself together.

    I have to say I have been blessed with an amazing family who at first begged me to come home for the deployment but is now supportive of my decision to stay and constantly reassure me that I can do this, as challenging as it may be (though they can be pity monkeys at times, but they're just worried 'cause they love me).

    Thank you for writing this article for women like me. Please continue to write more :-) God bless.

  8. This is a great article for spouses to keep in mind. Because of my husband's MOS and unit- dangerous deployments are the job description! Prior to him leaving- we arrange everything possible and play the what-if game, just to be on the same page and relax each other about issues.

    I have to add one more— no matter the amount of communication you're able to get, keep each other in each other's lives! We went 5 months with solely occasional emails and my hand-written letters and packages to him (he was air dropped supplies, so no letters to me at the time)– he continuously wrote to me, and we kept each other involved in what was going on. The kids report cards got sent over, along with anything they wanted to share- and that kept both of us anchored to our family and kept the what-ifs at bay. Focusing on the life you will (PROBABLY) get to have after deployment helps you keep your (and his) sanity.

    I always choose to look at the deployment as a meager 9 months of our lives- in which, God willing, we will have a multitude of YEARS together! :-)

  9. I received a long delayed letter in 1994, while stationed as a diver in Norfolk. Written by my wife in 1985, during a interesting (to say the least) deployment. I brought it home to share with her, and she tried to snatch it out of my hand saying it was sappy and corny and not to read it. I instead opened it and commenced reading it aloud to her. Two sentences into it I had to quit because I could no longer see it through my tears. She at that time was 6 months along with our second child and had just got out of the Hospital due to complications (that I was never aware of). All our children (3) were several years along and all was well! But being on the Sharp end of the Spear or Downrange never is the same as being home alone. Or defending what home should be. Thank you all!

    • Grace Mascorro | January 17, 2013 at 4:18 pm |

      We are never home alone Scott. I never felt home alone. I always felt my husband close with us no matter if it is 5,000 miles from home. It doesn't matter if it is a 6 month deployment or a 1 year deployment. Love has no mile marker or time. It just is.

    • selfish and you'll disrespect her again

      • You appear to lack the understanding of what it takes to be a married couple when one person is in the military. I hope you aren't a military spouse. If you are, I feel bad for your husband or wife.

  10. These are really cool and excellent ideas to deal with a dangerous deployment. Thanks for sharing a great solution.

  11. I can relate to the "pity monkey". My husband is a Marine and deploying next month. Everyone we tell this to, whether it's friends or people in passing, immediately glance at me with a look of pity on their face and I can't stand it! It definitely feels like most people in my circle cannot relate to or understand what I am going through.
    I too am moving back home with family during this first deployment. It's nice to see other people on Spouse Buzz who get it – we're all going through this together!

  12. Grace Mascorro | January 17, 2013 at 4:32 pm |

    My Mom moved home a few times when we were young. She is from Perth Australia. And sometimes you feel very exposed when they are downrange. Everybody has to do what is best for them. And it is a decision you make together. You tell the pity monkeys that your husband goes out and provides the freedoms that they enjoy everyday on the job. Not one time did my mother ever allow anyone to speak ill of my father's decision to defend his nation. It is not a lifestyle it is a calling for many of them. It is an honor to protect and defend. And it is an honor to be married to them.

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