“I never imagined I’d be eating at a Burger King in Baghdad!” said a U.S. Army soldier. Expect the unexpected. Thoughts may be racing as you get ready to deploy overseas, but my advice is to always remember to be prepared for anything and everything.
The impact a deployment has on you as a service member and your family and friends can be overwhelming, and dealing with separation and lack of communication can cause stress and anxiety. However, being sensitive and understanding the feelings of your family members and friends can help alleviate some tension. Everyone deals with situations differently and there are many ways to not only cope, but to be optimistic while being deployed.
When you first receive deployment orders, you may have a checklist of items (that need to be completed before deploying. Completing those tasks are top priority, as well as recognizing the possible affects your separation may have on you and on your family and friends. There are signs to look out for so that you and your spouse will be better equipped at dealing with situations as they arise.
As you are completing unit tasks and training in preparation for your departure, you must also be aware of your mental and physical health. You will be given a health check and immunizations, depending on your shot record and country of deployment. Training will continue and unit morale should build stronger, because you will count on your fellow comrades for support in and off of the battlefield.
After completing your last-minute tasks you should also consider purchasing a few additional items. It’s up to your unit Commander as to how much you are allowed to take. The Commander may suggest that you bring baby wipes, medicine, personal hygiene items, and batteries. What you can bring is entirely up to your unit. But do not worry because there are PX stores all over the bases, offering you everything from Oreos and other Western snacks to razors, shampoo and an array of personal hygiene items. The stores also sell electronics, such as portable DVD players and a large selection of movies. There is no shortage of goodies and entertainment options with the PX. The stores keep getting bigger and the stock keeps increasing.
A “Goodbye” ceremony commences, and before you know it you’re on a C-130 landing in Iraq or Afghanistan. You said your goodbyes and your children may or may not have understood where you were going and what was happening. Communications with family may be minimal at first as you settle in. While deployed, it is recommended to write as often as you can. Even if you don’t have the time to type each letter and send it in an e-mail, it may help just to get your feelings down on paper. There are U.S. Post offices on nearly every military installation overseas, so you should have no problem sending letters to loved ones.
Initially adjusting to the change in climate, time differences and overall environment can be difficult, but soon a routine may develop and the situation may be less of a shock to your system. Listen to the unit briefings. Be careful to follow instructions as advised. The service members briefing you know what they are talking about. If you are advised not to drink the water or even brush your teeth with the local water – LISTEN! Many service members get some type of the stomach flu while adjusting to the new country they are in.
Although you are busy working and completing your missions, when you have a little time off, take advantage of the recreational activities on the base. The military has made great strides in boosting morale among service members. Don’t be surprised if you drive by a Palace in your HUMVEE to see soldiers swimming in the pools. There are also gyms available and movie nights for those who have a few hours of free time. There are Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) facilities on most bases which provide telephones so you can call home and computers with Internet access so you can write to loved ones. Quality of life in Iraq or Afghanistan is extremely important to the service members. These types of activities can be relaxing and a huge stress reliever. It is completely normal to be overwhelmed with emotions at times. It’s important to talk to your fellow soldiers, someone in your chain of command or a Chaplain if you’re depressed or just need to vent. If you get sick of eating at the chow halls, there are also other options for you. Outside of almost every PX has a Burger King, operated by contractors from the Philippines and other Asian countries. Usually, there are also other stores operated by the local Iraqi people within walking distance from the PX. There you can purchase souvenirs, jewelry and paintings.
As your time serving overseas starts to wind down, you should be aware of the possibility of the military extending your tour of duty overseas. This is something that you should have thought about before your deployment. Expect the unexpected. If your deployment comes to an end, you return home and your separation date is near, you also must consider the possibility of a Stop-Loss. Stop-Loss is the extension of a military person’s enlistment beyond what their normal separation date would be. Those who join the military agree to this in their enlistment contract.
Stop-Loss may not be on your mind as you return home. Thoughts of seeing the happy and relieved faces of your family will probably be all you can think about. The reunion may be the most beautiful and trying time in this whole experience you’ve had. You may be surprised at how much effort it may take for the family members to get to know one another again. You have all changed physically, emotionally and mentally. Share stories, celebrate and enjoy spending time together.
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