One of my absolute favourite bloggers is Tony Pitt, the man behind the LifeOfTont blog. Tony is a military man. I thought I’d ask Tony what impact it has on family life when you are deployed on active service for months at a time. Here’s the brilliant post Tony and his wife provided. I’m over the moon to be publishing it here.
For me, the beginning of a new job brings with it the realisation that I am now outside of Army harmony guidelines. Individuals should not exceed 415 days of separated service in any period of 30 months. My last tour was in 2012, which means as I start my new job the chance of me being told to go abroad is that much greater.
On the whole a soldier’s day-to-day routine is actually quite simple. Within the circles that I have moved, the working routine is mostly 8-5, sports afternoons on Wednesdays, and an early finish on Fridays, all in an attempt to maintain some degree of work life balance. Others of course find themselves regularly on training exercises or working demanding hours, but on the whole the Army is a regular working environment. This does come with a caveat: at any given time, as individual augmentees, we can be mobilised and asked to be on an aeroplane going to different climes within 24 hours to 30 days notice. This degree of uncertainty is exhausting, and I have apologised to my family many times for putting them through it. You can’t plan for anything; you can’t make long-term arrangments; and you have to be conscious of where you go to visit family just in case you have to rush urgently back. You learn very quickly to take out cancellation insurance with every booking you make. Above all though, you have to always make sure that the family is prepared for your disappearance for any period of time.
But this post isn’t about my thoughts on going abroad. Too much focus is on the impact that our working commitment has on us; what about the family we leave behind? The military spouses, because there are Army husbands too you know, have to deal with everything in our absence and I mean EVERYTHING; often because of the locations we work, they are estranged from their own families and have no support. One blog that I would thoroughly recommend reading, if you want a taste of what military spouses have to contend with, is The Real Military Housewife aka The Nomad Who Wears Lipstick. Her post From Prayers to Prosecco shows us in great detail what is required:
“From childcare to mealtimes, groceries to doctors appointments, dog walking to lawn mowing, house work to parent / teacher meetings, play dates to paracetamol, football practice to tea parties, hosting to bin collection, tantrums to teenagers, homework to period cramps, nursing to nightmares. All on us. No respite. More often than not alone with no family within helpful reach. This can be for a week to months at a time.”
But her post From Deflate To Relate really resonated with me. She bravely and graphically shows how close the arduous nature of living the military life as a spouse can push you to divorce.
So for this post, I have asked my wife to write 5 pros and 5 cons that she has personally experienced from the times that I’ve had to leave the family:
• The worry. Constantly wondering if they are safe and ok, where they are, what they are doing and if they are happy.
• The fear. IF they will return home at all. The most awful and upsetting thing to think about, but is always at the back of your mind. Feeling sick with fear.
• The time apart. It’s difficult in many ways: you miss them, so try to keep busy and normal, especially for the kids but then feel massive guilt when you do smile or have fun without your loved one. They are so far away, in a potentially awful place doing an extremely demanding and important job.
• Absence from the children. Will the kids forget who daddy is, or will they be ok? Constantly worrying about whether the kids will be sad or withdrawn, how will they cope with just one parent at home? What about when the absent parent returns, will the children return to normal when they come home?
• The responsibility. Being left to be responsible for everything is cripling and at times overwhelming.
• Mixed emotions. You spend so long developing and building a routine, a life without them and then, if fortunate enough to get some R and R, they just demolish it for 2 weeks before disappearing again and leaving me to pick up the pieces. You are so happy for them to be home, even if it briefly, but then they are upsetting the apple cart.
• Time apart. For some this can be a good thing as it gives both parties a chance to reflect and learn to appreciate the other all over again, developing a deeper respect for one another. Absence really can make the heart grow fonder.
• The pride. It’s heart bursting. That feeling of utter pride of your partner is the best feeling in the world.
• The home-coming. The butterflies and excitement. Feeling wonderfully warm, fuzzy feelings when they’re back in your arms is like falling in love all over again.
• The money. Often being away means getting a little extra money and is a fantastic opportunity to save some money.
I for one think that it is not the soldiers, sailors, or airmen that make the Armed Forces so great, it’s the supportive families behind them. The parents, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, and children who all dig deep and put aside their own personal agenda in order to show their respect, love, and adoration of the service person in their life.
Pic credit: SAC Tommy Axford. Reproduced under Creative Commons agreement.