In the summer of 2009, I waited in an airport terminal in a fancy dress and heels. I never wear heels but this was a special day. My husband was flying in from Iraq for a two-week R&R during his year-long deployment. My boys and I were in California visiting my family, and that is where he was going to spend his R&R.
I was waiting at the airport, staring at the escalator that brought down the arriving passengers. Had it been ten years earlier, had 9/11 never happened I could have watched him get off the plane. But this was as far as I could go in our post-9/11 world.
Men and women came down with their backpacks and small bags of luggage, but I waited. And then, at the top of the stairs, I saw the first part of the uniform, and I knew it was him. We hadn’t seen each other for about nine months. As soon as I saw his face, I ran to him, heels and all.
I could hear all the other people in the airport when they realized what was happening, that a soldier was meeting up with his wife after time apart.
I heard cheers and claps as I ran right into his arms. This was bliss. This was what amazing meant. This was how things were supposed to be, both of us, in one another’s arms, husband, and wife together again.
I took off my heels as soon as we got into the car and started to relax. My parents had our boys, and we would see them again in the morning. This day, it was for me. Just for my husband and me. We got a local hotel and spent that first night together after so many months apart.
The strangest thing after a deployment is the feeling that you don’t know one another like you used to, like you did before they left.
This is a scary feeling. You guys have been living apart for quite a while. You both have changed. You are both not the same as you were the day that they left. This is normal.
That first day of R&R we decided to spend some time at a local outdoor mall. We walked around the stores and things felt weird. It was similar to how one would feel on a first date. Here was this man, this guy, he loved me and I loved him but things didn’t feel 100% familiar, not like they normally do.
I knew this feeling would fade. That time would pass and he would feel like home again. That’s what happened. I know we are lucky. That feeling doesn’t always come back for everyone.
That R&R we spent a lot of family time together and we were able to spend a few days on an anniversary trip to Catalina Island. We had gone there for our honeymoon and were now able to be back on our anniversary. Somehow that worked out despite crazy military schedules.
Two weeks went by and he had to go back as they do after R&R. I dropped him back off at the airport. This time we would be apart a little over two months.
That didn’t seem as bad. We could do it. Luckily that deployment didn’t get extended, but it was always a worry.
He came home that November and we started the process of moving back to the US from Germany. Another deployment was done, completed. So many years have passed since that summer and I can still remember so much about how I felt when he came home, how nice R&R was, and how hard saying goodbye at the end of R&R was.
The truth is, deployments can hit you hard. They can mess with you. They can cause you to think things about your relationship that simply are not true.
The time after deployment isn’t always bliss, in fact, for most people, there is always something to work through. Being away from your spouse isn’t easy and can take a lot of time to get back to any type of normal. Some couples have to work through so much. Some couples can’t get past it.
The truth is, a deployment is a difficult situation you and your spouse will have to go through. And for a lot of military spouses, you will have to go through them more than once.
You have to work hard, you have to work on your marriage, and you both have to be understanding of what you both have been through while you were apart.
If you are towards the end of your deployment, know that homecoming is probably going to be a good day. You will get your spouse back. You will no longer be married to your phone or your computer. Your real-life husband or wife will live with you again.
But also know that the after deployment road won’t always be easy. Homecomings look so amazing, and they can be, but once you get home, that is when the real work begins.
Be open, be honest, and seek help if you need to. This after deployment readjustment period can be filled with ups and downs. You have to get to know each other again, you have to work with what happened over there, things are not going to back to normal right away.
And your after deployment struggles could be different from other military couples. What you and your spouse struggle with can be different from what other couples struggle with. Don’t compare, and try to figure out what help you and your own spouse might need.
What are your best tips for reintegration after a deployment? What would you tell a spouse who is worried about what will happen after their service member comes home?