“The first deployment pain” Guest blog by Shelby Edsell

My name is Shelby, and I am a 23 year old marketing professional, Army sister, dog mom, and aunt from St. Louis, Missouri. For nearly 13 years, the Army has controlled a part of my life – the family part. My brother has been deployed three times to Iraq and Afghanistan, and is currently on his fourth deployment. Although the military life is hard and full of it’s bad days, it’s a part of my life I couldn’t imagine losings. I may not be an Army brat, spouse or soldier, but the Army has taught me a lot about life, love, and faith. You can learn more about me by visiting my blog at: www.combatbootsandsweettea.com.

When it comes to firsts, many are memorable and exciting; your first time riding a bike, your first kiss, your first home. When it comes to the first deployment, however, things are a different story. Between the “what ifs” and the unknowns, you have a lot on your mind. Some things are simple, like how to fill out the custom forms, or what you can and cannot send on a deployment. Unfortunately, not everything comes with an SOP.

My name is Shelby and I am a military sibling. In 2003, my brother joined the Army right out of high school and deployed in May of 2004 to Baqubah, Iraq. There were some pretty rough moments during that deployment, and the two other deployments that have come since then. As my family is preparing for his 4th deployment, I’ve realized how much has changed since then and that I really have become a “deployment professional” as I call it. Here are some of the biggest fears or questions I had during my brother’s first deployment, and just a little advice that will hopefully help those preparing for theirs. By the end of your first deployment you will feel like a pro.

Pre-Deployment Prep
The stress of a first deployment starts the day the orders come through. Your mind is swimming with crazy thoughts and you probably feel like your world is falling apart. First and foremost, avoid those thoughts as much as possible. When a deployment is looming, it is best to stay as positive as you can, to enjoy the time you have with your loved one, and prep yourself for the upcoming months. Having a strong and positive start will be what carries you through the entire deployment, and it will be the foundation you stand on for any future deployments.

Free Time?
The advice you will hear the most from military families is “better get a hobby,” and yes, hobbies are life savers during a deployment. However, nobody ever says what kinds of hobbies. I have picked up scrapbooking, baking, soccer, organizing EVERYTHING, and reading, but I can honestly say the best hobby was soccer. Being active and doing something that gets you out of the house and moving truly is the best medicine. As I am preparing for my brothers 4th deployment, I look back and wish I would have channeled my fears, anger, and sadness into fitness rather than some less helpful hobbies.

Have you seen the reports on the news?
DON’T WATCH IT! Trust me when I say to avoid the news. I can remember in 2004 when my brother was in Iraq and I would see the terrible news reports and videos. It honestly just made my anxiety and fear worse.

What we all dread…
Every military family, whether you are a spouse, child, sibling, or parent fears that knock on the door and I’m not going to lie and say I never worried or feared myself, because I did, and still do. Unfortunately, that is part of life in the military. You can’t live your life in fear, and your family member serving wouldn’t want you to, either. One of the biggest lessons I‘ve learned over the years is to let go. You can’t control everything and worrying won’t make it better.

Why is everything falling apart?
If something is going to happen, it is going to happen during a deployment! Whether it is a family issue or car trouble, just be ready. Deployments test you and you will be surprised how strong you are at the end of it. You learn to be independent, to be strong willed, to walk with your head held high, and that it’s okay to cry from time to time. Don’t let the challenges and hurdles that come with a deployment destroy you. Reach out to your FRG (Family Readiness Group) leader, a friend, an organization or a fellow military family!

This was probably one of the hardest parts of my first deployment. I am not good with emotions, whether they’re mine or anyone else’s. I am more of the lock-it-down-head-held-high-nobody-sees-me-cry type of person. But during deployment, I felt like tears and anger just happened. It is normal, I promise! This is such a stressful time and it turns your life upside down, so your emotions will be out of whack. I am still that same person who keeps my emotions to myself, but I learned to let go and open up when it is all getting to be too much. However, after seeing friends deploy and how their families handled their emotions, I also learned to keep the sadness, worry, and dread away from my soldier. They have a lot on their plate, and yes they are already worried about you, but don’t let them see you break. In the field, it’s mission first and at home, your mission is to stay strong.

Bad Days…
That being said, you can’t do it all on your own. Find a group or someone to confide in. I had been through 3 deployments before I really found someone to confide in, and now that I am preparing for the 4th deployment, I have a group of friends ready to let me cry with them or just to talk to them. Find your safe group. It can be a group of friends or even strangers that you can be real in front of. Whether it’s your family, friends, a church group, or your FRG, everyone needs support during this time.

Remember, you are stronger than you think and you can make it through this rough time. It’s okay to be sad or mad, and it’s okay to cry, but remember that you can’t pause life. People are overseas fighting today so we can live our lives. So live it, have fun, and don’t let this complicated thing called “deployment” get you down. There will come a point during your first deployment where you will wake up and realize “I’ve got this,” and next thing you know, you will be standing among other military families with signs and tears in your eyes welcoming your loved one home.

Posted on July 16 2015 in Blog

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