Sunday, October 27, 2013

Guest Post: Deployment Tips for the Significant Others of Submariners

John and I are currently in the throes of PCS-ing (moving, for you non-military folks), and so I've asked one of my close blogging friends and fellow Navy significant others to guest post. Natasha is dating a submariner, and honestly, I don't know how she does it! She and I were dealing with deployment the same time-- our guys actually came home within days of each other. But hers is already gearing up for another deployment. Natasha is a strong, strong woman. My hat is off to her! 

They don't call it the Silent Service for nothing - keeping in touch with a submariner is hard. I hear other branches have these magical things called 'morale tents' where s/he can go to message or Skype with friends and family members. There's no morale tent on a submarine, no way to FaceBook chat or Skype with someone underway on a boat.

So how do you keep in touch?

It is possible to stay in touch with a submariner, it just takes some planning, effort, and a bit of understanding. It was difficult at times, but we managed to emerge from an eight month long ‘six month deployment’ stronger than when he left, and communication was key.

Snail Mail and Packages

You can actually send mail to someone on a submarine, it just might take a while to arrive. Letters have a better chance of making it than packages - they sometimes don't get packages until after they've returned from deployment! They do receive mail when in port, and sometimes when they meet up with other ships at sea. If you want to send mail to your submariner, make sure you have the 'address' before he leaves because it may not be possible for him to email it through his secure email. (I'm not discriminating by saying 'he,' but there are only a very, very few number of ladies on submarines and typing s/he gets cumbersome!) If you send a card or letter, you can use a regular stamp. If you mail a package, the postage doesn't cost anything extra, but your will have to fill out a customs form. Don't forget it or your package will end up back in your mailbox, not with your sailor!

Because mail delivery is uncertain, I planned ahead and sent cards with him when he left on deployment. I knew he would be gone for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Valentines, Easter, etc., so I bought cards ahead of time. I wrote him notes, dated the envelopes, and then put them all inside a larger envelope with a different, earlier date on it to at least keep him guessing for a couple of extra weeks. I also included a random, encouraging card with 'whatever day you need it most' written on the outside. I know from working in a gift shop that sold cards that many card shops keep out of season cards in store, just not on display. If you talk to store employees and explain the situation, they'll probably help you find the holiday cards you need. When I picked up cards last October, the folks at the store actually just gave them to me after I explained what I was doing!

Email and Censorship

You can email with your sailor while he's underway, but you have to email his secured email address. When they're actually on deployment, someone reads this email and can censor it before passing it along. Sometimes this can take a couple of days, but other times it happens pretty quickly. If your email is edited, you will receive an automated notification with the edited text in an attachment. I never had any real problems with editing, but I didn't discover quickly that automatic signatures added by your email program seem to cause a problem. When I started deleting these email signatures, I stopped getting editing notifications.

Dealing with the Frustrations of Deployment 

Now that we've covered planning and effort, here's where the understanding comes in. Your sailor may not have the time to check his email on a regular basis and, even if he does, he may not be allowed to respond for up to weeks on end. There are times (and they can't even always warn you when they'll be!) when they can receive emails but not send them. It can be frustrating, annoying, and downright lonely, but remember that he is probably incapable of responding if you don't hear back for a while. Also remember that he can read your messages and keep them coming, even if you know he can't write back for a few weeks. I wrote my man every single day of his deployment, even if the email was short and simple, and he told me time and again how much receiving my emails meant to him.

You also need to exercise understanding whenever you’re feeling frustrated. Whether you’re upset because you haven’t heard back from him and need advice or assistance or are on the verge of tears because their homecoming date was changed yet again, remember that your sailor has no control over the situation. If you feel hurt, imagine how he feels knowing he’s causing your unhappiness and has no power over the situation. Whenever I was having a particularly bad day, I always reminded myself that at least I could take a walk outside to see trees and hear birds, a luxury my man didn’t have. I know from talking to him later that every time the boat was delayed, all the guys on board were at least as unhappy as the ladies waiting. By not taking your frustrations out on your sailor, you can help ensure he’s looking forward to seeing you and help keep him in a better mood while they’re away.

Keeping in touch with a submariner who’s on deployment is difficult, but it is possible. I’m thankful I live in a world with emails and even the possibility of hearing from him while he’s gone - a privilege so many with loved ones in the Navy have not enjoyed over the years. When a submariner you love is preparing to go on deployment, just remember to plan ahead, put in some effort, and show understanding and you’ll both have a far better experience.

Hi, I'm Natasha! I love creating things! This fall I'm busy student teaching, trying to get ready for the holiday craft fair season, and counting down the days until I'm back with my sailor. Check out my Etsy shop and blog, The Artisan Life
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