- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2008

Dear Ms. Vicki

I’m very happy to see your column in The Washington Times, especially because you are a military wife. I think your answers are candid and “right on.” I’m writing to see if you can give me some quick information to help me prepare my two sons, ages 6 and 9, for my deployment.

I leave in a few months for my second tour in Iraq. I am a single parent, and I enjoy the Army very much, but there are many times when I feel guilty for leaving my sons for this career. I have been active duty for 10 years and plan to make a career of it.

I must say, the deployments are difficult. Although I am not married, I am engaged and plan to marry when I return after my tour. My fiance and his family wanted to take care of my sons for me during this difficult time, and I think they all get along very well. However, my parents and my siblings want to be the boys’ caretakers while I am away. They also are very close to my boys. My sons’ father and his family are not involved in any way. Can you give me some information and resources to help my children and my family? My last deployment did not go very well because it seems I just wasn’t prepared and everything that could go wrong did. Ms. Vicki, keep the advice coming.

- Active Duty Mom

Dear Active Duty Mom

I’m very happy to know you have a lot of great people who want to take care of your sons. Everyone will be very instrumental in shaping the lives of your sons at this time, given their ages and your upcoming deployment. The Army is doing a great job with pre-deployment briefings, and much information will be given to you. I’m sure it’s mandatory that you attend. If not, then I encourage you to do so. I also would suggest that you bring your sons and caregivers to the briefings, too. Much information will be given that will be helpful to everyone.

Make sure you have your legal, financial and medical concerns in order. The Judge Advocate General definitely will prepare you with your options for power of attorney, etc. Just make sure you tell them who will be the major players in caring for your sons. Do your homework on the community where your sons will move. Check out the schools, medical facilities, doctors, dentists, etc. The more you know about the care they will receive, the better you will feel.

Also try to visit the schools your sons will attend and meet the administrators. Tell them you are a service member who will be deployed this school year. Also search for recreational options. For example, if your sons play a sport or take music lessons, check out the youth sports organizations in the community. It’s important for your sons to maintain as much normalcy as possible. Youth activities are much easier to access on a military base than in a community.

Keeping in touch across the miles has improved greatly. You can use webcams and write, e-mails, send cards and play computer games together across the miles. Please use as many of these options as possible. You also can stay involved with your sons’ discipline using a reward system. Some Web sites I would suggest you review are Military.com. Also visit Army Community Services on your base for many other resources that will be helpful not only to your sons, but for their caregivers, too.

Finally, you should approach deployments by taking care of your mental/emotional, physical and spiritual needs for you and your sons. I think you are doing a great job because you are planning ahead. I wish you and your sons the best. I know deployments are tough, and I’m sure you must be experiencing many emotions about leaving your babies. This is normal. Take care of yourself and be encouraged.

Dear Ms. Vicki

You are a godsend. I have a Marine in Iraq, and when we correspond by e-mail or talk on the phone, I am never sure what to say to him. I want to know what he is going through over there, but I am almost afraid to ask for fear it will upset him. We were just getting to know each other when he was deployed, so I have a hard time reading between the lines. I remember how my dad never wanted to discuss World War II and Vietnam, so I am in a quandary.

He is coming home soon for a little more than two weeks of R&R;, and we will get to see each other a lot. Should I ask him about the war? What he has seen? What he is feeling? Or should I let him take the lead and start the conversation about what is happening in his life in Iraq? I want him to know that I am interested and concerned about his physical and emotional welfare. He is a lifer, so if this relationship becomes long-term or permanent, I want to be the best military wife possible. If we choose to be good friends, I want to be the best friend possible. Thank you for your help. You are a true godsend.

- Soon-to-be-Wife, Hopefully

Dear Hopefully

Godsend, huh? Well, you are my first reader to bestow such a compliment. Thanks. I’m glad your Marine has a concerned woman like you to come home to.

My advice is not to bring up the war or what he is experiencing a this time. It’s evident that he is not having the greatest time right now. Just enjoy the R&R; getting to know each other and building a strong connection. He’ll eventually let you know if he is in distress. He can let you know this without bringing up anything about this Iraq experience. Again, I’m glad you are supportive. I’m sure everything will be just fine. Just take the relationship slowly; there’s no rush.

Vicki Johnson, a licensed clinical social worker, military spouse and mother of three, has been counseling service members and their families for 15 years. Her column, Dear Ms. Vicki, runs in The Washington Times Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at dearmsvicki@yahoo.com.

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