Close deployments, divided families

‘Indescribable emotions’ as a shrinking fleet takes toll

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“I think this is terrible. We are in the groove, ready for it to be over,” wrote one spouse. “I don’t want a redeployment in the spring. Months of worrying about being nervous about the looming deployment all over again.”

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta visited the Stennis before it deployed to thank the crew and their families.

“I know it puts pressure on your families. Your families are as important to our ability to maintain a strong defense as anybody else. Without our families’ support, frankly, we wouldn’t be worth a damn,” Mr. Panetta said Aug. 22 in Bremerton.

But Navy officials have expressed concern about the increased deployment schedules and have said the two-carrier presence in the Middle East needs to be reconsidered because it requires nearly all available carriers to maintain it. For every flattop deployed in the region, another is returning home from the area, a third is preparing to sail there and a fourth is undergoing maintenance.

In the meantime, sailors, Marines and their families are struggling to endure.

“As much as it isn’t fair, this is their job,” Mrs. Stewart said. “They have to go when they are needed. And since there are other aircraft carriers who are unable to go on deployment, the Stennis and its sailors had to suck it up and head out for a back-to-back deployment.”

“The only thing we can do as their wives are to accept it and stand behind them and support them, it hurts them just as much as it hurts us,” she said.

Navy and Marine Corps spouses say the challenges of a deployment for families are many.

Mrs. Stewart said her husband works 18-hour days on the flight deck, sacrifices sleep and eats as fast as he can so that he can call and make sure she and the baby are all right.

But there are times that ship communications are shut down, and she won’t hear from him for a week or two without warning.

“So I never know when exactly I’ll hear from him. I sleep with my phone turned up as loud as it goes in case he calls or emails me,” the newlywed said.

Mrs. Stewart, who is not working because of pregnancy complications, said it’s tough going through it without her husband, but that it will be worth it when he comes home.

Before Tiffany Bedard’s husband deployed on the Stennis, he went on a “daddy date” with each of their children, ages 9, 7 and 4, she said.

The hardest part of the deployment is him not being able to share in the “little things,” the Ventura, Calif., resident said.

“Missing birthdays and holidays. Not seeing him walk in the door home from work each night. And going to bed alone,” said Mrs. Bedard, who works at a day care center. “People do expect us to be strong. But just because I’m a Navy wife doesn’t mean I’m good at being one.”

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